There will be a short summer before the Blackhawks hit the ice for the regular season on October 1.
The Blackhawks will be in a new division—still named the Central Division—in the upcoming season. The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets moved to the Eastern Conference whereas the Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche will be division rivals for Chicago.
It's a big change for the Blackhawks, but it shouldn't be bad for the Stanley Cup champions.
The following slides are my dissection of the Blackhawks' 2013-14 schedule.
The Blackhawks will take on the Pittsburgh Penguins as a part of the NHL Stadium Series.
January 19 vs. Boston Bruins
This game will mark the first time the Stanley Cup contenders meet since Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Expect the Boston Bruins to seek revenge against the champions by playing their physical game. In fact, the Blackhawks haven't beat the Bruins in Chicago since 2010.
The good thing is that the game can't go to triple overtime!
January 22 at Detroit Red Wings
It's strange to think that the Blackhawks won't play the Detroit Red Wings until almost four months into the regular season. The Red Wings were the team to threaten the Blackhawks' chance at a Stanley Cup the most last year, taking a 3-1 series lead at one point.
Even though the teams are no longer division rivals, the two games against the Red Wings during the regular season may be the most intense.
March 1 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Blackhawks played the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field in 2009 and lost. This season will offer a better Chicago team the chance to win its first game outdoors at Soldier Field.
Although the rivalry between Chicago and Detroit is more historic, the Pittsburgh Penguins will bring a competitive game.
Interesting to note, this will be Sidney Crosby's first time playing in Chicago since 2006.
The Winnipeg Jets will be the team the Blackhawks have seen the least.
The Blackhawks will be playing in an easier division this year with the movement of the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets to the Eastern Conference. Both of these teams would be playoff contenders with the Blackhawks this season if the old Central Division was still intact.
However, this division should be more competitive in just a few years.
With the Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets rebuilding their teams and incorporating their young prospects, the Blackhawks shouldn't treat their opponents lightly.
The great thing about this new Central Division is that new rivalries will be made. I expect the biggest rivalry to be with the Minnesota Wild. Even though the Blackhawks eliminated the Wild in the 2013 playoffs, Minnesota only looks to be on the uptick.
I foresee the Blackhawks fighting with the St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and Wild for a playoff spot.
The Blackhawks will have a stretch of Original Six and division rivals.
March 27-April 12: at Boston Bruins, at Ottawa Senators, at Pittsburgh Penguins, vs. Minnesota Wild, at Columbus Blue Jackets, vs. St. Louis Blues, vs. Montreal Canadiens, at Washington Capitals and at Nashville Predators
The Blackhawks finish the regular season with the toughest stretch of the year. If the Blackhawks aren't ahead in the division by a long shot, these games could make or break their playoff seeding.
This nine-game stretch might as well be called the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. It features seven teams from last year's playoffs, including the Boston Bruins.
If that doesn't seem daunting enough, the Blackhawks have three back-to-back games in this two-week period. This is the time when fatigue will set in. Chicago has the shortest and most tiring offseason of any NHL team this year, so endurance will be important in the upcoming season.
The worst thing about the beginning of April for the Blackhawks: It's not even the playoffs yet. Let's hope Chicago has enough energy to go deep into the playoffs.
The Blackhawks should be expected to be Stanley Cup favorites throughout the entire regular season.
Projected Western Conference Finish: First
One of the best things about the winning the Stanley Cup is that you're usually a favorite to win it the next year. This should be the case for the Blackhawks.
If the penalty kill stays stellar like it was last season—even with the absence of penalty killer Michael Frolik—I see the Blackhawks facing few hurdles in becoming Western Conference champions.
Unlike in 2010, Chicago made very few changes to its championship roster and it's hard to see the team suddenly losing all that made it great in 2013.
The Blackhawks should not have a difficult time going deep in the playoffs if they are as resilient as they were last season.
The team is on track to becoming a dynasty in the NHL.