After their opening December with a win over New Jersey in overtime, the Chicago Blackhawks increased their lead in the rugged Central Division and moved at 11-1-2 at home this season. But is this all fool's gold?
Despite their success in compiling the most points in the Western Conference, those closely paying attention to the NHL odds are not convinced Chicago will stay in that position for long.
Consider this: Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, captain Jonathan Toews, defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and goalie Corey Crawford account for 61.6 percent of Chicago's $73 million salary cap. That leaves $28 million to fill out 17 roster spots.
Take those six players and add forwards Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin, and even the most knowledgeable NHL expert would be hard pressed to come up with eight players on any team as good as this group.
However, injuries are inevitable and if any of those eight miss extended time or multiple players are out at the same time, the Blackhawks would tumble in the standings.
The Hawks already have five rookies on their 23-man roster. Once the offense cools a little or Crawford returns to normal in the net instead of making insane saves like his has in 5-on-5 play, opposing teams, especially in the Central Division, will has rather decisive edges when the top lines are not on the ice for Chicago.
If you are making NHL picks at A-rated Heritage or other of SBR's top sportsbooks, you should look when cracks develop in Chicago's armor and be ready to play against the Hawks.
For six years, the Blackhawks were a true hockey dynasty with three Stanley Cups, and with the salary cap most any team would do what it takes to keep the core of stars together. But at some point if the idea is not to head back to square one, you have to make hard decisions about certain players. Sometimes letting the next wave of young talent go because you are tied to certain older and more expensive individuals doesn't make sense long term.