Question 1: Full disclosure: I get to see everyone else’s responses to the weekly questions before I provide my answers. I’ll usually try to mix things up if there’s a really popular response. You’ll see that in my answer to the next question.
But I’m not breaking away from the pack just to do it on this one. My answer is the San Jose Sharks as the Western Conference team I’m most worried about moving forward.
Look, Minnesota’s win streak was impressive, no doubt. Devan Dubnyk is playing out of his mind (it’s unsustainable), and there’s balanced scoring and a good defensive unit in front of Dubnyk. This is the group Minnesota thought it had when it faced Chicago in the Western Conference semifinals in 2014.
But the Sharks have all these things too, and their versions are better in key areas. The offense is led by dynamic forwards like Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton. Brent Burns is crazy-effective on offense from the blue line and leads that defensive group as well.
The San Jose blue line is among the deepest in the NHL. Burns, Paul Martin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun, Brenden Dillon and David Schlemko is a pretty tight group. And in front of a rapidly rising goaltender in Martin Jones, who hardly blinked in his first starting playoff run last season, it’s just a scary group.
Sure the point total for the Sharks isn’t soaring like those of other division leaders, but remember: the L.A. Kings have, in the past, come out of this division with an unimpressive point total and steamrolled postseason competition. Fear the Fin (to an extent).
Question 2: The answer is Jonathan Toews. For all the reasons everyone else here said. But let’s have some fun with this, shall we?
There are two other guys in the Blackhawks’ clubhouse who have some noticeable leadership qualities as well. Actually, there are way more than that. But I’m going to point out two: Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Seabs has been credited as more of a silent leader, the one who went in the penalty box and got in Toews’ ear during the 2013 postseason, sparking the captain back to life. He’s apparently a great locker room voice, too. While he’s slowed a bit from his younger days, he’s still a really strong defenseman as well. He’d be an interesting guy to build around.
Hjalmarsson is a fascinating choice. Guys like the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus note that Hjammer gives the most frank and honest quotes when asked questions. He doesn’t candy-coat things, and he seems to have a fantastic sense of how things are going in the locker room and on the ice.
Now, it may seem like it’d be hard to build a franchise around a guy who plays a highly defensive game and lets his body get all bruised and battered for his team. But why? This is all that’s good about old-time hockey, and with Hjammer’s stealthy locker-room presence, he’d be a neat pick.
Toews goes before both of these guys, but I’d be really intrigued to see how a team built around either Seabrook or Hjammer turned out.
Question 1: The one Western Conference team I am worried about in 2017 is the Minnesota Wild. Great goaltending can get you very far in this league, and Devan Dubnyk is proving to be one of the best in the league. If you add consistent play to that, Minnesota could be dangerous moving forward.
Question 2: If I am taking one player from the Blackhawks to start a franchise around, it’s easily Jonathan Toews. Patrick Kane, Corey Crawford and Duncan Keith are all fantastic options, but in the NHL nowadays, if you don’t have a top faceoff man, top defensive forward or top offensive option down the middle, there isn’t much success going to be had.
Toews can do all of those things as one player. Add to that he is one of the best leaders in the league and it’s easy to see why the Blackhawks themselves built the current team with Toews as a focal point.