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  • KNOW YOUR ENEMY: 2017-18 Central Division Preview -- Chicago Blackhawks

    Giles Ferrell

    Chicago Blackhawks
    Head Coach: Joel Quenneville (10th season with CHI)
    Arena: United Center
    2016-17 Record: 50-23-9 (109 points, 1st in Western Conference)
    2016-17 Record vs MIN: 4-1-0
    Top Scorer: Patrick Kane (34 goals-55 assists-89 points)
    Top Goaltender: Corey Crawford (32-18-4, 2.55 Goals Against Average, .918 Save Percentage, 2 Shutouts)

    2016-17 Recap: After one of their more successful regular seasons in the Kane/Toews era -- third division title if you count the lockout-shortened season -- it looked like the Blackhawks were primed to make a deep postseason run again. However, in the postseason they ran into the buzzsaw that was the Nashville Predators and were dismantled in four games in which they tallied just three goals. Following the series loss, general manager Stan Bowman promised sweeping changes to his team to ensure this would not happen again.

    Offseason Losses: F Artemi Panarin, D Niklas Hjalmarsson, F Marcus Kruger, G Scott Darling, D Trevor Van Riemsdyk, D Brian Campbell, and D Johnny Oduya

    As promised, Bowman made swift changes to this team. In the hours leading up to the first round of the NHL Draft, he sent Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Coyotes and Artemi Panarin to the Blue Jackets. Marcus Kruger was eventually traded to the Vegas Golden Knights -- and then sent to Carolina two days later -- and Carolina scooped up backup goaltender Scott Darling in a June trade before the goalie hit the free-agent market. It was a huge reshuffling of the deck defensively for Chicago, as Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are the only two names you will recognize on the blue line.

    Offseason Additions: F Brandon Saad, D Connor Murphy, F Patrick Sharp, F Tommy Wingels, F Lance Bouma, F Dennis Rasmussen, and G Anton Forsberg

    Coming back in those aforementioned draft-day trades were Connor Murphy (via Arizona) and Brandon Saad (Columbus), the latter to help reignite Jonathan Toews -- his old linemate. Speaking of getting the band back together, Patrick Sharp signed a one-year deal to come back to Chicago after a very underwhelming year in Dallas. Replacing Darling as backup goaltender will be Anton Forsberg, who also was acquired in the Saad/Panarin deal.

    Projected Lines (via dailyfaceoff):

    Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
    Alex DeBrincat-Nick Schmaltz-Patrick Kane
    Ryan hartman-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Sharp
    Lance Bouma-Tanner Kero-Tommy Wingels

    Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
    Michal Kempny-Connor Murphy
    Gustav Forsling-Vile Pokka

    Corey Crawford
    Anton Forsberg

    2017-18 Outlook:

    Bowman has always found a way to retool his team due to being strapped to the cap, but this finally might be the year where his team takes a step back. The trade of Saad for Panarin will no doubt save them some money in two years when Panarin's contract is up, but you have to do what you have to do to spark your $10.5 million player (Toews). Defensively, the Blackhawks are not good. Unless NHL 100 member Keith becomes Superman and can play 60 minutes per night, teams are going to light up this back end. Seabrook is a shell of what he used to be, and the last two defensive pairings (above) will strike fear in no one. The Central Division will eat those pairings up.

    If you are expecting the Blackhawks to be among the best in the league again this year, think again. While they will still productive offensively, they are a mess on the back end. Crawford is good, but he is not going to be able to save his blue line every night.

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