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The Independent

Quest for Cup #3

Blackhawks Hockey

Andrew Pappas

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Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are now locked up on long-term contracts and it’s time for them to get down to business. It’s very rare in modern sports for a dynamic duo like 19 and 88 to come up together and continue their careers with the same team; the Blackhawks have made that happen. With two Stanley Cups already on their resumes, the ultra talented core of the Hawks has had a huge target on their backs. This year will be no different. A few key new faces join the core of returning stars and they will have their hands full in the Central division, but there is yet again a realistic expectation of championship or bust. The Quest For Cup #3 starts now.

Returning Statistical Leaders
Goals:
Patrick Sharp, 34

Assists:
Duncan Keith, 55

Points:
Sharp, 78

Plus-minus:
Marian Hossa, +28

Penalty minutes:
Andrew Shaw, 76

Shots:
Sharp, 313

Top Newcomers
-Brad Richards- The veteran and former Conn Smythe winner could be a short-term solution at second line center.

-Joakim Nordstrom- The Swedish forward spent some time with the Hawks last year, but should be a full-time contributor this season. Overstocked with centers, Coach Q may put Nordstrom on the wing.

-Teuvo Teravainen- Much like Nordstrom, Teravainen has a small sample size with the Hawks so far, but his raw talent is impressive. He will, at some point, be a great Chicago Blackhawk. The only question is: will it be at the start of this season?

Central Power
The division the Hawks call home was one of the toughest in the NHL last season, and that won’t change in 2014-15. Despite a first round elimination, the Colorado Avalanche impressed last season, head coach Patrick Roy’s first season at the helms. They are very deep defensively including their goalie, Semyon Varlamov.

The division is also home to the Blackhawks’ new bitter rival, the St. Louis Blues. After a chippy, hard-fought six game series defeat last year, the Blues will certainly be seeking revenge on their foes from Chicago. The Blues signed Paul Stastny, who had 25 goals and 35 assists in 71 games for the Avalanche last season.

The Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators round out the division, all four finished with records above .500. Nothing will come easy in the Central.

Breakthrough Player
The gritty goal scorer Jeremy Morin is bound for a breakout year. Fresh off signing a two-year contract, he should be fully focused right from the start of the season. Morin will likely see time on all four lines throughout the season. His versatility makes him a huge piece for coach Joel Quenneville. A former 30-goal scorer in the AHL, Morin should be ready to reach a mark close to that in 2014-15.

Five games to watch
The Sabres won’t be playing for much come springtime, so this game is more or less meaningless, but the United Center will be rocking on opening night, no doubt. The Blackhawks are coming off a disappointing Western Conference Finals exit, and fans and players alike are desperately hungry to taste another Stanley Cup Final in 2015.

Since the Red Wings’ departure to the Eastern Conference, the Blues have become Chicago’s most hated rival. Their first-round series last playoffs were as intense and physical as any series throughout the postseason. The Blues will be seeking revenge, while the Hawks try and remain the “big brother” in this divisional relationship.

The Avalanche finished with the second most points last year thanks to a magnificent season by goalie Semyon Varlamov. He and the Avs will be looking to build on that and be a true contender this season. The Blackhawks remain one of the Western Conference powers and a team that Colorado will have to get through if they want to continue their ascension.

This will be the second Winter Classic appearance and third outdoor game in the history of the Blackhawks. Chicago hosted the Red Wings on Jan. 1, 2009 at Wrigley Field. The team also hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL Stadium Series at Soldier Field last season. They are 1-1 in those games and will be looking to double that win total on a national stage New Year’s Day.

The two best teams in the Western Conference square off in a late-season matchup to try and declare supremacy. Outside of the actual playoff action, it doesn’t get much better. These two teams have won four of the last five Campbell Bowls. They’ve also faced each other in each of the last two playoffs, a series won by both teams. This might be the best hockey game of the regular season.

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