As part of our summer series previewing the 2014-15 NHL season, CSNwashington.com is analyzing all 30 NHL teams, division by division. Today we continue with the Western Conference’s Central Division.
Today: CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
2013-14 record: 46-21-15 (107 points)
Where they finished: 3rd in the Central; 5th in the West; 7th in the NHL
Coach: Joel Quennrville (7th season)
Key additions: C Brad Richards
Key subtractions: LW Brandon Bollig, C Michal Handzus, C Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Patrick Sharp – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad – Brad Richards – Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Kris Versteeg
Jeremy Morin - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith
Extras: Teuvo Teravainen, Peter Regin
Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Johnny Oduya
Nick Leddy - Michal Rozsival
Corey Crawford - Antti Raanta
Our take: Back on July 1, when NHL teams combined to spend more than $450 million on unrestricted free agents, the Chicago Blackhawks contributed a meager $2 million to the cause.
With so many established pieces in place, Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman didn't have a very long shopping list. Bowman was seeking a No.2 center (sound familiar Caps fans?!) and not much else. Former Rangers pivot Brad Richards was simply seeking a fresh start after having the final six years of his contract bought out by New York.
Richards eventually signed a one-year, $2 million deal with Chicago and now has the chance to play alongside one of the game's best pure scorers in right wing Patrick Kane. Brandon Saad is expected to play left wing on Chicago's second line, although he and first liner Patrick Sharp [team-high 34 goals and 78 points in 2013-14] were at times inter-changeable last season. Throw in captain Jonathan Toews and veteran Marian Hossa [coming off his eighth career 30-goal season] and the Blackhawks have a formidable top-six.
Chicago finished second in overall scoring last season (3.18 goals-per-game) behind only the Anaheim Ducks, and ranked ninth in the NHL on the power play (19.5%).
The Blackhawks were also the only team with as many as four different players with at least 28 goals [Sharp (34), Hossa (30), Kane (29) and Toews (28)].
Now add Richards, a ten-time 20-goal scorer, to replace Handzus [4 goals and 16 points in 59 games last season] and the Blackhawks feel that they have the necessary depth up the middle to stay competitive in the Western Conference. Richards may not be the player he once was, but the Blackhawks don't need him to be. A top-six complimentary role may be an ideal fit.
The Richards signing also allows the Blackhawks to keep Andrew Shaw [20 goals and 39 points in 80 games] in the more appropriate role as a third line checker, while giving highly touted prospect Teuvo Teravainen, 19, one more year of seasoning before his anticipated move into Chicago's top-six.
Defensively, the Blackhawks return the same unit from a year ago, while Corey Crawford [32-16-10, 2.26 GAA, .917SV%] will again carry the load in the goal. Crawford, 29, is entering the first season of a six-year $36 million deal he signed in 2013.
Will they make the playoffs in 2014-15? Yes, the Blackhawks will qualify for the postseason for a seventh straight year.
Against the Capitals: Fri. Nov. 7 at Chicago; Thu. Jan. 1 at Washington (Winter Classic)