The NHL is seeing a temporary division change heading into 2021, and it will impact the Blackhawks as well.
The NHL is divided into four divisions: three with eight teams and one with seven. The teams in each division will play only the other teams in their division.
In the case of Chicago, the Blackhawks will play in the Central Division against Carolina, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, Nashville, and Tampa Bay eight times each for a total of 56 games. The top four teams will earn the right to play in the 2021 NHL Playoffs.
Noticeably gone from the Blackhawks schedule are all of the Canadian teams and division foes Colorado, Minnesota, St. Louis, and Winnipeg. The new additions being Carolina, Columbus, Florida, Detroit, and Tampa. A quick look at the schedule may cause fans some pause, the ‘Hawks play the Stanley Cup Champion and Runner-up 16 times, including the opening two games and closing two games.
Will the change in divisions and opponents help the Blackhawks in 2021 or stunt the growth of the ‘Hawks youth movement? Well, it’s really a mixed bag.
Last year, the Blackhawks played very well against the Canadian teams. Chicago was .500 or better against six of the seven teams, posting an impressive 12-6 record. Outside of Winnipeg, most of Canada is rebuilding. All things being equal, not playing north of the border this year, could work against the Hawk’s chances to land a spot in the 2021 playoffs.
Interestingly, the one Canadian team that the Blackhawks struggled against was also a division foe, the Winnipeg Jets. The Blackhawks went 2-3 against the Jets. Joining Winnipeg as division opponents no longer on the schedule this year are Colorado, Minnesota, and St. Louis.
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The Blackhawks were 1-3 versus Colorado, 1-1 versus Minnesota, and 0-4 against St. Louis. That’s a total of 4-11 against divisional foes who will be playing out West. Those teams possess grinders or blazing speed; both the bane of Blackhawks’ success.
The third group that will have a major impact on the ‘Hawks this year are the divisional newcomers Carolina, Columbus, Florida, Detroit, and Tampa Bay. The Blackhawks dropped two to Carolina, doubled up victories on Columbus, and split with the rest for a total record of 5-5 versus our new foes.
While losing the Canadian teams will hurt in a small way, the biggest game-changer for the ‘Hawks will be the loss of former Central Division foes the Jets, Avalanche, and St. Louis. Last year, the Hawks were 3-10 versus these opponents. While those teams won’t be exactly the same this year, they play styles that make the Blackhawks struggle. Playing those teams over 24 games could be a disaster.
Obviously, there are those who will point to the addition of Carolina and Tampa as a disaster for Chicago. Carolina is certainly troubling as they play a style that gives the ‘Hawks fits. As for Tampa Bay, the Hawks split with them last year, and they will now be playing without Nikita Kucherov.
Much will be made of the divisional changes and the grinding nature of back to back games all season. However, under the microscope, the changes in opponents in the Central Division will be a wash. Ultimately, the true opponent for the Chicago Blackhawks this year will be filling key roles with youth and inexperience in a very unforgiving format. Time to be patient Hawks fans- all will be revealed in two weeks.