No. 2: Chicago Blackhawks
If the Blackhawks had somehow, some way stood pat this offseason regarding their defense, they’d be in the bottom two on this list. It was just brutal last season. But GM Stan Bowman made some nice moves to address obvious issues.
First, we start with the returnees. Duncan Keith is still a machine at 33. He’s taking off the World Cup to rest his knee, which is great for Chicago. He pushes a lot of the offense from the blue line and shuts down so many opposing chances the other way. A generational defenseman as he is makes this defense solid to start.
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Niklas Hjalmarsson is still insane from a shot-blocking perspective, and also one of the game’s best shutdown defenders. His offense saw an uptick last season as well. Brent Seabrook is in line for a bounceback campaign, though we know he brings nice offensive push and good stick positioning regardless.
Now on to the new No. 4 and 5 guys (theoretically). Brian Campbell returns to Chicago, with Joel Quenneville likely hoping Soupy will retake his role as an offensively-inclined defenseman who also provides just enough defensive tendencies to shore up the second pairing. Michal Kempny from the KHL sounds promising on both ends of the ice, though it remains to be seen how he’ll adjust to the North American game.
And then … and then. Trevor van Riemsdyk will hopefully benefit from being off the second pairing this season. Erik Gustafsson offers offensive promise from the blue line, but may not be defensively inclined enough to suit Q at this time. Michal Rozsival still exists. Viktor Svedberg is the Iron Giant’s second cousin. Yeah, it’s a motley crew for 6D.
But with the top five being considered generally solid, the Blackhawks are in fine shape, especially from a division standpoint and double especially considering last year’s group.
Next: Number 1