These two teams playing each other in a series that would have never otherwise happen is beautifully symbolic of the passing of the guard. Toews and Kane were the original 1-2 punch to create a dynasty for their franchise. The Oilers are hoping to replicate that success with their own duo who may have been the two best players in the league this season.
Back in 2015, right after winning their third cup in six years, the Blackhawks signed their two key players to essentially lifetime achievement contracts. Toews and Kane are both on the books for $10.5M which is why GM Stan Bowman has been very busy in recent years, making trades to stay below the cap. Up front, Saad and Shaw are the only members remaining from their Stanley Cup stretch but this team has a nice influx of youngsters like Calder nominee Dominik Kubalik, Strome, Nylander, DeBrincat and last summer’s third overall pick Kirby Dach.
Peter Chiarelli’s tenure in Edmonton ended on a bit of a sour note, but the summer of 2017 he was on his game. Chiralli locked up McDavid and Draisaitl through the 2024-25 season and setting in motion the future of this franchise. These two are both in the argument for the best player in the league and Edmonton has greatly benefited from each being assigned their own line. This doesn’t even include another first overall pick in Nugent-Hopkins who along with Kassian, Neal and Yamamoto fill out the top two lines. Ennis, Sheahan and Athanasiou are all bottom six forwards with skill to move up and down the line up to compliment McDavid and Draisaitl when necessary.
It’s impossible to not give the edge to a Forward group that includes the Art Ross winner and runner up.
Leading the way on defense for the Blackhawks is another familiar face in Duncan Keith. The two time Norris Trophy winner is missing his usual partner in crime, Brent Seabrook who underwent surgery on a shoulder and both hips. Without Seabrook the Blackhawks have a very young defensive core led by a couple of former first round picks Olli Maatta and Connor Murphy. The departure of Erik Gustafsson at the trade deadline opened up a spot for 2018 first rounder Adam Boqvist who will get a valuable glimpse at what the playoffs are like.
The Oilers defense core is finally starting to take form to compliment their highly skilled forwards. Adam Larsson has been their pillar on defense ever since he came over in the Taylor Hall deal. Oscar Klefbom has steadily improved year after year and has become a key component on the Power Play. Darnelle Nurse is a big and powerful defenseman that can skate to go along with Russell and Benning. The loss of Mike Green hurts but is understandable, Philip Broberg is a name to keep an eye on in his absence.
So full disclosure for the Hawks here, they were sellers at the deadline so they traded away their would have been starter Robin Lehner. Early on in Phase 3 it was looking like Corey Crawford may not be able to participate after testing positive for COVID-19. He has since been cleared which is good news for the Hawks but the Hawks have yet to officially name a starter. I think it should and will be Crawford because as you will see in this video, he was part of the reason Chicago remained competitive in the West.
Koskinen had similar numbers to Crawford with Smith not far behind (ignoring above expectation). I’m not sure who Dave Tippett will go with in this series but if the exhibition game was any indication then it will Koskinen. Mikko has a ton of playoff experience in the KHL winning two championships while starting close to 75 playoff games. Smith on the other hand only really has one playoff run to his name with the Coyotes nearly a decade ago.
Upon further review of past articles, I may be allowing overall team defense affect the goalie category too much so in an effort to change that I will base this strictly on individual skill.
This category isn’t even close, the Oilers Power Play quite literally lapped the Blackhawks. Edmonton had more than double the amount of goals with the man advantage ranking first in the league with 29.5% Power Play. The Blackhawks come into Phase 4 and the Qualification round with the worst Power Play of the remaining teams.
The Blackhawks do keep things much closer on the Penalty Kill finishing the season tied for the eighth best unit at 82.1%. They still fall short of the Oilers who finished second with an efficiency of 84.4% bringing their total Special Teams success rate to 113.9%. Remember what I said about being over 100%?
Chicago Blackhawks: Ryan Strome
The former third overall pick seemed to have regained his form after his first year in Chicago. Coming over from the Coyotes, Strome struggled with his consistency before a change of scenery appeared to fix this issue. After a season where he put up nearly a point per game, Strome failed to reach the 40 point mark on the season. If the Blackhawks are to have any chance in this series they will need guys like Strome to provide scoring and alleviate the pressure from the leaders like Kane and Toews.
Edmonton Oilers: Ethan Bear
James Neal got some heavy consideration for this but defense will be more important in the Qualification round. Ethan Bear is coming off his first full season in the NHL and has really rounded out the top four for this team really nicely. He has consistently improved in every league he has played in and his skill set fills a void that the Oilers have been desperately trying to fill for, well, possibly longer than a decade. I would like to point out that I loved that the NHL allowed him to have his name in Cree syllabics (above) during the Oilers exhibition game. With that being said this next video is not a highlight reel, but still something that I find fitting for the Ethan Bear breakdown (includes some Carey cameos).
Forward – Oilers
Defense – Oilers
Goaltender – Blackhawks
Special Teams – Oilers
X-Factor – Oilers
Winner: (5) Edmonton Oilers in 4
Chicago takes advantage of the Oilers on a night where they take the Blackhawks for granted, I am going to guess Game 3. Outside of that they are just outclassed in almost every facet by a superior team. The Oilers move on with ease and get ready to face the Dallas Stars.