Friday was a busy day for the National Hockey League’s front office. It started off with the NHL, the NHL Players Association, and the International Olympic Committee reaching an agreement to allow the NHL players to play in the 2014 winter Olympics (in Sochi, Russia). According to the Chicago Blackhawks team website, 13 current players in the Blackhawks organization could possibly play in the tournament. Patrick Kane (USA), Jonathan Toews (Canada), and Marian Hossa (Slovakia) are all “locks” to play in the Olympics.
The other players that have a chance to make their country’s rosters (per the team) are Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford, Patrick Sharp (all Canada), Michal Handzus (Slovakia), Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger, Johnny Oduya (all Sweden), and goaltender prospect Antti Raanta (Finland). It is very unlikely that all will make the cut for their respective countries, but it does show that the world recognizes the talent the Blackhawks have on the active roster (or in Raanta’s case, the farm system).
Friday also included the announcement of the names of the new divisions. The two Western Conference divisions were named the Pacific and Central Divisions. The other two Eastern Conference Divisions were named the Metropolitan and Atlantic Divisions.
The NHL 2013-2014 regular season schedule was released Friday as well. The Blackhawks have many items to note for next season’s schedule:
1. Strangers in the East
The new schedule format allows the Blackhawks to play every team in the Eastern Conference each season at home and on the road. This change is evident in the early portion of the Blackhawks schedule. The Blackhawks open their season playing the Washington Capitals on October 1. The Blackhawks will raise the banner for the 2013 Stanley Cup Championship on that night. The following nine games are against either an Eastern Conference opponent (seven times), or the St. Louis Blues (two times). It will be important to start the season off strong against teams the Blackhawks have not seen in over a year.
2. New Foes Come as Old Foes Leave
There have been many changes to the Central Division this offseason. The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets left the division to head to the Eastern Conference. The Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, and the Winnipeg Jets join the central division. The teams join from the Pacific Division, and the now non-existent Northwest and Southeast Divisions. The St. Louis Blues and the Nashville Predators stay in the Central along with Chicago. The Blackhawks will play each division opponent four to five times throughout the season. Due to the new playoff format, wins versus teams in your own division is more important than it has been in the last 20 years.
3. A Homeless February
The Blackhawks do not play a single home game between January 26 and March 1. The Blackhawks play six road games from January 28-February 7. Then the Olympic break strikes. Afterwards, the Blackhawks head to Madison Square Garden to play the New York Rangers. According to NHL.com, the Blackhawks are the only team to have two, seven game road trips in the upcoming season. The other happens during the last 11 days of November. These 14 games may end up deciding the Blackhawks fate.
4. The Outdoor Adventure
For the second time ever, Chicago will host an outdoor NHL game as the Blackhawks will play the Penguins at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears. The game will take place on March 1 at 7:00 PM. The previous outdoor game in Chicago was at Wrigley Field on January 1, 2009. The Blackhawks lost to the Red Wings 6-4. There will be many superstar players on the ice as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews match up against Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
The Blackhawks have a few months to celebrate yet, but next season will be rigorous as the Blackhawks try to repeat as champions.