Blackhawks lack the forward depth to be a legitimate threat

20131211_151215The Blackhawks are showing us that their top two lines have the potential to be absolutely deadly this year, and possibly for years to come. That second line of Panarin, Anisimov, and Kane has been shredding opposing defenses as of late, while the top line of Toews, Hossa, and whoever occupies the “lottery” spot on the left wing always possesses the ability to do the same. It’s the bottom two forward lines that need some help.

Sunday night’s game against the Flames saw Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, and Teuvo Teravainen as the Hawks’ so-called “third line,” while Brandon Mashinter, Tanner Kero, and Ryan Garbutt made up the fourth line. Here’s the problem with that, if you couldn’t already figure it out on your own.

That fourth line is not good. None of those three players own any true play-making skills, with the exception of Kero who has only played in a handful of NHL games. In reality, Shaw and Kruger belong on the fourth line like they were during last year’s Stanley Cup run. Guys like Mashinter don’t really offer much in today’s NHL where skill has become far more important than physicality. And the Blackhawks know this, but can’t do much about it at the moment due to the salary cap.

Ideally, the Hawks would like Teuvo Teravainen to be the team’s third line center. They’ve tried him out there on occasion, but continue moving him back out of that role. Part of the reason for that is the fact that this roster does not have enough skilled forward depth to allow Teravainen to be successful as a bottom six center. As proven during last year’s playoffs and while he was in the top six this year, Teravainen is a guy who, whether at center or wing, needs to be on a line with skilled, play-making linemates in order to be successful. While the line of Shaw, Kruger, and Teuvo has actually been good the last two games, it’s not a permanent thing.

If you look at the three Blackhawks teams that have won the Cup over the past six years, each one has had four lines that present a legitimate threat to score. The only reason the 2014 team didn’t advance to the Cup Final is because they only had three lines that could produce. That is where this current team is headed. Until they can add a skilled guy to their bottom six, this Blackhawks team cannot win another championship. Unfortunately, the only thing preventing that from happening is the salary cap. Once that hypothetically happens, it will allow Quenneville to put his guys at their correct spots in the lineup.

There’s no question that this Hawks team has elite talent as usual. With Keith and Rozsival now back and healthy, their defense is slowly looking less and less concerning, and the goaltending doesn’t figure to be a problem either. It’s the forward depth that is holding the Hawks back from being a true Stanley Cup threat at the moment. Maybe Bowman works his magic this season and pulls off a trade to fix this problem. Maybe he doesn’t. Until he does find an upgrade for the bottom six though, expect this team to remain top-heavy.

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Blackhawks’ young guns helping team ease through some early setbacks

10-171460575-smallThe Blackhawks have been dealt a tough hand early on here in the 2015-16 season. After being forced to dump a lot of salary over the offseason, resulting in multiple new faces in the lineup on opening night, the Hawks are now having to deal with injuries to some key players. It was already going to take a while for the new guys and the mainstays to gel together, but throw in the injuries to Keith and Hossa, and that whole gelling process gets even tougher.

Duncan Keith is expected to be out of the lineup until at least early December after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Marian Hossa recently suffered an undisclosed injury that held him out of the lineup Monday night against the Kings. Michal Rozsival has been sidelined ever since Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals last May, and is still at least a week or two away from returning. In their spots, the Hawks’ youngsters have had to step up.

Monday night’s lineup against the Kings saw Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero, and Marko Dano make up the Hawks’ so-called third line. Three rookies with very little previous NHL experience.

On the blue line, rookie Victor Svedberg has been asked to play a large role in Keith’s absence, as has Trevor van Riemsdyk, who including this season has 20 games of regular season NHL experience. The Hawks also recently recalled Erik Gustafsson to add depth to their defensive unit. All three d-men played in the Blackhawks’ last two games, with those being the first two career games for Gustafsson.

Add in that Artemi Panarin, another rookie, has been a regular in the Hawks’ lineup this year, and you start to realize just how challenging a first twelve games of the season this has been for the Blackhawks.

When you take a step back and look at how the team has performed so far though, you can’t really help but be pleasantly surprised given the circumstances. Monday night’s 4-2 win over L.A. was a perfect example.

The Blackhawks were going up against one of the NHL’s best teams, who oh by the way was on a 7-game win streak, and managed to mount a three-goal third period to come back and win the game by a pair. Granted, that late charge was led by Patrick Kane, but the rookies, specifically the ones on the blue line, hung in there quite nicely and played a big role in the win.

Guys like TVR and Svedberg have transitioned very nicely to their increased roles and more minutes of playing time, which has been huge for Quenneville and the rest of the Hawks. While Hartman, Kero, and Dano didn’t have much of an impact against the Kings, they held their own for the most part.

This is something we’ll likely continue seeing this year as the Hawks try and find the right pieces to fit in on their ever-changing third line. As for the defense, Gustafsson likely won’t stick around once Rozsival returns, and when Keith gets back, some minutes will be cut from Svedberg and TVR.

All in all, despite a record of 7-5-0, there have been some encouraging signs shown by the Hawks through the first twelve games. This may not be a team playing in June for the Stanley Cup right away next summer, but the youngsters are showing signs of promise for the long run.

Blackhawks’ roster taking shape

10-171460575-smallLast week, we learned that Patrick Sharp had been traded away to the Dallas Stars along with top d-prospect Stephen Johns. In return, the Hawks received one of the Stars’ top defensemen in Trevor Daley, as well as winger Ryan Garbutt. Today, Johnny Oduya announced that he would not be returning to Chicago and will sign elsewhere sometime soon. Meanwhile, we are still waiting for more inevitable moves to be made. All things considered, however, it’s a safe bet to assume that most of the transactions that Stan Bowman will make this summer have already been completed.

Let’s first start by talking a bit about the loss of Patrick Sharp. We all knew he wasn’t going to be back next season, but that didn’t ease the pain of losing him. He was one of just a few guys to have played on the Hawks during the so called “dark ages,” as well as on the three Cup-winning teams. He saw it all in Chicago and witnessed one of the biggest turnarounds a sports franchise can have.

Sharp was an obvious fan favorite here for his play on the ice, as well as for his personality off the ice. He is one of the classiest players in the game.

As for what he meant to the Blackhawks, he was a 30-goal scorer just two seasons ago and one of the team’s most clutch playoff performers over the last seven seasons. He could play in all situations and was one of the top leaders in the dressing room, thus leading to his title as Assistant Captain.

Moving Sharp’s $5.9 million dollar cap hit was absolutely necessary for the Blackhawks, but that doesn’t make this any easier. It will be tough watching him play against the Hawks in the coming years, but so it goes. He’ll forever be a fixture in the history of this franchise.

Now, on to the other stuff.

In return for Sharp, the Hawks got Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt. Daley figures to be a part of the team’s top four defensemen next season now that we know Oduya is gone. For those unaware, Daley is a step above Oduya in terms of his offense (16 goals last season), but he’s a step or two below Oduya defensively. Whereas Johnny Oduya saw heavy minutes on the Hawks’ penalty kill, Trevor Daley will most likely not. That’s not to say he can’t learn a thing or two from the Hawks’ coaching staff, but it’s a safe guess. He will, however, more than likely see lots of powerplay time.

Ryan Garbutt, when in the lineup, which may or may not be every night, will almost certainly see all of his time spent on the bottom two lines of the Blackhawks. He’s a gritty player somewhat like Desjardins and Shaw, although with less skill than Shaw. It’s possible that he will be battling it out with other players for a consistent role in the lineup.

As of right now, here’s how the Blackhawks lines may look:

Shaw-Toews-Hossa

Panarin-Anisimov-Kane

Bickell-Teravainen-Dano

Garbutt/Versteeg-*Kruger*-Desjardins

Keith-Seabrook

Hjalmarsson-Daley

TVR-Rundblad

A couple of things to mention here. First of all, Kruger has yet to re-sign with the Hawks. The odds of that happening increase by a ton if Bowman can figure out a way to trade Versteeg and/or Bickell to free up more cap space. Trading either one of those guys on their own may be next to impossible to accomplish, so another player off the current roster may have to be included just to move one of those guys. Needless to say, a lot could still possibly change regarding the Hawks’ forwards.

Defensively, I don’t see TVR and Rundblad being the fifth and sixth defensemen to start the season. I’ve got to believe that, again, Bowman is working to move someone and their contract to free up enough space to not only re-sign Kruger, but maybe sign a depth defensemen as well. Some names have floated around as being targets of the Hawks, but I won’t even mention those because a lot would have to happen before Bowman even begins negotiating a contract with one of them.

As for the lines themselves, I would think that Joel Qunneville would like to at least start the season by having Dano and Anisimov together on the same line as they are already familiar with each other from their time in Columbus. Placing them with Patrick Kane seems to make sense at the moment, but that would force Dano into moving over to the left wing where is hasn’t played much. This means we could see him end up skating on the right side of the Hawks’ third line.

If Dano does in fact begin on the third line, we’ll most likely see Artemi Panarin playing left wing alongside Anisimov and Kane. Panarin has an incredible skill set, which should blend nicely with Kane. He also speaks Russian, as does Anisimov. Whether that plays a factor into things, who knows… Of course, this is all assuming Panarin makes the NHL roster.

I’ve also got Teravainen starting as the team’s third line center. It’s no secret that the Hawks would like to see him evolve into an NHL centerman, so my best guess is that they’ll start the season with him there, or possibly even on the second line centering Kane. Marko Dano can also play center, but it’s doubtful that both he and Teravainen will be centers on this team at the same time.

Andrew Shaw seems like the best bet to begin the season at left wing with Toews and Hossa.

There’s still a lot that could potentially happen with the Hawks via trades, which makes predicting their lines a bit challenging. One thing is for sure though, and that’s that we’ll be seeing lots of new faces wearing the indian head next season.