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The Chicago Blackhawks have some obstacles to overcome, but they should be able to come out on top in the vanilla Central Division.
The Blackhawks no longer have Dave Bolland, the center who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal against the Boston Bruins last June. They also lost backup goalie Ray Emery, who may have had more to do with the Blackhawks' 24-game streak without a regulation loss at the start of the season.
They also have endured the shortest offseason in NHL history. The Blackhawks and Bruins ended the 2013 season in late June, which was the longest any NHL season has ever gone on into the summer. They may have even more problems overcoming the Stanley Cup hangover than they did in 2010-11, when they struggled after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010.
But having said that, the Blackhawks have a tremendous core of talented players who are entering the prime of their careers. Jonathan Toews (23 goals, 25 assists, plus-28 rating in 2012-13) is at the top of the heap, and while he is not a scorer like Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos, he could be the best center in the league.
Patrick Kane has remarkable skills and the moxie to rise to the moment. Patrick Sharp (scored 33 goals or more in last two full seasons) is a first-class sniper who can find the open corner and get the puck there in a heartbeat. Marian Hossa is the big horse who tells his teammates to jump on his back so he can carry them.
Duncan Keith (27 points, plus-16 rating in 2012-13) is one of the best defensemen in the league, and Brent Seabrook is one of the top clutch scorers.
Corey Crawford (19-5-5 last year) is a winner in the net. He is highly skilled and driven to win games. He may not be as talented as Henrik Lundqvist or Jonathan Quick, but he finds a way to move on to the next shot or next game without taking his past mistakes with them.
The Blackhawks have one of the best head coaches in Joel Quenneville, who is not afraid to change his personnel or game plan. This is a team that has the tools to make another long run.