Are the Chicago Blackhawks the Stanley Cup Favorites After the Trade Deadline?
GM Stan Bowman decided that the team he currently had on the ice was good enough to compete for the Stanley Cup (via Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune):
The group here has really kind of earned the right to see what we can do as a group. The strength of our team has been our consistency and our depth. And you don't rule anything out but I think our focus is to keep this group together and try to add to it.
It's fair to say that this team has enough firepower, defense and goaltending to push them far enough come the playoffs. But do they have enough to win the Stanley Cup, say, against the Pittsburgh Penguins?
Forget the Penguins—the 'Hawks may have problems getting past the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Finals if both teams make it that far.
That begs an important question: Are the Blackhawks Stanley Cup favorites after the trade deadline?
Even with their remarkable start to the season and the fact that they are an elite NHL team, the Blackhawks are not favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
The Blackhawks have only defeated one playoff contender in the second half of the season. Giving up late leads, blown defensive assignments and inconsistent goaltending have all contributed to the Blackhawks' struggles in the second half.
The Ducks trounced the Blackhawks three times—all of which saw the Ducks win the game in the final five minutes or the shootout.
The defensive pairing of Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson has gone cold, allowing opponents to take control in the Blackhawks defensive zone.
If the Penguins can maintain a full and healthy lineup, they are the clear favorites to make a charge at a Cup. That is key in predicting which team will do the most damage come the playoffs; injuries are very prominent in a shortened 48-game season.
On the bright side, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa should be returning to the lineup soon—giving the 'Hawks a much needed offensive boost. The return of these two players would be just as good as a trade for a team struggling to find consistency.
A big issue that plagues the Blackhawks is depth at the center position. Stan Bowman was able to trade with the San Jose Sharks for Michal Handzus, a veteran center who will likely play on the third or fourth line.
But what to do about the second-line center position?
Dave Bolland has given it his best but has failed to be productive when paired with superstar Patrick Kane. Bolland has also failed to win more than 45 percent of his faceoffs for the season, well below what is expected from a real second-line center.
Even Sharp said that he would be open to playing center when he returns to the lineup (via Chris Kuc Chicago Tribune).
Are the Blackhawks the favorites to win the Stanley Cup?
This team is built to win in the playoffs, don't get me wrong. But standing idle at the trade deadline may be a mistake if the Blackhawks find a way to exit early.
Consistency will be crucial in the final stretch of the season leading up to the playoffs, and the Blackhawks will have to find inspiration from their magical start to the season.
That includes a rebound by goaltenders Corey Crawford and Ray Emery—both of whom played spectacularly to start the season but have fallen off since. The key to any playoff run is a hot goaltender, or in this case, two hot goaltenders.
However Bowman chooses to look at the situation, the Blackhawks have a good enough team to win, but they will certainly not be the favorites.
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