The Blackhawks Will Win the Central Division

I can hear the collective grumblings already. You can call me crazy, or an eternal optimist, but the Blackhawks will win the central division. You can book it. Seriously, call Vegas right now and place your bet. I’ll wait.

As a Chicago native, I’m all too familiar with the old saying “There are two season in Chicago.” For many, the running joke is “winter and construction,” but for me those two seasons are Blackhawks hockey and White Sox baseball.

As a White Sox fan, I can’t help but to draw some parallels between the 2011 Blackhawks team and the 2011 White Sox. Before the 2011 MLB season many analysts and experts had the White Sox winning the Central Division, and going as far as the World Series. The offseason acquisition of Adam Dunn at DH, plus high hopes for all-star outfielder Alex Rios and the return of Jake Peavy had the media praising how good this team looked…on paper. Even the organization itself bought into the hype by making “All In” the team slogan. Reality hit all too soon, as the Sox underachieved right out of the gates and finished the season third in the division with a 79-83 record.

Fast forward to 2012.

Despite an underwhelming and highly criticized 2011 season, White Sox GM Kenny Williams made very little noise in the offseason. Besides releasing manager Ozzie Guillen, the team lost Ace pitcher, Mark Buehrle and (cough) Juan Pierre to free agency, and traded closer Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays and right fielder Carlos Quentin to the Padres for prospects. No big name free agents were signed (unless you count Kosuke Fukudome, which I don’t), and no blockbuster trades were made. Yet here we sit in August with the White Sox (who were predicted to finish last in the division by the same experts that had them winning the World Series the year prior, by the way) atop of their division. How is this possible you ask? Rookies.

With outstanding pitching from Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Nate Jones and Addison Reed, plus fielding and added depth in the batting order from Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo, this team was capable of overcoming various injuries and keeping it’s head above water even when they struggled.

“Ok, Justyna, what does that have to do with the Blackhawks?”

Simple, unlike the White Sox, that actually lost a core pitcher, and division rivals like the Predators and Red Wings that lost top defensemen, the Blackhawks core stayed intact. Rookie defensemen Nick Leddy and sophomore goalie Corey Crawford added another full season of experience to their resumes, which in turns adds growth, confidence and knowledge to their game moving forward. The more controversial figure of the two is obviously Crawford, whose undeniable struggles in net last season were highlighted by two soft overtime goals in the playoffs. Much like Adam Dunn, Crawford seems to have washed his hands of last season’s underachievements, and is ready to move forward with newfound confidence and a fiery anger, as should the fan base. After all, with a high-octane offense, and improved defense, the Blackhawks don’t need Crawford to be Jonathan Quick; they just need him to be solid.

More importantly, however, the lack of signings and trades by the front office, which has many fans criticizing General Manager Stan Bowman for trying to re-sell us a product that didn’t work last season, could simply mean the kids are ready to play. Jimmy Hayes and Andrew Shaw had stellar debuts with the team last season. The iron fists of Brandon Bollig weren’t a bad addition towards the end of the season either. Brandon Saad, Mark McNeill, Phillip Danault, are also forwards/centers not to be overlooked come training camp. Defensemen Dylan Olsen had a brief shot with the big team last season as well, but Adam Clendening and Klas Dahlbeck can fit right in as well if necessary.

The point is, the free agent market wasn’t exactly crawling with second line centers this offseason, and with the list of quality players dwindling, and their price tags rising, maybe it’s time to look within the organization to fill in the missing pieces rather than signing another Andrew Brunette (sorry, Bruno).

Last season’s team lost a grinder in Daniel Carcillo to injury in January, lost the Captain to a concussion in February, and lost 20 points of production from winger-turned-center Patrick Kane, yet still managed to finish sixths in the conference standings with 101 points.

The core is heading into training camp healthy, determined and stronger than ever, with an eager and capable youth in their midst, while Stan Bowman has over $7 million in cap space to work with come trade deadline. Call me crazy, but this sounds like a recipe for success.

 

Follow on Twitter @MidwayJustyna

 

  • Railroad90

    As for the lack of signings, there are 2 things to consider.  First, the Hawks do not have the compensation required to sign a RFA to an offer sheet.  Second, what FA (R or U) was out there outside of Parise that would be a game changer?  If they did sign Parise (which would’ve been at the same money but less years, meaning bigger cap hit), how would they afford to pay JT in 3 years?  He’ll want Crosby money.  All the FA’s that signed were overpaid.  

    Regarding trades—-yes, make a trade.  But not because the fans are clamoring for one.  Make a trade that makes sense!  GM’s are wanting Saad in any deal, and SB is wise in not including him.  

    • Ma_mullally

      Semin’s a game changer.  Oshie could be a game changer given the ball (opportunity).  Suter’s a game changer from the defensive aspect.  Brodeur is a game changer, even at his age.

      • Railroad90

        Semin is lazy.  Oshie is staying where he is and is not a game changer.  No way the Hawks were going after Suter and that price tag.  Tell me where you would get that kind of cabbage.  And everyone knew that the offer to Brodeur would be matched.  As for offer sheets to the RFA’s—the Hawks DO NOT have the compensation required (2nd and 3rd rounders).

  • Railroad90

    One other thing.  I do like the idea of possibly signing Shane Doan.  But NOT at his asking price (4 years/$30 million).  Lower the price, and maybe.  He would be a good winger for Kane should he be at 2C.  But at his price, again, how would they afford to sign Toews to a LTC when his contract is up?

    • http://twitter.com/MidwayJustyna Justyna

      Exactly my point. No need to sign a winger, if prospects are ready. The Blackhawks should and ARE thinking about this roster long term, rather than a season at a time. As a fan, I want a dynasty, not a flash in the pan, and that takes patience. 

      • Railroad90

        Exactly right, Justyna!  On one of the Facebook boards you’re not on, one is CONTINUOUSLY blasting Bowman for “not doing anything.”  That’s happening on CI as well.  Bowman is doing all this long-term.  and just look at the defensive prospects that’ll be here soon in Clendening, Johns, Carruth and the goalie they picked in the 7th round!!  Stan has drafted well, something Tallon did not do outside of 88 and 19.  This same person has been praising Tallon because of the Cup.  yet he doesn’t realize that Tallon got the Hawks in the cap mess they were in because of the contracts that were offered.  If Tallon had put more years into some of the contracts (thereby creating a better cap number) and NOT signed Huet (LA, Montreal and Washington must’ve known something), plus not screwed up on the QA’s to the RFA’s (most notably Versteeg), maybe Stan didn’t have to do what he did.  And since when is it “divine right” that the Hawks win the Cup each year?  Sure, I’d love to see it, but it’s not possible.  

  • http://twitter.com/midway_brennan brennan barry

    Given all the changes within the division (most notably Nashville’s losses, Detroit aging another year and StL down a goalie), how many points do you think it’ll take to win the Central? Sub-Question- is best record in the conference out of the question?

    Answer my own questions: 101-107 wins the division by a margin, conference is obtainable, but it relies on goaltending and avoiding garbage losing streaks.