Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks’ days of being the NHL’s team to beat are long gone thanks to the challenges of managing the salary cap. Another offseason of heavy turnover, partially caused by lucrative extensions given to Brent Seabrook and Marcus Kruger, has Chicago entering its biggest youth movement since Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews joined the league. Fortunately Kane, Toews, and Duncan Keith are still three of the premier players in the game, so the Hawks should remain a potential contender in the Western Conference even as they ease rookies into several spots on the roster.

That’s the benefit of having a core as good as the one Chicago’s kept together. There are more question marks about this group than any Hawks team in years, though, so coach Joel Quenneville and his staff have their work cut out for them. The Hawks can still be a contender for the Cup this season, but unlike in some past years when that was obvious, they’re going to need to do a lot more to prove it in 2016-17.

THREE QUESTIONS

  1. Who will be the first-line wingers next to Jonathan Toews?
  2. How should the team react if its rookie forwards disappoint?
  3. Which defensemen will finish the season on the third pairing?

BEST-CASE SCENARIO

The superstars keep being superstars, the rookies surprise with their first-year performances, and the Blackhawks win their fourth Stanley Cup of the decade. Even with a younger, arguably less talented roster than in years, it's hard to shake that "Cup or bust" attitude in Chicago, especially with a championship window that could conceivably close in a couple years.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO

The Hawks end up being a one-line team because the rookie forwards largely disappoint, then injuries to aging veterans put them on the brink of potentially missing the playoffs. And through it all, Artemi Panarin stays healthy and puts up 85 points, increasing his stock and preventing Chicago from re-signing him. Something like that.