When the Chicago Blackhawks grabbed Brad Richards off the free agent market for what seemed like a dime, at one year and $2 million, it was widely assumed that he'd line up next to Patrick Kane in the middle of that second line. While that still seems like the most likely route heading into training camp, there's no guarantee that he'll be able to fulfill that type of role full-time, given his age and the fact that he's coming off of a very disappointing tenure with the New York Rangers.
Should Richards fail to reach expectations, even if they are limited due to his circumstances, then there aren't exactly a wealth of options in the middle of that no. 2 unit. It's been a revolving door of players in recent years, as the glacial pace of Michal Handzus assumed that spot for much of last year. Other players that have been thrown into the fire, only to come up short, include Ben Smith, Marcus Kruger, and, perhaps most infamously, Patrick Kane.
Andrew Shaw is likely the guy that the Hawks will turn to if Richards cannot get the job done. He showcased some chemistry with Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad in a brief stint with that unit at the tale end of last year's playoffs, so expounding on that small sample size could be in the cards at some point. Nonetheless, Shaw's tenacity and that all-important (except ultimately not that important) grit factor have many pegging him for third line duty once again.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. If the Blackhawks choose to go with a traditional third line this year, Shaw with Bryan Bickell on his left and some combination of Jeremy Morin or Kris Versteeg on his right would be a more-than-formidable trio. In all likelihood, that's how things will shake out if Richards performs well between Saad and Kane on line no. 2.
At the same time, though, Shaw is plenty capable of being a contributor as a 2C. He saw almost 60 percent of his zone starts come in the offensive zone last year, but his 43 percent success rate at the dot is certainly a deterrent from him assuming that type of role full time. That, in conjunction with his penchant for ill-timed penalties, could absolutely force him down into third line duty.
For small stretches of time, we could see some flashes from Andrew Shaw that may make it look like he's a guy that could suit up next to Patrick Kane regularly and help to put the Handzus-Kane disaster of a matchup firmly in the past. A full-time union of the unit that performed so well in a short time in the playoffs against the Los Angeles Kings, however, seems unlikely as it might present the ability to provide more headaches than actual goals.
Shaw is a player perfectly suited for third line duty. If that unit, with Bickell on his left and Versteeg or Morin to his left, can force the puck down around the net, then they'll find plenty of success. His less-than-stellar faceoff percentage makes him a poor fit in the top six, as does the additional ice time that would come with such a role, as it increases the chances that the boneheadedness could come trickling back out. Ultimately, that's likely the way things are going to shake out. Expect a Saad-Richards-Kane second unit, with Andrew Shaw continuing to ply his trade in the middle of that third grouping. That's the way it should be, and it should allow the Hawks to get the most out of their lineup.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.