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Central Division Preview: Chicago Blackhawks

We're previewing the tough Central Division. Here's a look at the season and offseason that was for Chicago and what to watch for.

Tasos Katopodis

Chicago Blackhawks

Finished 3rd in the Central (107 pts); Eliminated in West Conf. Final v L.A. Kings

Record (46-21-15); Goals For - 267, Goals Against - 220

Key Acquisition

Brad Richards

Key Departures

Brandon Bollig

After a stellar 2012 campaign in which the Blackhawks were almost unbeatable enroute to another Stanley Cup title, the 2013-14 season came a little tougher for Jonathan Toews and Co. That's not to say the Hawks had a bad year. They returned to the playoffs for the sixth straight year. They finished 3rd in the newly aligned Central Division, behind St. Louis and Colorado, a year after capturing the President's Trophy. They beat the St. Louis Blues in 6 games, beat the Wild in 6 games, and fell to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Kings in 7 games.

Chicago remained relatively quiet during free agency by quietly bringing in Brad Richards to be a decent second line center. The 34 year old veteran scored 20 goals and 31 assists last season. Richards was a positive possession player for the Rangers last season. Even though he had 67 percent of his zone starts in the offensive zone at 5v5, his relative Corsi was 2.43 percent and his Fenwick Rel is 2.93 percent. He makes things happen while he's in the opposition's end.

Calgary acquired Brandon Bollig via trade during the Draft for a third round pick. Bollig was a thorn in the side to a number of our colleagues at Second City Hockey. Bollig had terrible deployment as he started the majority of his already limited time on ice in the defensive zone. Then, on top of that, he had an abysmal Corsi Rel of -3.15 percent and a Fenwick Rel of -1.13 percent. Plus/Minus is a pretty useless stat so instead look at the Goals For percentage and Bollig was on that short end of that with a 47.4 percent.

By acquiring Richards and shipping Bollig to Canada via express mail, the entire depth chart looks deeper and packs even more scoring punch (as if a line-up featuring Hossa, Toews, and Kane needed more punch). Speaking of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews...

The Blackhawks re-signed both of them to identical 8-year $84 million contract extensions back in July. Toews has appeared in 484 games in Chi-Town and tallied 440 points in that stretch. Patrick Kane has played in 515 games with 493 points. That kind of firepower from two core guys that are locked down for the long-term is the envy of most any franchise. Add in their playoff experience, 94 and 93 Stanley Cup Playoff games respectively, Chicago has a team that not only got deeper, but has incredible experience to make them perennially the toughest hurdle for the Wild to have to get over.

Patrick Sharp

Jonathan Toews

Marian Hossa

Brandon Saad

Brad Richards

Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell

Andrew Shaw

Ben Smith

Kris Versteeg

Marcus Kruger

Jeremy Morin

Duncan Keith

Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya

Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy

Michal Roszival

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta





In the System

The Blackhawks have been drafting near the end of rounds in the last six years. However, that does not mean they don't have solid prospects in the system. In last summer's Entry Draft, Chicago drafted two Minnesota natives in Eden Prairie's Luc Snuggerud and Minnetonka's Jack Ramsey. Ramsey, a forward, is the son of former Wild assistant coach Mike Ramsey. Snuggerud, a defenseman, was one of the higher rated Minnesota defenseman in the 2014 draft.

If you've read Hockey Wilderness for some time now, you've likely heard of Gustav Olofsson and his impressively smooth skating. Well his brother Frederik Olofsson is in the Blackhawks' system. The Hawks also signed former Gopher Justin Holl. If you're in the Windy City in the next few years, chances are there is a Minnesota tie somewhere on the United Center ice.

Now, the Minnesota kids are not what Blackhawks fans are all excited about heading into the season. A Finlander by the name of Teuvo Teravainen has the flash and dash that makes Hawks fans giddy about the future.  If you follow Jen @RegressedPDO, you've likely seen the ranting and raving that the Helsinki native has been receiving in Blackhawks fan-circles.

Projection

Many of us bloggers around the Central Division feel it's still Chicago's division to lose. The Blackhawks seem to be an every-other-year kind of team where they will absolutely dominate every team in every way, or like last year, be great, but not as dominant. Chicago looks like they have done some under-the-radar improvement and have another star in waiting in Teuvo Teravainen. It would be a shock if the Blackhawks did not make another appearance to the post-season as a cup favorite. However with the division getting stronger, the Blackhawks will be in a much tougher battle than they've ever had for the top spot in Conference III.