Chicago Blackhawks: How They Measure Up in the Central Division
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The Chicago Blackhawks haven't made a lot of offseason moves heading into the 2012-13 season. However, that doesn't mean that they aren't capable of moving up the pecking order in the NHL Central Division.
Last season the 'Hawks finished fourth behind St. Louis, Nashville and Detroit. All of those teams gained the second, fourth and fifth playoff seeds with Chicago finishing sixth in the Western Conference.
Is it far-fetched to believe that Joel Quenneville can lead his team to a higher division finish?
Not really. There are several reasons that Chicago can move up this season. Let's examine a few.
1. A full season of Jonathan Toews wouldn't hurt.
Toews missed the last 22 games of the regular season with concussion issues. If he can avoid being out for long stretches the 'Hawks are going to be better.
2. The 'Hawks could make a commitment to defense.
The Blues were a talented yet struggling team until Ken Hitchcock came aboard and sold them on improving their play in their own zone. The result was 109 points and the division crown.
Where will the Blackhawks finish in the Central Division?
Chicago still has one of the league's best top pairings in Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. They have a host of forwards that can be very effective in the defensive zone. If the Blackhawks can improve on the defensive end it should move then up.
3. Teams above them suffered some key losses.
The 'Hawks didn't add much in the way of free agency, but didn't lose any of their top players. On the other hand, both Detroit and Nashville lost half of their top blue line pairings. Niklas Lidstrom retired after a stellar career with the Red Wings and Ryan Suter is now in Minnesota.
Chicago finished a point behind Detroit and three back of the Predators. Neither team really replaced their departed stars.
4. Corey Crawford could close the gap.
The Blackhawks' improvement this season hinges in large part on the play of their third-year goalie.
Pekka Rinne is in net for Nashville and the tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot is still intact in St. Louis. It's hard to predict that Crawford will outplay those guys. However, by improving on a disappointing 2011-12 campaign, Crawford can lessen the advantage division opponents may have in net.
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5. Chicago can skate with the Blues.
St. Louis is coming back largely intact, though it doesn't appear that they will re-sign Jason Arnott and may have trouble replacing his leadership. However, the Blackhawks have shown that they can battle the Blues and come out on top.
Chicago won the head-to-head match-up by winning four of their six meetings with St. Louis. Two of those wins came in March with Toews out of the lineup.
Things definitely have to break the right way in several areas, but it isn't a stretch to think that Chicago can move up the Central Division ladder. It starts with taking care of things that they can control such as the play in their own zone.
If good health also smiles upon the 'Hawks, they could improve upon last season's finish.
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