The D word is being bandied about both locally and nationally as the Blackhawks begin the grueling task of defending their title. Professional hockey is a long, winding season and a myriad of things can go wrong from scoring slumps to devastating injuries. But if there is one team built to go deep into the playoffs for the next several years, it is the Chicago Blackhawks.
But we’re not concerned about their postseason glory in our NHL picks. For the sake of this discussion we will evaluate their chances of winning early and often during the regular season for that is the goal of this exercise. As of this writing the number of total points that the Blackhawks will achieve is 109 ½ and it is our job to determine if this figure is optimistic or highly attainable. Let’s take a look at their chances in our NHL odds preview.
Loaded up front
The Hawks will score goals again this season in bunches. Anytime you have Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane leading your attack then your team is poised for scoring greatness. Factor in Marion Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell and it’s an embarrassment of riches up front for the team out of Chi-Town. They averaged 3.1 goals per game last season (ranked 2nd) and if that wasn’t enough they were first overall in the NHL in goals against average, surrendering just two goals per game.
Sometimes teams hit their prime for a season or two and then the allure of free agency strikes and some of the most talented players take a walk to greener pastures. Another scenario is that the roster begins to get long in the tooth and teams pay aging players for past success as opposed to what they’re capable of producing at an advanced age. Not so with this group. All of the key players on offense, with the notable exception of 34-year-old Marion Hossa, are in their 20’s or early 30’s. This group has been signed, sealed and delivered by the Chicago front office to continue playing in a Blackhawks uniform for years to come.
And on the topic of signing players in their prime to be invaluable over the next five to ten years, the ink on the paper is still wet as the Hawks locked up defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson who was a member of the Stanley Cup squads in 2010 and again last season. He will be plying his trade in Chicago until 2019.
It’s tough to take issue with the corps of defensemen suiting up for the Blackhawks. They were, as previously stated, ranked first in the NHL in goals allowed and 3rd in the penalty killing department. Of course much of that contribution came in the form of stellar netminder Corey Crawford but the blueliners in front were a force to be reckoned with. Of course they don’t have a legend like the Bruins Zdeno Chara roaming the point and destroying anything and everything that breaches the defensive zone but they are young, talented and have the benefit of a lengthy and successful postseason campaign behind them.
Corey Crawford is among the elite netminders in the game today. Is he the absolute best? Maybe not but a case can be made that he is among the top three and that is plenty good for a team like the Blackhawks that has so much talent. Perhaps the only step backwards the Hawks took from last season was when they lost outstanding backup Ray Emery to free agency where he landed in Philadelphia. They replaced Emery with veteran Nikolai Khabibulin and he is more than capable of spelling Crawford on those rare nights when the starter gets to take a breather.
If last season was a full 82 game schedule the Hawks would have been on pace to collect 131 points. Now that probably would not have occurred because the only team to ever gain that many were the ’76-’77 Canadiens in an 80-game schedule where they wound up with 132. This looks like an easy winner but don’t forget, injuries can change the equation quickly.
NHL Free Picks: Play Over 109 ½ points at Bet365.com