Chicago Blackhawks, 50-23-9, lost in the first round, $0 in cap space.
Biggest changes: General manager Stan Bowman made a bevy of offseason moves, none bigger than dealing big-time scoring winger Artemi Panarin to the Columbus Blue Jackets as part of a package for former Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad. Panarin had 74 points last season and Saad has never scored more than 53 in a season, but Bowman felt it necessary to bring back Saad's grinding two-way game to a team that had lost in the first round two straight years after its 2015 Stanley Cup run. In that deal, Bowman also added goaltender Anton Forsberg to replace backup Scott Darling, who was a pending unrestricted free agent whom Bowman traded to the Carolina Hurricanes. Forsberg won't be Darling, who was one of the best backups in the NHL, but the Blackhawks hope he's good enough to spell Corey Crawford every now and then. Bowman also dealt longtime defensive stalwart Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for big, mobile defensive defenseman Connor Murphy, 24. Veteran forward Marian Hossa will miss the entire season because of a progressive skin disorder -- which allowed the team to replace him with versatile 35-year-old forward Patrick Sharp, a stalwart on the Blackhawks' championship squads who had spent the past two years with the Dallas Stars. The blue line took hits with the losses ofTrevor van Riemsdyk, who was taken by the Vegas Golden Knightsandthen traded to the Hurricanes, andJohnny Oduya, a rental at the deadline who signed in the summer with the Ottawa Senators.
Case for: Despite their changes, the Blackhawks still have much of the same core that has won three Stanley Cups since 2010. Captain Jonathan Toews is arguably the best leader in hockey and has one of the most versatile skill sets. He's closing in on 30 but has shown no signs of slowing down. In fact, his 0.81 points per game last season was higher than his previous high and on par with when the team won the Cup in 2014-15. Patrick Kane is an electric talent who produced big numbers long before he and Panarin became linemates in the 2015-16 season. Kane has notched the most points in the NHL the past two seasons, with 195 in 167 games, and should again produce offensively at a high level this season. Defenseman Duncan Keith will be 34 this season, but he's a fitness nut and last season averaged 25:37 per game and notched 53 points. He will once again control the blue line. There's also Crawford, the two-time Cup winner who has become one of the most consistently excellent netminders and a backbone to Chicago's defense.
Case against: The young forwards -- Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz, specifically -- performed well in the regular season but looked overwhelmed in the first round against the Nashville Predators. If they can't figure out how to up their games in the biggest moments, the Blackhawks could again find themselves in trouble. Losing Hossa, one of the best all-around talents of his generation, and effectively replacing him with Sharp, is a net loss. Although Sharp will surely improve on his 18 points in 48 games last season with the Stars, even at his best he couldn't provide what Hossa brought on a nightly basis. Though the Blackhawks said bringing back Saad would make them a tougher all-around group, losing Panarin will make them worse offensively. Over the past two seasons, Panarin's 151 points were tied for seventh in the NHL; Saad scored 106 points over that same stretch. And after Keith, Brent Seabrook and Murphy, Chicago's defense could struggle. You also have to wonder if Keith, at age 34, will finally start to slow down.
Trade bait: Veteran players on long-term contracts with chronic health issues tend to get traded to teams looking to use cap space as an asset (for instance,Chris Pronger to the Arizona Coyotes). Hossa, who is due $5.275 million per year over the next four seasons, will probably be shopped all season.
Goalie situation rating: 8. Crawford has been one of the better, and more underappreciated, goaltenders of his era and will provide another consistently excellent season. In case Forsberg falters behind Crawford, the Blackhawks also added Jean-Francois Berube, who has NHL experience.
Scout's take: "Patrick Kane won Stanley Cups without Panarin. I don't think [losing Panarin] is going to be a factor. Patrick Kane is talented enough and Jonathan Toews is that good ... a leader that he's still going to drive this team. The player they'll really miss will be Hossa. Saad's a good player and he's a horse. Maybe they need him to clear some space and get to the net and get to the corners. If he can perform and Sharp can perform, and their younger players start stepping up, they'll be OK."
Prediction: 3rd in Central
Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Patrick Sharp-Nick Schmaltz-Patrick Kane
Alex DeBrincat-Artem Anisimov-Ryan Hartman
Lance Bouma-Tanner Kero-Tommy Wingels
Duncan Keith-Connor Murphy
Gustav Forsling-Brent Seabrook
Michal Kempny-Jan Rutta
2017-18 NHL season preview: Chicago Blackhawks
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