Sharp-Toews-Kane is not the ‘nuclear option’ for the Blackhawks (anymore)

This is not the option you’re looking for.

We’re still about eight hours from the opening faceoff, but the narrative has already been set for Thursday night’s game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers.

Here’s the problem with that narrative and that tweet though: it’s wrong.

Having Jonathan Toews center a line between Patricks Sharp and Kane is not the nuclear option for the 2017-18 Chicago Blackhawks.

Sure, this was the nuclear option from 2007 through, roughly, 2014, but two factors have changed that. First off, Patrick Sharp is 36 years old now and wasn’t a top-six winger by the end of his first stint in Chicago in 2014-15. Second, a new player has emerged to take Sharp’s spot on the nuclear line. But before we dive into that, let’s look back at just how lethal that Sharp-Toews-Kane line was, using the excellent Line Tool now available at the Natural Stat Trick website..

In 2010, those three played 152:28 of even strength ice time together, and combined for a 57.45 CF%. Their TOI together jumped up to 263:58 the following season, and the CF% remained mostly stable at 57.59. By the 2013-14 regular season, their time together was down to 85:25, but the CF% was still dominant at 59.15.

Think of all the goals this trio was responsible for: Kane’s shorthanded goal in Game 5 against the Nashville Predators in 2010, and the two last-minute goals to force overtime against the Arizona Coyotes in 2011 stand out in my mind.

By the 2014-15 season, though, that trio played just 18:43 together in the regular season, somewhat affected by injury-shortened seasons for Sharp and Kane. But by the end of that year, the emergence of Brandon Saad has made him the top new LW in Chicago.

The nuclear option in Chicago is now Saad-Toews-Kane.

We’ve only seen it for 6:09 through the first 15 games of the 2017-18 season, with that trio posting a gaudy 77.27 CF% in its limited time together. In Sunday night’s recap after the loss to the Montreal Canadiens, I suggested we might be getting closer to that nuclear option for the Hawks if the offensive woes continue. Coach Joel Quenneville is getting a lot closer with Kane and Toews reunited on the top line, but he still hasn’t made a total commitment to that option yet.

But we might get there if the Hawks can’t find a way to snap out of their current offensive funk against the Flyers on Thursday night.