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Central Preview: Chicago

Ed. Note: Between now and the end of the month, we’ll be previewing the Predators’ six opponents in the new-look Central Division. Today we have asked Tab Bamford of Committed Indians to help us preview the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks, as he answers 5 questions we posed to him…

1. Of the players the Blackhawks lost in free agency/trade this summer, who will be missed the most?

Unlike the last time the Hawks won the Cup in 2010, this summer didn’t come with a mass exodus because of cap issues. Of the few guys that did leave, either via free agency or trade, the guy that will probably be missed the most will be Dave Bolland. The biggest role that needs to be filled is Michael Frolik’s spot as a primary penalty killer, but Bolland was with the team longer, has two rings, and was a glue guy that did a lot of little things for the team. While I say he’ll be missed the most, there aren’t many things Bolland brought to the rink every night that Andrew Shaw can’t/won’t replace; Bolland was a fourth line center by the end of the postseason.

2. The Blackhawks seem to have a lot of good, young talent in the system. Who could potentially break out at the NHL level this season?

There are a few young guys in the mix to replace the departed players this fall. Brandon Pirri led the AHL in assists and tied for the league lead in points last year and could get a shot at the second line center spot. Ben Smith, who had a fantastic playoff series against Vancouver in 2011, and Jeremy Morin, the centerpiece of the deal sending Dustin Byfuglien to then-Atlanta, have been on the radar for a while but have dealt with a few injury issues the last couple years. They could be in line to fill the voids left by Bolland and Frolik.

3. Given his playoff performance and new contract, what kind of pressure is now on Corey Crawford?

The playoff performance may have taken pressure off of Crawford, who had been living in a “we should have kept Niemi” world for three years. However, while there might be pressure to live up to his new contract, the source of the most pressure Crawford puts on himself this season might be to win a spot as one of the three goalies to represent Canada in Sochi.

4. With Chicago being unanimous favorites, who do you see as their biggest threat in the new-look Central Division?

That’s a great question, because the Central is one of the more intriguing divisions heading into the new season in my opinion. Obviously St. Louis has been in the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture over the last few years, but I don’t see them having the horses to be better than the Hawks over 82 games or in a seven-game series. The changes made in Dallas will make them a totally different team, and Minnesota will be injecting a lot of youth into a playoff-caliber roster. The biggest threat to the Hawks’ spot on top of the division might be the doctor’s office. Health is always a critical factor, and may ultimately decide who wins the division.

5. What is one thing that has to happen for the ‘Hawks to be in position to repeat as champs?

Again, I think health is the biggest key. The Blackhawks have their core back from last year’s championship team, and have some good, talented young players ready to step in where changes needed to be made. Obviously how well prospects like Pirri, Smith, Morin and Jimmy Hayes fit in will be important, but all of them have NHL experience coming into training camp and none of them will be asked to do too much right away. If the Hawks can stay healthy, there’s no reason to believe this group can’t win back-to-back Cups.

You can follow Tab on Twitter: @The1Tab

 
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