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THN’s 2015-16 NHL season preview: Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks enter the 2015-16 campaign as defending champions, but a roster shakeup and off-ice issues have some questioning how Chicago will perform this season. Getting back to the post-season seems like a lock, but how deep the Blackhawks will go might be the biggest question.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

2014-15 Record: 48-28-6 (102 Pts.)

THN’s Prediction: 2nd, Central Division

What To Expect: Within days of Chicago’s Stanley Cup victory in 2010, cap constraints forced GM Stan Bowman to ship out key pieces of his championship team. In 2015, the same circumstances arose, and the players knew what was coming. With $10.5-million cap hits kicking in for

Jonathan Toews and

Patrick Kane’s new deals, Bowman was under the gun to move dollars out the door. When

Brandon Saad’s contract demands escalated, Bowman sent him to Columbus in a seven-player deal. Coming back was

Artem Anisimov, a big center who steps in for the departed

Brad Richards, and

Marko Dano, a productive 20-year-old who makes less than $1 million for two more years.

Patrick Sharp was then dealt to the Stars for

Trevor Daley and

Ryan Garbutt.

A summer police investigation around an alleged off-ice incident involving Kane cast doubt as to his status to start the season, but he has been participating in training camp and the pre-season. After playing into June, the Hawks will have at least five fresh faces on the roster, which will counter the Cup hangover. Three of team's top forwards are gone in Saad, Sharp and Richards, but

Teuvo Teravainen, just 20, looked like a budding star in the playoffs. He and Anisimov and Dano will keep the secondary scoring respectable. KHL star import

Artemi Panarin, 23, has a top-six ceiling but hasn't played in North America. Elite puck possession helped the Hawks to the second-best goals against, and their 'D' is mostly intact, swapping in Daley for

Johnny Oduya. The bottom pair of

Trevor van Riemsdyk and

David Rundblad is a work in progress but trending upwards, and Bowman has brought back veteran

Michal Rozsival on a one-year deal. The Hawks were somehow 20th on the power play, a rank that contradicts their elite skill. But the penalty kill was exceptional, and will be again. Chicago's core is used to short summers after three Cups in six seasons. The loss of the skilled Saad hurts, but the Hawks still have plenty of talent – enough to take a stab at a fourth title in seven seasons.

Best-Case Scenario: There are a lot of fresh faces in Chicago, but that doesn’t mean this team can’t compete for the Stanley Cup again. Making the post-season and advancing deep isn’t just the best-case scenario for the Blackhawks, it’s what is expected of the team by fans and management. The roster is talented enough to make the post-season and they could find themselves challenging for another championship this season.

Worst-Case Scenario: Following the Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup victory and subsequent roster shakeup, Chicago was ousted in the first round of the playoffs in consecutive seasons, first by the Canucks and then by the Coyotes. The Blackhawks have lost just as many key players this off-season and making it out of the first round in the Central Division won’t be easy.

Who To Watch: The Blackhawks lost Saad, but the hope is Teravainen can replace his production. During his rookie campaign in 2014-15, Teravainen struggled, scoring only four goals and nine points in 34 games while averaging fourth-line minutes. This season, he’ll rocket up the depth chart and be a second-liner for the Blackhawks, which makes sense considering he scored four goals and 10 points in 18 post-season games. He’s still got a small frame, but his creativity and defensive acumen made him a fixture of the Blackhawks’ lineup in the Stanley Cup final. His two-point performance in the dying moments of Game 1 — a goal followed by a sneaky steal turned Antoine Vermette game-winner — made him a playoff hero, and the Blackhawks will be expecting more of that from their 2012 first-round pick.

What The Numbers Say (by Dom Luszczyszyn):

Click here for more detail on these predictions. Another Cup win, another mass roster exodus. While the core remains intact in Chicago, the big changes around them might make the upcoming season a bit more challenging. They’ve been the best team for the better part of the last decade, but their worst seasons in that timeframe have come after Stanley Cup wins. That’s not to say the Blackhawks are going to be bad, but they may slip out of the West’s elite if these projections are any indication, and the playoffs are not exactly a lock either. Of course that all depends on how the new faces fit with the club, something that’s difficult to gauge using just numbers. Players who are coming from worse teams might thrive in Chicago’s system and see a boost in their numbers or they could be exactly as they seem. If the latter is the case, Chicago is about two wins worse after their off-season shake-up.

Despite the loss, the team is still above average across the board. Toews and Kane lead a relatively deep forward corps that could be better depending on how the new guys play. Dano was exceptional in limited minutes last season (his projections are deflated because of the small sample size) and if he can keep that up, the Blackhawks have a star in the making. The defence is strong too, but top guys like Keith and Seabrook are in their 30’s now and are likely on the downswing of their career. That means young guys like Rundblad and van Riemsdyk need to step up this season. In net the Hawks have

Corey Crawford who had a stellar 2014-15. Goaltending was one of the Hawks’ biggest strengths last season and with all the offseason changes they’ve made, they might need to rely on it again this year.

THN is rolling out its 2015-16 Team Previews daily, in reverse alphabetical order, until the start of the season. Check out our ‘Previews’ section to see other team breakdowns.

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

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