We’ve had a few years to enjoy the Chicago Blackhawks being down. Will they threaten the Nashville Predators this season?
The finale of our Central Division preview covers the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that was once a bully to the Nashville Predators. They would haunt me in my dreams while winning multiple Stanley Cups despite valiant efforts from the Predators. That hasn’t been the case in recent memory.
Truth be told, the Blackhawks have went all in on rebuilding. They’re gradually becoming a more complete team after being extremely top-heavy for far too long. I don’t believe they’re going to return to dominance anytime soon, but they are showing improvement.
The Blackhawks finished last season somewhat on a high note getting points in 12 of their last 16 games. They avoided finishing in last place in the division by one point, finishing ahead of Minnesota. Question is will they keep improving this year, or are they still in rebuild mode?
Who they’re led by
The Blackhawks roster isn’t lacking superstar notoriety or elite talent. Just start with Patrick Kane, who led the team in points with 110 and 44 goals. Both of those totals are totals we’ve never seen from a player on the Nashville Predators in franchise history. However, it takes more than just one superstar to be a Stanley Cup contender.
A lot of the top players on the Blackhawks are aging superstars. They’re still great players, but they’re past the primes. You got the great Jonathan Toews remaining extremely productive with an 81-point season last year. He’s still a vital part of this team’s success at the top line center position. Dylan Strome is another formidable player at the center position that actually makes Chicago pretty respectable at this position.
After those guys it starts getting more questionable. You have a lot of youth and a lot of aging players who aren’t what they once were. Veterans like Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith aren’t at the same level anymore when it comes to producing. It’s still valuable to have proven veterans to lean on in crunch time situations.
Newcomers and up-and-comers
We have to start with right winger Alex DeBrincat, who only has two seasons in the NHL but has already been extremely productive. He increased his point total from his rookie season to 76 points from 52 points. He also played in all 82 games in both seasons, showing he’s reliable and here to stay.
DeBrincat is a rising star in the NHL and is coming off his first of what will be several All-Star selections in his career. His point total would’ve led the 2018-19 Predators easily, and his 41 goals would’ve set a Predators franchise record. Again, the Blackhawks don’t lack elite talent. Just balance, but they’re not far off.
The Blackhawks made a splash in free agency to bolster up their defense by acquiring Olli Maatta from Pittsburgh. This addition gives Chicago a respectable group of defensemen along with Keith and Seabrook. Maatta dealt with injuries that disrupted his last season, but I love this addition if I’m a Chicago fan.
As for Chicago’s pool of prospects, there’s reason for hope for years past 2019-20. In this year’s NHL Entry Draft they selected Kirby Dach, a highly-rated center with a ton of upside. He’s a major piece of their future and their quest to return to dominance. Could he make a push for their NHL roster and jump past the development phase in the minors?
How they match up with the Predators
The better roster from top to bottom obviously belongs to the Predators. However, the Blackhawks do have some elite scorers, most notably Kane and DeBrincat, that the Predators can’t match. The Predators win this matchup with much better goaltending and a more complete bottom six.
The bottom six for Chicago is unproven and inexperienced. Guys like Brendan Perlini, David Kampf and Ryan Carpenter haven’t proven enough to have a ton of faith in them. They did make a nice offseason addition with Andrew Shaw, a veteran right winger with a career high 47 points last season. Nashville, on the other hand, can throw a lot of different combinations at you with proven commodities like Austin Watson, Rocco Grimaldi, Craig Smith and Colton Sissons.
To circle back to the goaltending, there’s really no argument here. The Predators have Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros. Sure the Blackhawks were able to get Robin Lehner on a one-year deal, and he’ll help stabilize that position. But he’s not on Rinne’s level in my humble opinion. One great season isn’t enough for me. He’ll split time with veteran Corey Crawkford, who has struggled greatly in recent times.
Defensively it’s a little more evenly matched, but I’ll still take the Predators’ group with Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis. Even with the loss of P.K. Subban, the Predators are putting in Dante Fabbro, who I have high faith in to play well for them this year.
It’s always fun to watch these two battle, but the Predators are in a much better place. Nothing against Chicago, but they’re still rebuilding. They’re gradually getting back to a respectable spot. It’s just not going to be enough to contend for a top-three spot in the division. I like them going into the final two weeks of the season with a glimmer of hope for a wildcard spot thanks to having some great scorers and still plenty of veteran leadership.
The Predators and Blackhawks will play their first of five games in the season series on October 29th at Bridgestone Arena. Three of the five will be played in the hostile Windy City in front of a Chicago crowd that hates the Predators. Kane and company are always good for stealing one or two games from the Predators, but the season series will be won by Nashville.