So far this season, the Western Conference has been about the Chicago Blackhawks and the rest of the west. Before the start of the 2016-17 season, there were more than a few whispers that the Blackhawks elite status may be fading. So far this season has shown the exact opposite.
The First Place Chicago Blackhawks and the Rest of the West
The Blackhawks hit Thanksgiving in first place in the Central Division with a record of 13-6-2 (28 points). Offensively Chicago is led by Patrick Kane who has a team-high 20 points. The top three goal scorers for Chicago are Marian Hossa (11), Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin (8 each).
On the back end, this Stanley Cup contender is still anchored by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. They continue to benefit from the strong play of Corey Crawford between the pipes (2.33 goals against average & .923 save percentage).
It Can Get Better
The scary thing for the rest of the Western Conference is Chicago can still play a lot better. Despite their strong record the Blackhawks are ranked 9th offensively, 15th defensively and on the power play, and are dead last, 30th overall on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks five on five play (ranked second) has been the reason why they are winning games.
In addition, Jonathan Toews has yet to take off with four goals and 12 points. Despite that he is still doing his thing in the face-off dot winning 60.3% of his draws to lead the league among qualified players. Youngsters Ryan Hartman (four goals) and Tyler Motte (three goals) could improve their production as the season progresses and they get more acclimated to the NHL. Finally, everyone in the hockey world knows general manager Stan Bowman will add depth to this team by the March 1st trade deadline.
Rest of the West
The big question with the rest of the Western Conference is can any of these other teams take their game to the next level? Most of the teams out West are fighting to keep their heads above the NHL’s definition of .500.
The St. Louis Blues have been a lot more up and down this year than hockey fans are used to. Can Jake Allen who only has three post-season wins is his career be a Stanley Cup winning goalie? The San Jose Sharks are the defending Western Conference champs. However they have a number of aging stars. Will that combine with a long 2015-16 season and Martin Jones workload stop them to returning to the Cup final?
The Dallas Stars still have many issues in goal, on the blue line and now depth at forward. The Los Angeles Kings are lacking the depth their former Cup winning teams had. The Nashville Predators have straightened out their early season struggles but do they have enough scoring depth? Devan Dubnyk can’t play much better (1.55 goals against average & .948 save percentage) and yet the Wild are just above .500.
The Anaheim Ducks still lack secondary scoring and the Calgary Flames can’t keep the puck out of the net. The Edmonton Oilers need to get stronger on the blue line, are still a very young team and Cam Talbot‘s workload is outrageous (already played 19 games). It will be a big surprise if the Colorado Avalanche, Winnipeg Jets, Arizona Coyotes, and the Vancouver Canucks do more than build for the future this year.
The Blackhawks seem poised to make another serious run at the Stanley Cup. Having their last season, end much earlier than they are used to will help the Blackhawks this year as well. Chicago’s depth is still a concern, so the Blackhawks have to avoid any major injuries to their core players.