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For Chicago Blackhawks, Central Division Continues To Get Tougher

agoldschmidt
CINCINNATI, OH - MARCH 25: Denver Pioneers head coach Jim Montgomery talks to his players during the Midwest Regional of the NCAA Hockey Championship between the Denver Pioneers and the Michigan Tech Huskies on March 25th 2017, at US Bank Arena in Cincinnati, OH. Denver defeated Michigan Tech 5-2. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - MARCH 25: Denver Pioneers head coach Jim Montgomery talks to his players during the Midwest Regional of the NCAA Hockey Championship between the Denver Pioneers and the Michigan Tech Huskies on March 25th 2017, at US Bank Arena in Cincinnati, OH. Denver defeated Michigan Tech 5-2. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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Jim Montgomery poses a big threat to the Chicago Blackhawks now as the head coach of the Dallas Stars

There used to be a time when the Chicago Blackhawks walked the NHL’s Central Division and ravaged teams 8-1.  Their speed and strength overpowered other clubs, but most of all their star players trumped opposing defenders.  It was also extremely difficult to score on one of the top defenses in the league.

But that was then.

Now, the Blackhawks look around and see several division foes on the rise.  Most recently, the Nashville Predators have become to team to beat, but Winnipeg is knocking on the door.

They also saw the Colorado Avalanche go from worst team in the league to a playoff contender led by Hart Trophy candidate Nathan MacKinnon.  The Minnesota Wild and St. Louis blues seem to always be in the conversation for a playoff spot and have a lot of prospects coming up.

And lastly, there’s the Dallas Stars, who were supposed to be on the rise befoe injuries kept them from contending.

The Stars recently moved on from longtime NHL head coach Ken Hitchcock and decided to bring in a NCAA head coach in Jim Montgomery.  Montgomery played his college hockey at the University of Maine and has coached in the USHL with the Dubuque Fighting Saints, and most recently with the University of Denver Pioneers.

Last season, Montgomery and the Pioneers won the NCAA Championship, the eighth in the school’s history.

The Montgomery signing poses a serious threat to the Blackhawks because the Stars have a lot of the right pieces to be successful, but they haven’t put it all together yet.  Jaime Benn, Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg, Alexander Radulov, Jason Spezza and more offer cause for concern to begin with.

GM Jim Nill has done a great job assembling a good combination of experience, leadership and young talent.  Now the Stars finally have a fearless leader to give them direction and confidence.

Montgomery has a history of developing young players and is a winner.  He has a team-first mentality and puts a focus on being relentless.  This strategy was seen in the 2017 NCAA tournament, in which the Denver Pioneers would take early leads before playing relentless defense forcing turnovers by closing space.

This is terrible news for the Blackhawks, who have been thin on defense and lackadaisical at times coming up the ice, especially on the powerplay.  With Montgomery behind the bench, players will need to keep their heads up at all times and expect forwards to be in on the forecheck at all times.

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This just furthers the fact the Blackhawks can’t get by on talent alone anymore.  They are going to have to match the work ethic of division rivals and start taking advantage of their mistakes.  Otherwise, it’s going to be another long season watching the Central get even more competitive.

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