Chicago Blackhawks preview

Chicago has been a bad team for a number of years.

I mean, a really bad team.

But no more. The team has drafted well in the past few years and have made some smart off-season pickups. They’ll be a team that can contend on most nights, and have should have no trouble securing a playoff spot this season.

Forwards: This team is built on young speed. They have Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Martin Havlat. The first two players are the future of this team. They were both high draft picks, and have come through in their rookie seasons. They won’t have much of a sophomore slump.

Havlat is an often-injured point-per-game player. If he stays healthy, this team can make a fight for fourth in the conference. But even if he can’t play, the team has proven they can win without him.

The rest of the team are made up of good supporting cast players, always important for a playoff team to have.

Defence: The team had enough good young defencemen to fight for a playoff spot before signing Brian Campbell to a eight-year contract worth more than $7 million a year. Campbell puts them over the hump, and playing the point on the powerplay will help the team score more with the man advantage.

Duncan Keith, Cam Barker and Brent Seabrook gives the team a good presence back there. Brent Sopel will be a great fifth defenceman who can step up if injuries need him to.

Goaltending: Not happy with the play of Nikolai Khabibulin since signing a huge contract a couple of years ago, and not able to trade him, Chicago decided to eat the contract and have the highest-paid backup in the history of the league. The team signed Cristobal Huet to a four-year contract worth more than $5.6 million a year. Look for Nikolai to be gone at the trade deadline since he’ll be a unrestricted free agent next summer.

Huet will steal some games for the Blackhawks, which is something Khabibulin was not able to do. That makes them a tough team to play against.

Pool picks: Could this be Martin Havlat’s year? After a few disappointing seasons, this guy is on the verge of a breakout year. If he can stay healthy, he’ll net at least 90 points this season. But the key is staying healthy. He’s in the final year of a contract that will pay him $6 million. If he wants to make close to that money next year, he needs to have a huge season. Stay away from: Patrick Sharp. Sure, he scored 62 points last year, but that’s mostly because of his linemates. His next highest point total is 35. Last year was more of a fluke. He may continue getting the points if he keeping playing with the more talented players, but if he gets off that top line, he’ll be in trouble.

Miscellaneous: The team is set for the next few years, as they have Campbell and Huet signed to long-term contracts and have the rights to Kane and Toews for the next few years. This is a team that will only continue to get better, and that should have western conference opponents very afraid.

Expected finish: Second in the Central division, sixth in the Western conference

Overall: Chicago has the advantage of playing in a weaker division. Except for the Detroit Red Wings, the Blackhawks will see a lot of St. Louis, Nashville and Columbus. This will give them some extra points, and allow them to make the playoffs for the first time in six years, and only the second time in the last 10 years.

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