There's a chance that some of you may have been hoping for perhaps a change in editorial staff on the blog to go along with the cosmetic makeover. Well, no such luck. You're stuck with our jizz jokes for the foreseeable future.
With the exhibition season now officially under way, we're bound to see some goofy line combinations trotted out there due to the expanded roster and the coaching staff wanting to know who works well with whom. But, clearly, we know better than the highly paid and respected Joel Quenneville as relatively anonymous internet bloggers, so let's go ahead and take a look at
As we've noted time and again, the Blackhawks are overstocked at forward. It's very likely that once Marian Hossa returns from shoulder surgery, someone from last year's squad could very likely be toiling in Rockford if their performance has slipped even in the slightest bit. Also, for this exercise, I'm going to go ahead and assume that Hossa IS healthy, since, in theory, he should be with the club the majority of the year.
Starting with the top line, to me, the only absolute is that Jonathan Toews is going to be centering it. Captain Marvel has established himself as the team's number 1 center, and can do it in all three zones. His wings, however, are another story. While the easy thing would be to have Patrick Kane and Hossa flank Toews, it does not come without its minor problems. First, the Hawks run the risk of front-loading their scoring. While scoring depth was not an issue last season, teams that become one line deep are relatively easily nuetralized, no matter how good that line is. Just ask the Ducks last year. Additionally, with this combination, Hossa is somewhat under utilized as a playmaker, as Kane will be likely be the one expected to distribute the puck. So if we place Hossa elsewhere, the natural person to step in would be Patrick Sharp. The Sharp-Toews-Kane combination has worked very well in the past, with Toews winning battles and draws, and Kane finding the team's best natural finisher. However, this combination only works if as Sam said last week 2007-2008 Patrick Sharp returns being a moderate physical presence and responsible in his own zone.
Moving to the second line, it's again fairly clear that it will be centered by Dave Bolland, and as I've established above, Marian Hossa should be placed on Bolland's right. Hossa will be asked to fill in Marty Havlat's spot on Bolland's wing, which his career numbers fully indicate he should be able to do no problem. While Bolland isn't the seizure-inducing playmaker Kane can be, he's very adept at putting the puck exactly where it needs to be to allow his linemates to do what they do best with it, and Hossa should flourish with Bolland. The question then becomes who is on the other wing opposite Hossa. Andrew Ladd would have no problem in his familiar spot along side Bolland, but given Ladd's defensive presence and the Hawks' acquisition of John Madden, Ladd's skills may be better utilized in a true shut-down role. The loss of his physicality on the line is mitigated by the fact that Marian Hossa, while not a banger, is a far bigger physical presence than Martin Havlat was. And Hossa's physicality should make for enough space for Kris Versteeg to maximize his abilities as possibly the team's slickest puck handler. Steeger's wrist and snap shots are nothing to complain about either, so the thought is also that a line of Versteeg-Bolland-Hossa would give room enough to let those shots fly.
Off-season pick up and Selke winner John Madden has been penciled in as the third line/checking center since the millisecond after he signed on July 1. It's what he's done his entire career, and the hope is that he continues to do so here in Chicago. With Andrew Ladd on his wing, the makings of an elite shutdown line are in place. The opposite wing is a bit of a predicament, however. Getting down toward the bottom of the roster, there are numerous forwards who all do very similar things. And while this may be a huge leap that I may regret making later, it seems as though the light finally went on last season for Dustin Byfuglien when he was asked to help Sammy Pahlsson check the other team's top line. Madden is more decorated than Pahlsson, so there should be no reason to believe Buff couldn't maintain the level of productivity he provided along side Pahlsson. And a line of Byfuglien-Madden-Ladd sounds like a pretty damn rugged checking line to have to face shift after shift.
Now that we're getting down to the bottom of the roster is where some of the real tough choices are going to be made. Tomas Kopecky and his $1 million dollar salary seem like a lock to be in place here (if not further up the depth chart). Kopecky adds a lot of size and versatility to what was already one of the best 4th lines in the league last year. Ben Eager adds to that size and provides speed and grit as well, and Adam Burish brings crabs.....wait...not that kind of pest. The hockey kind. The kind everyone loves to have on their fourth line. A line of Eager-Kopecky-Burish should be just as productive, if not more so, than last year's incarnation. Apologies to Troy Brouwer and Colin Fraser, and they'll definitely be first to suit up if Eager and Burish can't keep their shit together, or Buff returns to slack-ass mode. But while they work very hard and overachieved last year, no one can realistically say that either is anything more than a fourth liner on a team that has a reasonable shot to win a Stanley Cup, which for the first time in a long time, this team does. God DAMN does it feel good to type that.