Question 1: Even if the ’Hawks lose a few key players, i.e., Marcus Kruger and one of their core defensemen, I still think they have an excellent team. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane aren’t going anywhere. Even if Artem Anisimov or Artemi Panarin get moved, it certainly won’t be both of them.
Then there’s still Marian Hossa, and Richard Panik, the latter of whom has found his niche with the ’Hawks. And what about all the young rookies who are now entering their second year with more experience and confidence? I’m talking about Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz, Tanner Kero, Vinnie Hinostroza and even John Hayden.
Defense will be the bigger problem. If the ’Hawks lose either Brent Seabrook or Niklas Hjalmarsson (which it sounds as if they will), that would leave a huge hole on the blueline. But like above with Anisimov and Panarin, it won’t be both of them.
Not as much can be expected of Duncan Keith anymore. If Trevor van Riemsdyk goes to Vegas, can Jan Rutta fill his shoes? Hard to say. Will Michal Kempny be able to step up? Can Brian Campbell have a resurgence? What about Gustav Forsling, Viktor Svedberg or Erik Gustafsson? Lots and lots of question marks.
In my mind, the Chicago Blackhawks will make the playoffs. But it’s how their defensive lineup pans out that will determine how far they go after that.
Question 2: Now that the Vegas Golden Knights have been added to the Pacific Division, they have eight teams along with the Metropolitan and Atlantic Divisions. But the Central Division still only has seven teams.
I would love to see Wisconsin add an NHL team to the Central Division. After all, the Wisconsin Badgers are a Big Ten college hockey school. This state has a huge hockey following, and it would only make sense for them to add an NHL team. Just think of the rivalries this new team could have between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild!
Question 1: I’d say the Western Conference looking weak this season improves the Blackhawks’ chances of qualifying for the 2017-18 postseason despite any losses they suffer this offseason.
I don’t think it’s going to be smooth skating to the playoffs for Chicago, even with the Central Division not being all that impressive. But there just aren’t so many good teams in the West that the Blackhawks will be in bad enough shape to worry about missing the playoffs entirely next season.
I’d be surprised if the Blackhawks win the Central Division next season, but I was surprised they won it this season. That being said, the losses of Marcus Kruger and some other core member, along with typical team restructuring that comes with the salary cap era (not to mention the expansion draft), will make the Blackhawks a less playoff-trendy pick next year versus this year.
Question 2: Just give Seattle an NHL team already. I was surprised Vegas got an outfit before Seattle, as it’s pretty clear the southwestern-most state wants all the sports it can handle. That’s been the case since the NBA’s SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City.
A team would have to leave the Pacific Division to make this happen, of course, and I think Calgary is a reasonable selection. It’s probably the only selection, really. If you can’t do this, I don’t know where else you’re going to put a new team that would fit naturally in the Central Division. Indianapolis? Somewhere in North Dakota? The NHL can make this work in the future.