By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) There’s been a thing called the Stanley Cup hangover that has impacted the last four champions.
It usually involves a slow start that a good team can overcome by midseason, but it’s still troubling to see a championship team struggle to get out of the gate in the first month or two of the season.
Here’s a prediction: Even though the Chicago Blackhawks will have the shortest offseason in NHL history – thanks to the lockout and the late end of the Stanley Cup Final – they will not suffer from the hangover this time around.
The primary reason for this is the competition. The Blackhawks got the long straw with the NHL’s recent realignment. While they won’t have long-time patsy Columbus to pick on, they won’t have to compete with the Red Wings, either.
Detroit – the hockey franchise, not the city – has moved to the Eastern Conference. The NHL has realigned from six divisions to four, and the NHL couldn’t have made it any easier for the Blackhawks. They will be competing with Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg in their still-unnamed grouping.
The Blues are the only team likely to push the Blackhawks in the division. That means St. Louis could be within six or eight points by January, at which point the Blackhawks will open up some distance in the race.
None of the other teams were in the same zip code as the Blackhawks last year and from what they have done in the draft and free agency, they don’t seem likely to get there this year.
The Blackhawks made their big move when they re-signed Bryan Bickell before the start of free agency. Ray Emery has departed for a chance to become the starter in Philadelphia while Nikolai Khabibulin will take over as the backup.
This could be a potential problem because Emery was so strong last year (17-1-0, 1.94 goals against average, .922 save percentage) and Khabibulin, 40, is an up-and-down performer who may not be capable of sharing the workload with Corey Crawford at this point in his career.
The competition had done little to get close. The Avalanche used the top pick in the draft to bring in explosive forward Nathan McKinnon. They have a slew of good, young forwards in Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene. They probably should have gone after defenseman Seth Jones with the first pick since their back line is weak.
The Dallas Stars pulled off a blockbuster when they acquired Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley from the Boston Bruins. Seguin is on track to be a superstar and the Bruins may have panicked by trading him for steady Loui Eriksson. Seguin is one of the fastest players in the league and while he struggled in the playoffs, he has the moves, shot and skill to dominate. The Bruins didn’t like his tendency to party and tweet, but a bit more patience would have allowed them to have their version of Patrick Kane.
The Minnesota Wild haven’t gotten better, but they have gotten meaner. They added Matt Cooke to give them more aggressiveness. Cooke lives on the edge and while he claims to have turned the corner on dirty play, anyone who plays the Wild should be on notice every time Cooke is on the ice.
The Predators took a step backwards last year, but drafting Jones will eventually make up for last year’s loss of Ryan Suter.
The Blues brought in the highly skilled Derek Roy and the not-so-highly skilled Maxim Lapierre. Roy hasn’t always shown enough intensity, but he is a highly skilled passer, stickhandler and shooter. The Blackhawks know that Lapierre, a former Vancouver Canuck, is an annoying player who won’t hesitate to cheap shot.
The Winnipeg Jets are the newcomers to the Western Conference and the division. They are a try-hard, limited-skill team that may battle for a playoff spot but will probably come up short. They added Devin Setoguchi, a sniper from the Minnesota Wild.
The Blackhawks should run away and hide in this division. Their old rivals find themselves in a division with Boston, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. It’s not inconceivable that the Red Wings will emerge as the best team in the East.
The Blackhawks don’t have to worry about them any longer, but the Bruins and the Canadiens do. That’s a good problem not to have.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.