The Chicago Blackhawks will hit the ice on Jan. 13, and when they do so they’ll find themselves in the company of some brand new divisional rivals thanks to the league’s altered schedule for the 2020-21 campaign.
The Blackhawks will still share a division with the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators, but there will be five other teams that they’ll have to contend with in the shortened 56-game campaign, including a familiar face, as the Detroit Red Wings will serve as a divisional rival for Chicago for the coming year.
We’ll have plenty of time to dissect each of the Blackhawks’ opponents in greater detail in the days leading up to Jan. 13, but for now, here’s a brief breakdown of the new teams that will be sharing a division with the Blackhawks in 2021.
The “Bunch of Jerks” will join the Central Division this season, and they’ll be hoping to build on a successful campaign with some talented young stars. The Hurricanes beat the New York Rangers in the NHL’s play-in round during the restarted season in Toronto, but lost to the Boston Bruins in five games in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Hurricanes’ offense is paced by a trio of talented stars, including Sebastian Aho, who led the team with 38 goals last season, and Andre Svechnikov, who had 24 goals and 37 assists for Carolina. Blackhawks fans are familiar with Teuvo Teravainen, who led the Hurricanes with 48 assists and was second on the team with 63 points last season.
The team’s defense is also stacked, with Dougie Hamilton and Jaccob Slavin leading a talented group of blue liners.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blackhawks and Blue Jackets are former divisional rivals, and even though Columbus has gone through some serious changes over the years, they’ve still consistently been in the playoff hunt, including last season when they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in the play-in round.
The Jackets are led on the scoring front by winger Oliver Bjorkstrand, who had 21 goals last season, and defenseman Zach Werenski, who had 20 goals and dished out 21 assists.
The key to Columbus’ success is their ability to limit opponents’ scoring, finishing in a tie for third for fewest goals allowed per game last season. The offense struggled quite a bit, only scoring 2.57 goals per game, but they were still able to make it into the postseason on the strength of their defense and goaltending, losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs.
Detroit Red Wings
The last time the Blackhawks and Red Wings shared a division, Chicago romped to a Stanley Cup championship, beating the Red Wings in seven games on their way to their second Cup in four seasons.
This time around, the Red Wings are in a much different place, finishing with the league’s worst record and finishing in dead last in both goals per game and goals allowed per game last season.
It’s unlikely things will improve much for the Red Wings in the new season, but they are hoping for at least some progress, as the club signed wingers Bobby Ryan and Riley Barber to contracts, along with defenseman Jon Merrill.
The man behind the bench for the Panthers is one that is very familiar to Blackhawks fans, as Joel Quenneville will lead the squad into the shortened 2021 campaign.
The Panthers made several splashes on the free agent market this offseason, adding wingers Vinnie Hinostroza and Anthony Duclair, along with defenseman Radko Gudas and center Alexander Wennberg, along with several other moves.
Centers Jonathan Huberdeau, who had 23 goals and 55 assists last season, and Aleksander Barkov, who had 20 goals and 42 assists, will hope to lead the team’s scoring attack in the coming year, and the team will also hope to get more production from netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, who posted a career-worst 3.23 goals against average and a .900 save percentage in 50 games last season.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Blackhawks will also have the honor of competing against the defending Stanley Cup-champion Lightning this coming season, but there could be some changes in the offing for the Bolts as they look to defend their crown.
Nikita Kucherov, who led the Lightning with 33 goals and 85 points last season, is reportedly dealing with a hip issue, receiving an injection for the injury this week. If he’s unable to go to start the season, he could end up on long-term injured reserve, a big blow to the team’s scoring punch.
That move would also get the team below the NHL’s salary cap ceiling, as the Lightning currently have the second-highest collective cap hit in the league.
Even still, the Lightning still have plenty of talented players, including center Brayden Point and defenseman Victor Hedman. The Lightning also brought in Pat Maroon on a two-year contract during the offseason, giving them a solid two-way option in their forward group.