Unplug the blender, burn down the doghouse
The Blackhawks are going through a rough patch right now, but Joel Quenneville constatnly changing the lines has only been hindering progress
Something you hear talked about all the time in hockey, from players, coaches, analysts, etc., is the importance of a team building chemistry. Chemistry and familiarity are essential for any team and any line. In order to build chemistry as a team, you have to spend time together in the room; in order to build chemistry as a line, you have to spend time together on the ice.
One of the major issues for the Blackhawks this season is that there hasn't been much opportunity for them to build any line chemistry. Joel Quenneville's infamous "line blender" has been running all season, constantly rearranging the line combinations, sometimes even after wins.
After starting the year with Patrick Kane and Andrew Shaw together on the second line, which eventually proved to be unsuccessful, Kane was re-united with Jonathan Toews on the top line. This was a good move, as the dynamic duo has often been extremely successful, and at times could be considered among the best lines in hockey, depending on who their left wing is.
That has been a major problem with that line so far. The left wing playing with Kane and Toews has been a bit of a revolving door, with several different players getting a shot. Ben Smith, Kris Versteeg, Brandon Saad, and Marian Hossa have all been on that top line at times, and on Friday against Detroit, Q appeared to be using a left wing by committee after a Versteeg turnover led to the Wings opening goal.
Another major issue that it brought about was that Hossa somehow wound up on the third line playing with Smith and Marcus Kruger. Compound that with the fact that Brad Richards has been spending time on the fourth line for who-knows-why, and you have what could be a great second-line tandem of RIchards and Hossa split among the bottom six, as opposed to playing a role they're better fitted for.
Something that has certainly complicated this whole line mess for Coach Q is the injury Patrick Sharp suffered against St. Louis earlier this season. Obviously losing one of your team's top goal-scoring wingers makes it more challenging to assemble lines, but overloading certain players with ice time while allowing others to burn holes in the bench probably isn't the best strategy.
There is simply too large a disparity in the ice time distribution for the Blackhawks this year. Jeremy Morin is lowest on the team in even strength TOI/game at just 7:42 (minimum 13 games played), while Patrick Kane leads the team with double that amount at 16:17. Morin, Richards, Kruger, and Bryan Bickell all have averaged less than 11 min of TOI/game at evens, while Kane, Sharp, Hossa, and Toews have all been at or near 14 minutes, and Kane and Toews are both above 15.
Obviously you want your best players on the ice more often than others, but having 2 players average 4-5 more minutes than a third of your forward corps is a bad strategy. A bit more balance in distribution of ice time is probably smarter, especially in the long-term.
It's the middle of November. These games are not do-or-die playoff games, or an end-of-season playoff push. And while every point is certainly important, not every single game right now is a must-win. There's plenty of time in the season to regain points that might be lost now, but that's a lot tougher to do if there's a lack of team chemistry. It's time to unplug the blender, burn down the doghouse, set lines, and keep them together for at least a couple of games. Otherwise, it might be time to really think about whether or not this team is really capable of a deep playoff run.
Adam Hess is the editor and publisher of Feathers in the Hat, and a contributor to Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter at @FeathersInDaHat.
(Statistics via NHL.com)