Ladies and gentlemen, we are less than a month away from meaningful hockey once again filling our lives with joy. The Central Division is once again poised to be home to some truly great teams, and as with every year, it’s truly a toss-up as to who will wear the division crown come April.
So, to get you back into that special hockey feeling, we’re going to take a quick look around the division and what you can expect from each team's next 82 games. It will be smart. It will be mean. It will be a really good time. Let’s start first with the team who finished dead last in the division, much to the rest of the league's great enjoyment. Here are your 2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks.
How Did Last Year Go?
After racking up 10 goals on the defending Stanley Cup champs on opening night the Blackhawks’ season peaked as they fell back to earth. Chicago slowly fading from the front of the pack before plummeting into the abyss like Wile E. Coyote. That plummet was caused by a single missing piece to Chicago’s personnel puzzle; Corey Crawford.
What The Hell Happened?
Crawford, long maligned by fans and writers alike who thought his numbers were inflated by the stout blue-liners in front of him, turns out to be a really good goalie. We know that because last year’s Blackhawks defense was putrid. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook booth took big steps back. Roman Polak might have been a better 1st line choice for the Hawks. Beyond those two, the Hawks used a bevy of defensemen on their 2nd & 3rd lines, all ranging from oatmeal flavored to “My God, just end his suffering”. This clown show forced Crawford to be the deciding factor in close games, and for the most part, it was a role he excelled in. At least until someone gave his brain a bump.
You’ll never see us make light of head injuries (except for the ones Mason has sustained) on Central Divided, but it is truly a mystery as to what happened to Crawford. He might have taken a bump. He might have hit his head on the ice. He might have just had something snap in his consciousness which turned his world upside down. We honestly don’t know. What we do know is that once Crawford’s absence became a long-term issue the Blackhawks withered and died. The harem of backup’s Chicago deployed couldn’t shoulder the workload or fill the literal holes created by the listless defense in front of them.
Jeez, Was There Anything Else?
Oh, not much. Jonathan Toews continued to backslide. Brandon Saad has a career-worst year. Marian Hossa had to retire because his hockey pads were trying to kill him. Duncan Keith drank from the wrong Holy Grail. Brent Seabrook became the highest paid bottom 2 defenseman in the game. The fans were racist. So yeah, great season.
Did anything good happen?
Did They Get Any Worse?
Uhh, not really. Vinnie Hinostroza was traded with Hossa’s contract to Arizona. That probably the biggest loss.
Are There New faces This year?
Funny you should bring that up! Allow me to introduce you to the fresh faces of the Chicago Blackhawks:
Marcus Kruger is back! Marcus Kruger is back? Christ, Marcus Kruger is back…
Chris Kunitz has decided to retire as a Chicago Blackh— I’m sorry, he’s actually playing this season??
Cam Ward will be the starting netminder in 15 to 82 games this season. Yes, you're right.. it is 2018.
Bandon Manning… should actually be helpful on the blueline.
What’s Going To Happen This Year?
Well, not much if Crawford isn’t good to play, which at the time of publication, he is not. The Blackhawks haven’t even confirmed Crawford has touched the ice in his soda this summer. Chicago’s defense really had nowhere to go but up. Fans can hope for Henri Jokiharju to make the jump to the NHL, though he’s still probably a year away. Until he makes a splash though, this will be Keith & Seabrook’s blue line, for better or worse. You can probably expect to see positive bumps in the games of Brandon Saad & Johnathan Toews, because they were just awful considering their previous bodies of work. Alex DeBrincat will be fun to watch, simply to see how he responds to a sophomore campaign which should see him facing better talent across the ice.
“Clubber, What's Your Prediction For The Fight?”
37-33-12. 6th in the Central (including traditional Winter Classic loss). This is assuming Crawford misses considerable time. If he plays a full season, this team should be in the hunt for a wildcard spot. What's the fun in optimism though?
There you have it, folks. Next up, the Dallas Stars.