The toughest NHL division continues to build more elite teams while the Chicago Blackhawks struggle to regain their footing. Headed into the 2018-19 season, the Blackhawks could be in trouble facing off against their Central Division counterparts.
Not only is the NHL’s Central Division tough to compete in, the division is tough to predict. Before the 2017-18 season, 17 analysts for NHL.com submitted their picks around how the Central Division, among others, would look come playoff time.
All 17 believed the Chicago Blackhawks would make it into the playoffs, the majority of them predicting either a second- or third-place finish in the division. Winnipeg received only three mentions of a wild card spot. Colorado did not received a single mention.
April of 2018 finally arrived and the Central Division standings looked a lot different than what the experts at NHL.com had foreseen. Nashville won the President’s Trophy, Winnipeg finished second, Minnesota third and Colorado sneaking in with the last wild card spot. All 17 analysts were incorrect about the Blackhawks.
Only a few months away from the 2018-19 season, the Blackhawks’ story has not changed. While the other six Central Division teams have applied upgrades, the Blackhawks continue to apply bandages to wounds which require serious attention.
E.J. Hradek of the NHL Network believes the Chicago Blackhawks will finish dead last once the 2018-19 season concludes. His projected standings are listed below
- Winnipeg Jets
- Nashville Predators
- St. Louis Blues
- Minnesota Wild
- Colorado Avalanche
- Dallas Stars
- Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks can’t finish dead last again, can they? Not OUR Blackhawks! As I said earlier, this Central Division is difficult to gauge. If the Blackhawks are to finish with at least a wild card spot, we should take a look at the seven mountains — including themselves — they will have to conquer to get there.
Da Windy City
Over a series of a few posts, I will dive into what the Blackhawks can expect from their opposing Central Division adversaries. The series kicks off with the Dallas Stars.
The Dallas Stars (Blackhawks 0-4 against last season)
The Dallas Stars are not a team you want to overlook, especially when their top line is voted the second best in the NHL. Jamie Benn (79 points), Tyler Seguin (78 points) and Alexander Radulov (72 points) make up this elite, point-producing powerhouse.
Shutting down this line and keeping the puck out of the net will be difficult. However, a single line may win games, but a single line will not get a team to the playoffs. Ultimately, the Stars will need their next nine forwards to step up and contribute if they’re to lock in a playoff spot.
The Dallas Stars defensive lines bring worry headed into the 2018-19 season. Similar to the Blackhawks’ situation, the support from the defense as a whole remains a mystery.
However, the top defensive pairing of Esa Lindell (27 points) and John Klingberg (67 points) will have no problems assisting their top, elite line of forwards in the offensive zone while cleaning things up back in their own. There is no doubt this pair will lead Dallas’ skaters in average time on ice once again. The defensive depth was a concern last year and seems to have carried over into the approaching season, according to our cousins in Dallas.
Opposing forwards who are able to slip past the second- and third-pairing Dallas Stars defenders will still have Ben Bishop to answer to. The 6-foot-7 goaltender had a .916 save percentage and 2.49 goals-against average last season in 51 games started — not to mention previous playoff and Stanley Cup Final experience. Bishop also tied for fourth place in the league with five shutouts last season.
Lastly, the Dallas Stars have a new head coach behind the bench. Jim Montgomery coached the University of Denver hockey team from 2013-18 and won the NCAA national championship in 2017. He also has two Clark Cup Trophies to his name as the USHL champions with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in 2011 and 2013.
The Dallas Stars are a team the Blackhawks can beat. Do not be fooled by the 0-4 record against the Stars last season. The Blackhawks can finish above the Dallas Stars due to deeper forward depth as well as defensive depth.
The next post will look at two teams who have quickly turned their organization around and pose a larger threat to the Blackhawks. The mountains only get taller from here.