Like it or not, Michal Handzus serves a purpose
Four games into the series against the Blues and Blackhawks fans continue to clamor for Michal Handzus' dismissal from the lineup. Would that be the right move? Probably not.
The 2-0 hole in which the Chicago Blackhawks found themselves early in their Western Conference Quarterfinal matchup against the St. Louis Blues led to a whole lot of questioning of head coach Joel Quenneville. Given the ineffectiveness of the lineup in not only getting ahead, but holding a lead, many pondered (quite passionately) if Quenneville was making the right decision in more than one regard.
That question has lingered all year in relation to Brandon Bollig, but during the playoffs they've also spilled over to relate to Michal Handzus as well. Multiple articles have been written across the interwebz declaring that Handzus serves no purpose and how he, along with Bollig and perhaps Kris Versteeg, should be jettisoned into the sun, making way for more logical lineup choices like Peter Regin and especially Jeremy Morin.
Yet, here we stand and heading into Game 5, Handzus is once again the anchor in the middle of that second line, between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. The two veterans that bookend the Blackhawks' resident dinosaur have been invisible through the first four games of the series, no doubt due to the lack of speed or offensive skill that Handzus brings to the table.
While certain stretches have seen Handzus' time on ice wane, he's still averaging up over 17 minutes per game thus far in the series, which ranks seventh among Blackhawk forwards to this point. That's also probably skewed to a certain degree thanks to the three overtime bonanza in Game 1. Some view that as 17 minutes too many, and his ugly possession numbers do him no favors in that respect. His Relative Corsi through four games is at -9.3 and he's spending a pretty good chunk of time starting in the offensive zone.
However, while the even strength numbers don't paint a pretty picture, the presence of Handzus in the lineup is a major reason that the Hawks' penalty kill has looked so strong to this point. He's averaging 5:25 while playing a man down, tops among Hawk forwards. The Blackhawks have the third best penalty kill percentage in this year's postseason, albeit a small sample size, allowing just a pair of goals in 21 times shorthanded.
The solution here isn't complicated. Get Handzus off of that top line. Perhaps get someone like Ben Smith skating those second line center minutes if no substitutions are going to be made. However, given what he brings to the mix as a defensive forward he has a place in there somewhere. His glacial pace would suit him well in that type of role on the bottom six somewhere while continuing to skate those big minutes on the PK. Tossing him out of the lineup entirely isn't likely the brightest of solutions. Simply get him off that second line, and watch Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa awaken.
Of course, this is Joel Quennville we're talking about so look forward to seeing him anchor, in a literal sense, the middle of that second line on Friday night.