No one knows what exactly will happen for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2017, but that doesn’t mean I won’t guess
As I went over in two previous posts, the year of 2016 had its ups and downs for the Chicago Blackhawks. The men in the Indian Head entered 2017 on top of the Central Division and Western Conference, though that’s only thanks to uber-hot Columbus knocking off almost-as-hot Minnesota last night.
So there we go. We already have an up and a down for the Blackhawks to start a new calendar year. The Blackhawks have 43 regular-season games left in the current season before a hopeful playoff run. Then, hosting a draft, more regular-season games … plenty of hockey to enjoy.
With that in mind, today I’m going to make some bold (and not so bold) predictions about the Blackhawks for the calendar year 2017. I’ll apologize in advance — they aren’t all going to be positive predictions.
Chicago Blackhawks beat Winnipeg Jets at least once this season
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We’ll start small here. The Jets — specifically goaltender Connor Hellebuyck — seem to have Chicago’s number this season. Winnipeg already has three wins against the Blackhawks, allowing just two goals in the process.
The two teams meet up twice more this regular season, and since I have no idea how many times they’ll meet up in the 2017 portion of next season, I’m just going to go off these two games. The first is at the United Center on Jan. 26, and the second is in Winnipeg on Feb. 10.
I think the Blackhawks will win that home game, at the very least. It comes right before a four-day break, so coach Joel Quenneville will have no problem rolling his best players frequently during the contest. It’ll lead to a Chicago win, though one that will probably be way tighter than it should be.
Chicago Blackhawks acquire P.A. Parenteau at trade deadline
I don’t necessarily think the Blackhawks need to make a ton of moves at this year’s deadline. They sold a nice portion of the farm last year, and it didn’t work out. While I think that could be a reason for general manager Stan Bowman to be gunshy, I also think the Blackhawks already have in place have most of the pieces to make a long playoff run.
But the bottom six is one area that could be shored up. Guys get shifted in and out pretty consistently, and not all of them have scoring prowess. Plus, we still have to see Jordin Tootoo and his no points playing. (Yes, Andrew Desjardins also has no points, but at least he plays defense.)
P.A. Parenteau briefly was a Chicago Blackhawk at the beginning of his career, and he’s been a minor trade target in recent years. I think this is the year the Blackhawks acquire him, even if just as a rental.
Pareanteau is playing for a bad New Jersey team (second to last in the East) but has a solid 16 points (10 goals) in 35 games, as well as a 50.8 Corsi-for mark. Parenteau is also a veteran guy at 33, but he’s a veteran guy with useful attributes. I like this as Bowman’s trade-deadline deal.
Jonathan Toews hits 600 career points
He’s only 18 points away, so if the captain doesn’t hit 600 by the end of this regular season, he either got hurt long-term, or something went horribly wrong.
Chicago Blackhawks win Central Division
I realize the Minnesota Wild are flying high right now, posting the most goals in the Western Conference (with games in hand on everyone except Nashville) and allowing just 76 goals, second-fewest in the league (Pittsburgh, 73).
But I think the Blackhawks’ star power at the top of the lineup (offensively, defensively and in the net) will separate them in the end. It may just be by two or three points, but I think the Blackhawks will capture the Central Division for the first time since 2013.
Though Marcus Kruger is now out due to injury, hopefully Marian Hossa‘s impending return means the Blackhawks’ offense can get a leg up from where it’s recently been. Corey Crawford and Scott Darling will continue to rule the net, and the defense has had far more bright spots this season than last.
Chicago Blackhawks represent West in Stanley Cup Final
Again, there are obvious threats. The San Jose Sharks returned essentially an entire Stanley Cup Final team, and they’re atop the Pacific Division right now. The Anaheim Ducks will always linger. The Los Angeles Kings still have some of that championship pedigree. The Edmonton Oilers could surprise.
And then there’s teams like the Wild and St. Louis Blues. And what if the Dallas Stars and/or Nashville Predators find themselves in the second half of this regular season and surge into the playoffs?
All that said, I think the Blackhawks still have the fewest questions. Sure, they could get some more offensive production from the bottom six. And sure, Q doesn’t know who he wants to play 5D and 6D on a given night. And we can all worry about Toews’ lack of offensive production (though that finally seems to be turning).
The Blackhawks are a known quantity with a championship pedigree and a closing title window, though. This team knows what it takes to get the job done in the postseason, and I think it will do so. Matching up against an East team, however, is another story.