Last week I wrote about how filling out four lines was going to be a problem for the final six regular season games. This week I am writing about the same issue for the playoffs, yet in a positive way. Over the last three games, while top players Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have been out with injuries, some of the role players have stepped up and made their case for post season playing time. With the way Peter Regin and Jeremy Morin have gelled with Bryan Bickell on the third line, you would be hard pressed not roll them out for the first game against the Avalanche next week. But who sits?
Here are the forwards that have their spot cemented for the playoffs, if healthy:
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, Ben Smith, Bryan Bickell, Kris Versteeg
That leaves two roster spots open. We know Teuvo Teravainen will not see any post season action. The same could be said about Joakim Nordstrom, who has improved since we saw him in October, but I don't see him getting a shot at the lineup if the team is healthy. That leaves Michal Handzus and Brandon Bollig as the two candidates to sit for Regin and Morin.
Michal Handzus has not been great this season, even to his standards, but he still has value to this team. He is a solid penalty killer and is a smart defensive veteran. His style of play suites playoff hockey better than the marathon of the NHL regular season. The overall game speed slows down so Handzus does not look as far behind as he does when the neutral zone is wide open.
Brandon Bollig can seem to do no wrong in Coach Q's eyes but having this version of Jeremy Morin sit for him should be punishable by public flogging. I know Bollig provides #grit and #energy and his fights change the #momentum, but Morin has been doing the same thing. The difference is Morin's energy is leading to goals being put on the board which is the best momentum changer in the game. And for those of you who say Bollig is a deterrent, just remember that he was on the ice during Raffi Torres' attempted murder of Marian Hossa in 2012. Bollig has also taken 12 more penalties than he has drawn, only Niklas Hjalmarsson's -13 is worse. These are the type of things that will end you season in a hurry in April and May. I know Bollig has improved as an overall hockey player, and that is great, but I don't want another bad turnover leading to playoff losses.
Will Q sit one of his #grit guys who has dressed all season long come playoff time? Don't be so fast with that empathic "No!" There has been a precedent set in the past. Back in 2008-09, Colin Fraser played in 70 regular season games but only dressed for 2 playoff games. He only appeared in three playoff games during the Stanley Cup run of 2010 after playing in all but one game during the regular season.
Playing Regin and Morin over Handzus and Bollig makes the most sense and will appease the majority of Blackhaws fans, but we all know neither of those factor into Q's roster decisions. Hopefully the third line will continue to play well and make it impossible for them to be split up. In the grand scheme of things, this is a good problem to have. It gives Q some options and flexibility for the duration of the playoffs.