BR: Hey Vinnie, thanks for taking the time away from DaWindyCity.com to talk to us Blues fans about our “friendly little neighbor” up I-55. How did you get started at DWC?
Hello! I’m Vinnie Parise. DaWindyCity is a site that is a part of the Fansided Network. I got started with Fansided a little over a year ago and have been doing hockey, baseball, and football for them ever since. I have been enjoying Chicago Blackhawks games for a long time. It’s hard to pinpoint when my hockey fandom began. I would say it was when I purchased NHL 09 for Xbox 360 in late 2008. I’ve bought the game annually since and have been a die-hard hockey fan for over ten years now.
BR: What happened to the Hawks last year?
I would not call the 2018-19 season for the Blackhawks a shock at all; in fact, they ended up being a better team than I initially thought they would be going into the season. They fired Joel Quenneville at a terrible time to fire a coach, in my opinion. If they were going to fire him, that’s fine, as even the legendary coaches have expiration dates, but they should have either done it the offseason before or the offseason after. Learning a whole new system and Jeremy Colliton‘s ways in the middle of November cause them some ugly stretches and it costed them down the road when they did finally find their game. It was too little, too late.
BR: The postseason felt off without the likes of Kane and Toews. How do the Hawks make sure that last year was a blip and not a pattern?
They needed to improve their league-worst penalty kill, and I believe they have. They added guys like Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan, who aren’t going to be game-breakers for them offensively or anything like that but if they can improve their PK just a little bit, that would go a long way in helping them be a better team. I also really like that they added Robin Lehner to be there in case Corey Crawford has another injury that he cannot come back from in a timely fashion. It was a move I didn’t know I wanted until it happened, I thought for sure he would be back with the New York Islanders.
BR: What is the outlook for the Hawks this year?
In my opinion, the floor is right where they were last season. Kane having 100+ points, Toews being a point per game player, and the defense not being good enough to get them much more than 85 standings points. That is if everything stays the same, which you would think they don’t, based on some of the roster moves. Their ceiling is they are a top-three team in an incredibly great Central Division. Every team in the Central was over NHL .500 last year, and that trend could continue again this year so they could even be a Wild Card Team at their peak as well. If they do get back to the postseason, there are guys in that room who know what it takes to be successful in the playoffs. They are the definition of a bubble team in the Western Conference.
BR: Who should the Blues fans look out for?
I would keep an eye on Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome. DeBrincat is coming off a 41 goal season, and he is still so young. Strome came over from Arizona and became that consistent scorer that he appeared to be when he played for the Erie Otters and was selected third overall. They are both in contract years, play so well together on the second line, and know that a big year would equal a lot of money for themselves. The dynamic duo is going to get a third wheel on their line and whoever the lucky guy is is going to reap the benefits. This duo has also allowed Kane and Toews to see some time together at even strength for an extended period for the first time in their careers.
BR: Vinnie, you are pretty plugged into the NHL. Thoughts about the offseason?
–Mitch Marner has finally signed his new deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs so now the dominos will start to fall for the other RFA’s around the league like Brayden Point, Mikko Rantanen, Patrik Laine, and Charlie McAvoy amongst others. Also, look out for William Nylander to have a monster year for Toronto.
-It will be interesting to me to see how the Pittsburgh Penguins play this year without Phil Kessel. Evgeni Malkin was still over a point per game in a year that many said was bad for him. It sounds like there may have been trouble in paradise between Kessel and Malkin so I would expect Malkin to have a monster year as well, and of course, Sidney Crosby is there too, coming off of a 100 point season. Few 1-2 punches down the middle in NHL history can create chaos as they can.
-Teams like the New Jersey Devils and the Florida Panthers had incredible offseasons. They both have lots of pressure on them to get back into the playoffs. They are both opening what appears to be a window that could have some sustained success, and they’d like it to begin this season. Keep an eye on this Nikita Gusev kid that New Jersey acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights, he is incredible.
BR: Who is winning the division this season?
There are some obvious choices like the three teams that all finished within one point of each other last year in the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, and St. Louis Blues and they have an excellent chance. With that said, the Colorado Avalanche are my pick to win the Central Division. Their biggest issue last year was lack of some consistent play by their second line, but I LOVE Nazem Kadri as their new second-line center. We know Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog will make up one of the top two lines in the NHL and with Kadri behind them, they should be great. They also have Cale Makar to lead their defense and potentially Bowen Byram, who I wish the Blackhawks took third overall. That was a mistake.
Atlantic – Boston Bruins
Metropolitan – Washington Capitals
Pacific – Vegas Golden Knights