2) The St. Louis Blues struggled to meet expectations at the start of the shortened season. There were clearly some locker room issues going on, and Backes did an admirable job of calling people out without blasting anyone in particular. You may not like Backes when he’s smashing your player on the ice, but the guy is a good captain. St. Louis was busy in the offseason patching some holes and changing up their team’s style. The acquisition of Magnus Paajarvi and Derek Roy surprised me a bit as they aren’t exactly the “smash em up” types, but they do bring the offense that the Blues were looking for. Brendan Morrow might be on the decline in his career, but he will bring leadership and offense to a team that, again, can use both. All these new players are going to help fill the void that Andy McDonald left with his early retirement. The Blues blueline looks as strong as ever. The signing of Bouwmeester at the trade deadline will be even more advantageous with a full season. The signing of Pietrangelo was another important step for the Blues to get off to a good start. Prediction: The Blues should be able to land the second spot without a problem. With young guys like Tarasenko and vets like Roy coming in, the Blues are looking to be a tough team to beat.
1) The Chicago Blackhawks won’t have a run like they did last year. The road to the cup always takes a lot out of a team, and this offseason left little time for rest. Despite those facts, the Hawks have found a great mix of young talent and crafty vets and shouldn’t have forgotten the keys to their success. The lineups aren’t set yet, but the Hawks youngsters are looking to crack the lineup and most have been quite impressive. Brian Bickell should certainly be looking to earn his big paycheck. If he can play close to his playoff levels, then the Hawks have found the power forward they were missing. Crawford will also be eager to show why the Hawks gave him the money and the extension. Kane is already talking about improving upon a great season, and no one is going to complain about that. Ben Smith and Jimmy Hayes both had a very strong start to the preseason, and Morin showed that he can create offense on his own. Teravainen looked really good out there as well, but the Hawks have stated that they want to give him another year to develop. The blue line has remained intact, which I’m sure not too many Hawks fans will complain about. The biggest adjustment will be replacing Michael Frolik. The PK was outstanding, and he was one of the main cogs in that machine. Luckily, the Hawks have Ben Smith to look to. Though he hasn’t been given a roster spot yet, he has been expected to make the squad. The Hawks have a long, tough road to conquer the Central Division, but they have all the tools to do so. Prediction: I don’t care if it’s homerism, the Hawks should be on top of the Central Division. So, get ready for a lot of Chelsea Dagger, ladies and gentlemen.