Rebuilding Blackhawks Face Long Odds As NHL Season Opens

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After entering last year’s unprecedented and expanded playoffs as the lowest-seeded team in the Western Conference and pulling off a surprise qualifying-round series victory, the road to get back to the postseason appears to be a long one for the Chicago Blackhawks heading into the 2020-21 NHL season.

The league is again adjusting its format due to COVID-19, with the Blackhawks part of a reconfigured eight-team Central Division that will play a 56-game schedule through May if all goes according to plan. There are some familiar faces — previous division foes Nashville and Dallas remain, and the Blackhawks renew acquaintances with Original Six rival Detroit. The biggest change comes with four teams crossing over from the Eastern Conference — Carolina, Columbus, Florida, and reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay.

The postseason will have an old-time hockey feel for sports bettors in Illinois: The top four teams from each division qualify and there will be two intradivision rounds of best-of-7 series to determine a winner. The winner of each division then advances to the Stanley Cup Semifinals, where they will be re-seeded in a 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 format based on regular-season point totals.

The Blackhawks will hit the ground running as they open the season Friday night against the Lightning, who will raise their Stanley Cup banner prior to the game. Chicago will play each division rival eight times in the regular season, with many of the games against opponents clustered in series similar to Major League Baseball to lessen travel as a means of combating the potential spread of COVID.

No Crow, no Toews, and a heavy load for Kane and DeBrincat

The big storyline for the Blackhawks is who is not with the team as the season opener draws near. The team parted ways with goaltender Corey Crawford, who backstopped them to two Stanley Cup titles and set a franchise record with 52 postseason victories. Crawford, who had signed with the New Jersey Devils in the offseason, announced his retirement Saturday.

In the short term, Chicago will be without captain Jonathan Toews. The 32-year-old center announced in late December he would miss training camp with an undisclosed illness that he described leaving him “feeling drained and lethargic.” Toews, whose return date is unknown, has won three Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks and had 18 goals and 60 points in 70 games last season.

That puts the offensive burden on fellow veteran Patrick Kane and forward Alex DeBrincat. Kane’s on-ice creativity on offense has long served as the perfect foil to Toews’ skill and grit, and he finished eighth in the league in scoring in 2019-20 with 84 points. Kane also surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his career last season and is 11 goals shy of 400.

The 22-year-old DeBrincat is looking to bounce back from a subpar season in which he scored only 18 goals after potting 41 in 2018-19. The fourth-year winger has been lethal on the power play, tallying 23 goals the past two seasons when the Blackhawks had a man advantage.

The No. 1 goaltender has yet to be settled with holdover Collin Delia trying to hold off Malcolm Subban and Kevin Lankinen to start between the pipes.

Odds-shopping

All five mobile sports betting operators are offering longshot odds for the Blackhawks when it comes to the Central Division title. FanDuel has the shortest at +1800, followed by William Hill (+2000), and PointsBet and the Kambi platform powering DraftKings and BetRivers (+2500). DraftKings is the only operator providing a Western Conference title offering (+3200), while the odds of lifting Lord Stanley range from +6000 at FanDuel to +10000 at PointsBet and William Hill.

FanDuel, DraftKings, and BetRivers have a yes/no option for the Blackhawks to make the postseason. The former has a +500/-800 split, while the latter two are offering +500/-835. Those three operators and PointsBet are also offering a season over/under points total of 49.5, with FanDuel split -120/-110, DraftKings offering -112 in both directions and PointsBet listed at -110.

The Australian-based sportsbook also has a second offering of 51 points at -115/-106, while William Hill has a listing of 51.5 points at -110.

Kane and DeBrincat comprise a majority of player props being offered involving the Blackhawks. Kane is a +2500 option to win the Hart Trophy at William Hill, with FanDuel (+2700) and Kambi (+2800) close behind. PointsBet is not as convinced, listing him at +5000. Kane is also seeing action for the Art Ross Trophy, which goes to the league’s top scorer, as both FanDuel and Kambi list him at +2000.

DeBrincat is only a Hart option at William Hill (+7500), but he is a +2600 offering for the Art Ross at FanDuel. He is getting play for the Rocket Richard award which goes to the league’s top goal-scorer, with FanDuel listing him at +2800 and DraftKings showing +3500. Kane is a +2200 selection on the latter for that trophy.

There are also bets that can be made on Kane’s scoring prowess pertaining to the team. On both Kambi platforms, he is a -275 pick to lead the team in points, but BetRivers has Kane +160 to lead the Blackhawks in goals, slightly ahead of Dominik Kubalik (+210) and DeBrincat (+265).

Lastly, DraftKings is offering Kane in a head-to-head matchup with Lightning center Brayden Point on the higher goal-scorer, and Kane has been installed as a solid -134 favorite over Point (+105).

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Chris Altruda has been a sportswriter with ESPN, The Associated Press, and STATS over more than two decades. He recently expanded into covering sports betting and gambling around the Midwest.

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