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Season Preview 2019-20: Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago's offensive firepower couldn't outpace their defensive deficiencies last season. Has enough changed on the back end?

Has the defense improved enough?
Last season, the Blackhawks were able to score with the best, led largely by an otherworldly performance by Patrick Kane that brought with it whispers of Hart Trophy candidacy. Only seven teams compiled more goals than Chicago. But the Blackhawks were a mess defensively, allowing the second-most goals and the second-most shots against. That’s not a recipe for success, and GM Stan Bowman knows it, so he shored up the blueline by adding second-pair caliber D-men Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan – the latter of whom will be sidelined for the first month of the season. Is that enough to stop the defensive bleeding? The Blackhawks sure hope so, because shaving at least 30 goals off the previous season’s total might be the only way Chicago heads back to the post-season.

Will Robin Lehner repeat his Vezina-caliber season?
He was a brick wall for the New York Islanders last season, posting the second-best goals-against average (2.13) and save percentage (.930) of any goaltender to play at least 40 games. The concern is whether he can thrive in the same way with a team that allowed an average of four more shots against per game and did a far worse job insulating the crease. If he repeats his performance, however, it will not only be a massive boon for the Blackhawks’ crease, but it will also answer an important long-term question by offering a replacement for veteran free agent-to-be Corey Crawford.

Does Dylan Strome build off his breakout?
For years, Chicago has searched high and low for a long-term fit at second-line center, and Strome appeared to be that and more once arriving from the Arizona Coyotes. He was a lethal offensive weapon, tallying 17 goals and 51 points in 58 games with the Blackhawks, and he also averaged upwards of 17 minutes per game. He will enter the campaign with much greater expectations, though, and that means shouldering more of the load at both ends of the ice. If Strome’s encore is another near point-per-game output alongside pal Alex DeBrincat, Bowman and Co. are going to be over the moon, but Chicago has to be wary about a potential step back.

Stanley Cup Odds: 56/1

Rookie Watch
Alexander Nylander
has waited for his opportunity, and moving to the Windy City presents him with a chance to get his young career on track. If Chicago’s Strome reclamation project is any indication, Nylander has breakout potential and could turn into the shifty scorer he was projected to become.

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