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Introducing the Blackhawks’ new Central Division foes

They’ll be spending a LOT of time together this season.

NHL: NOV 19 Hurricanes at Blackhawks Photo By Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Blackhawks’ 2021 season will begin with training camp on Jan. 3 and games starting soon after on Jan. 13.

The new season brings many changes, including new divisions created just for the upcoming season. All seven Canadian teams will remain north of the border, which means that the Blackhawks will not have any regular season games against former divisional foes like Winnipeg and conference foes such as Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.

That all-Canadian division led to a significant realignment south of the border which changed which other teams are in the Central Division. For this season, the Jets are gone to the North while the Blues, Wild and Avalanche are gone to the West. In their place are the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Red Wings, Panthers and Lightning.

Blackhawks fans are probably familiar with the Predators and Stars from years of intradivisional games. But what about those new teams? Keep in mind that Chicago’s upcoming 56 regular season games will consist of eight games apiece against these seven teams:

Carolina Hurricanes

‘19-20 Record: 38-25-5 (81 points), fourth place in Metropolitan Division
Postseason: lost to Bruins in the first round
Summary: The Hurricanes swept the Rangers in the qualifying round before losing a rematch of the 2019 Eastern Conference Final to the Bruins 4-1.

Their largest changes over the offseason were the retirement of Justin Williams, the departure of Trevor Van Riemsdyk (Washington), Joel Edmundson (Montreal) and likely Sami Vatanen (currently an unrestricted free agent). They also added Jesper Fast (from the Rangers).

Carolina is led by the forward trio of Sebastian Aho (38 goals, 66 points in the 2019-20 regular season), former Blackhawks first-round pick Teuvo Teravainen (15 goals and 63 points) and Andrei Svechnikov (24 goals and 61 points). They also boast one of the league’s finest defenses, headed by Jaccob Slavin, who finished fifth in Norris voting last season.

Columbus Blue Jackets

‘19-20 Record: 33-22-15 (81 points), fifth place in the Metropolitan Division
Postseason: lost to Lightning in the first round
Summary: The Blue Jackets beat the Maple Leafs in five games in the qualifying round before losing in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.

Their biggest offseason addition was Max Domi, acquired in a trade for Josh Anderson. Columbus also picked up Mikko Koivu (formerly of the Wild) and Mikhail Grigorenko. They bought out Alexander Wennberg and kept both of their goaltenders after it was initially expected that one would be traded in the offseason.

On offense, Columbus is led by Pierre-Luc Dubois (18 goals, 49 points) and Gustav Nyquist (15 goals, 42 points). Dubois is currently a restricted free agent, although he is expected to re-sign (similar to the Dylan Strome situation). Their defense relies on the top pairing of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones, both of whom got multiple Norris votes.

Detroit Red Wings

‘19-20 Record: 17-49-5 (39 points), last place in Atlantic Division
Postseason: did not qualify
Summary: Four of the five teams added to Chicago’s division this season could be headed to the playoffs.

The fifth is Detroit.

If anybody can beat the Blackhawks in the race to the bottom this season, it’s the Red Wings. They went 17-49-5 in the regular season, a historically low pace.

The Red Wings made multiple additions that could improve their team, however. Vladislav Namestnikov and Bobby Ryan were added offensively while Troy Stetcher, Jon Merrill and Marc Staal joined the blue line. The Red Wings also picked up goaltender Tomas Greiss, formerly of the Islanders.

Dylan Larkin is likely the best player in Detroit, scoring 19 goals and 53 points in 2019-20. The Red Wings also have Tyler Bertuzzi (21 goals, 48 points) and Anthony Mantha (16 goals, 38 points). Moritz Seider, Detroit’s first-round pick (sixth overall) in the 2019 NHL Draft, could also join their blue line at some point.

Florida Panthers

‘19-20 record: 35-26-8 (78 points), fourth in the Atlantic Division
Postseason: lost to Islanders in the qualifying round
Summary: Remember Joel Quenneville? I’m sure you do. He’s coaching Florida, which means Chicago will see plenty of his mustache.

On the ice, the Panthers will be without several players from last season’s roster including Evgenii Dadonov (Ottawa), Mike Hoffman (UFA), Erik Haula (UFA) and Lucas Wallmark (Chicago). They changed much of their offense, adding a few former Blackhawks (Anthony Duclair, Vinnie Hinostroza) along the way. The Panthers also traded defenseman Mike Matheson for Patric Hornqvist from Pittsburgh and picked up the aforementioned Wennberg from the Blue Jackets.

Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida’s scoring leader, played at a point-per-game pace last season with 78 points (23 goals, 55 assists) in 69 games. Aleksander Barkov (20 goals, 62 points) and Keith Yandle (five goals, 45 points) are two additional strong returning players for the Panthers.

Tampa Bay Lightning

‘19-20 record: 43-21-6 (92 points), second in the Atlantic Division
Postseason: Won the Stanley Cup
Summary: After winning the Stanley Cup, the Lightning are early favorites to win this division — likely by a wide margin. They’re also two years removed from one of the best regular seasons in league history with many of the pieces from those rosters still in place.

Currently, the biggest subtractions from the Lightning are Zach Bogosian (Toronto) and Carter Verhaege (Florida). However, Tampa remains about $2 million over the salary cap, according to CapFriendly. They also haven’t signed two key depth players from last season: Erik Cernak and Anthony Cirelli, both restricted free agents. One potential solution? An LTIR stint for Nikita Kucherov, who had 33 goals and 85 points last sesaon.

Elsewhere, the Lightning have a now-healthy Steven Stamkos, who scored 66 points (29 goals, 37 assists) last season but played in just one postseason game. They also boast Brayden Point (25 goals, 64 points) and reigning Conn Smythe winner Victor Hedman, who was third in Norris voting last season.