The new realignment of the NHL will shake things up for every team in the league. In seasons past, you could look at the 6 Divisions and point out the weak ones, where it came down to the team that wasn’t the worst made it into the playoffs, and look at the strong ones, where 4 of the 5 teams deserved to make it to the post season. The realignment settled some scheduling and traveling conflicts for both teams and fans and also provides 4 more balanced Divisions.
Each Division in the Western Conference includes 7 teams while those in the East have 8 each. The top 3 in each Division will automatically make it to the playoffs along with the next top 2 in the Conference. This means that the Chicago Blackhawks will need to be in the top 3 of the 7 Central Division teams or rank in the top 8 in the Western Conference to defend their 2013 Championship in the playoffs.
The Blackhawks said goodbye last season to the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets who jumped Conference to the East. They are still Division rivals with the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators. New to the Central Division this season are the Colorado Avalanche, Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, and Dallas Stars.
The Red Wings and Blues have been the biggest challenges the Blackhawks in recent seasons, but now they have one eye on the Blues while the other looks for a possible Wings replacement. That will most likely come from the Wild who are looking for proof that Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are the stars they paid for, or from the Colorado Avalanche who have a new head coach and young stars capable of earning one of the top 3 Central Division places.
Less than a week into the season, it’s hard to say how it will all turn out, which rivalries will grow, which teams will disappoint and which teams will surprise everyone. But we’ll keep tabs behind enemy lines every week along the way.
Who do you think will be the Blackhawks newest rival?