Blackhawks Options At Second Line Center Stir Discussion

A lot was said at the Blackhawks convention, ranging from the dancing abilities of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews or Corey Crawford’s new love of a microphone and Andrew Shaw’s facial scars.

When folks weren’t busy asking for autographs, they heard a few names thrown around by GM Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville that could be in the mix for the second line center position as the team looks ahead to the 2013-14 season.

Let’s look at the options the Hawks have for the coming season.

Saad gm 2

One option that worked fairly well in the postseason is Michal Handzus. His news this weekend was that the two surgeries he had on postseason injuries were successful, and doctors are telling him he’ll be ready for the start of training camp.

The Hawks didn’t ask much of Handzus after acquiring him at the deadline, but he was thrown into a prominent, top-six role between Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp frequently during the playoff run. During the postseason, Handzus won only 156 of 336 faceoffs (46.4 percent), but he showed an offensive ability that San Jose had taken for granted.

After posting only eight points (two goals, six assists) in 39 regular season games between San Jose and Chicago, Handzus registered 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 23 playoff games, including one short-handed goal. There are legitimate concerns about his ability to regularly skate with the Hawks’ top forwards, but he was more than adequate between Sharp and Hossa during the playoffs.

The name that raised eyebrows this weekend was the mention of Brandon Saad playing center. Brian Hedger tweeted a few quotes from Quenneville, including the following about Saad playing center:

“It’s something we talked about as a staff late in the year. It’s something going into the season we could be exploring.”

and

“Saader is probably the guy we’re thinking (will) maybe grab that spot, would be an option.”

Saad, who was the runner-up for the Calder Trophy last season after spending a lot of time on a line with Toews and Hossa, saw very few faceoffs during the abbreviated regular season. He took 46 faceoffs in 46 games, winning only 17 (37 percent). In the postseason, Saad won seven of 17 total faceoffs in 23 games (41.2 percent).

Saad, who doesn’t turn 21 until late-October, has only one season of NHL experience on his resume but showed that he can play with the Hawks’ top six. His lack of work at the dot leads to more of the same questions about the Hawks’ ability to win draws consistently, though. The devil’s advocate would ask why, if he looked good as a top-six wing, would you change his position?

Saad and Handzus are the two familiar faces from the NHL roster. Another player that has played center in Chicago more than either of those two could also be in the mix for the second line center as well.

Marcus Kruger took 493 faceoffs during the regular season last year, the highest total of returning Hawks not-named-Toews. While many fans will look at his 46.2 win percentage from the regular season as being not good enough for a top-six role, digging deeper shows that his stellar work as a penalty kill specialist hurt his faceoff numbers.

Kruger won 50 percent of his even strength faceoffs during the regular season last year, and won 44 of 95 (46.3 percent) even strength draws in the postseason. While the team would certainly not want to take another valuable asset off their great penalty kill unit (after already trading away Michael Frolik), Kruger’s even strength work at the dot and defensively-responsible game should help his stock heading into training camp.

There are two players that haven’t seen as much NHL action that could also be in the mix, however.

We wrote about Brandon Pirri at some length earlier this summer, and believe he has done enough in Rockford to deserve a long-term shot at the United Center this fall. He led the AHL in points and assists last year with the IceHogs, and continued to play well after Saad, Shaw and Kruger were promoted.

Pirri, 22, is entering the final season of his entry-level contract and has the offensive ability to add another dimension to the Hawks’ top six. In one NHL game this year, Pirri won six of 14 faceoffs (42.9 percent), but has two assists in seven career NHL games.

But with the money Bryan Bickell will be making, he’ll have to prove himself quickly to bump someone else out of the group that dominated the regular season last year; if Bickell is getting paid to be a top-six wing and Pirri is a top-six center, then someone (read: Saad) is headed for the third line.

The other name to consider is Drew LeBlanc. After winning the Hobey Baker Award at St. Cloud State, LeBlanc signed with the Hawks for the remainder of the regular season; he has since received a two-year contract from the organization.

LeBlanc, who turned 24 in late-June, failed to register a point in three NHL contests after signing, but won nine of 18 faceoffs.

Other names that could be considered include Shaw, Jimmy Hayes and even Ben Smith. But the five that will likely get the most attention this winter will be Handzus, Saad, Kruger, Pirri and LeBlanc.

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46 Responses to Blackhawks Options At Second Line Center Stir Discussion

  1. Tim G says:

    The flexibility of this team is uncanny. Should Saad develop a decent ability to take the draw, we will have a plethora of guys who can take draws on the bottom 6. We would actually have 2 guys who can take draws on EVERY LINE!

    If Saad ends up there, I think of this line up
    Bicks/Toews/Kane
    Sharp/Saad/Hossa
    Shaw/Pirri/Smith
    Morin/Zus/Kruger

    Personally, I feel we are better all around playing pirri in the 2C role in the Regualar season, and keeping Saad on the 3rd line. I like Shaw/Kruger/Saad could be very affective, and Morin/Zus/Smith could be a very gritty line for ugly goals. this would limit Zus in the regular season and keep him healthy for the long term. Then guys like Hayes and LeBlanc can come up and keep guys fresh through out the year or when injurys hit. And Bollig will get time in there too, so theres no reason to think we should wear down easy. This roster is set up for another gruling season… CAN’T WAIT!

  2. Blackhawksfan_Nick says:

    Are the Hawks making a mistake? We have soooo much talent in the minors that are starting to age and have not cracked the NHL roster (permanately) yet, that I worry that there is wasted talent being showcased in the wrong system. I know that what this brass has done in the past has worked, so, I’m not really questioning what they are doing, as far as results go, but, I worry that some of these guys will either not make this roster until after they have peaked or may be let go and flourish somewhere else? I guess as long as we are successful, that’s all that matters…..right? Would love to see Pirri, Morin, Clendening, Beach, J.Hayes, LeLonde, Stanton, Smith and LeBlanc up at the NHL level………yes, I said Beach! I know a majority of Hawk fans think he’s a bust, but, I see him playing a Carcillo/Mayers type of role on this team. Can’t be any worse than Bollig?!

    We have experience on Defense and as much as I liked Rosival’s game last year, by letting him and Brookbank go, it opens up 2 spots for guys like Stanton, LeLonde & Clendening to battle for. If we let Zeus go, that would open 1 more spot for one of the other guys mentioned above. I know I’m probably in the minority here with my thinking, but, it’s something to think about (in my opinion).

  3. Mike says:

    Nick, LaLonde is headed for Germany this coming season. Rosival and Zues have new contracts so unless SB signed them in order to trade them (It is possible) they will be in uniform come October. Brookbank is rumored to being shopped. That would make way for Stanton or Clendening to make the 23 man roster.

  4. McKay says:

    Beyond face-offs, the center position needs to have impeccable on-ice awareness and be able to play defense. Many commenters have likened Saad’s lower body strength as “Mini-Hossa.” He’s impossible to get off the puck. This would translate very well to being a shut down center on the defensive end. Imagine a “Mini-Toews” as 2c.

  5. Sr. Brad says:

    Nick, I think the Hawks and most fans are with you…the thing to remember for this year is that the Hawks see a chance in history to win back-to-back Cups and they are going for it…to that end, for this one season, they may make things a little more restrictive for the young players…but make no mistake about it, they are coming…they just want to ensure that there is TOUGH competition to make the team…that forces the cream to the top. So that is why Zues and Rozy were brought back…this is why Drew LeBlanc was signed…this is why Q is talking about Saad at the 2nd Centre position.

    Personally, I would LOVE to see Saad there…in my mind, there is no doubt he is Centre material…we saw last year he can skate with the best of them…he can pass with the best of them, and has great, almost freakish vision at times. He is already so strong, that when he has the puck, you can’t get him off of it, and on defence, he can take the body and cause turnovers…ask yourself, who led the Hawks last year in drawing penalties??? It was Saad, this just magnifies if he is skating in the middle of the ice…little Hoss for sure…and don’t worry about his F/O %. Guys who are great at the dot, universally, are strong lower body guys, and have strong forearms…Saad has both…he just needs repatition…I’ll guarantee he’ll end up next season over 50% if he has over 350 draws…

    All this does is take pressure OFF Brandon Pirri…stepping into the 2nd Centre role on the reigning SC champions with thoughts of a dynasty is pretty heady stuff. Maybe Pirri steps into the 3rd line role with Shaw and Ben Smith to help him along…allowing him to work on his defensive game…a heck of a lot less pressure. Or maybe it will be Pirri as the 2nd line guy, but if he is he will have to EARN it…of all the interviews this weekend at the convention, it was SCOTTY Bowman’s words that stood out to me…he talked a lot about repeating…he talked a lot about the kids coming…and he talked a lot about them having to earn these spots and that nothing would be handed to them…they all would have to earn it…there are literally 7 or 8 forwards vying for 3 or 4 spots…that’s good competition. How much Zues and Rozy play will be directly related to how well the kids take up their new roles. Stanton, Clendening (maybe), Pirri, Smith, Morin, Hayes and LeBlanc will have to “fight” it out to see who gets the ice time. To that end it favours Smith, Morin and Stanton because all three are more blue collar types that have had to fight hard for everything they have got. Jeremy Morin in particular was almost forgotten about last season after an average first year in Rockford…he could have easily been headed on a slow descent, but he ramped up his strength and play, and became a true power forward who constantly crashed the net…that kid is going to have a good year in Chicago.

    So, its going to be fun…and those that have mental strength will be the ones that help the Hawks become the first team to repeat since the ’97-’98 Wings, under Scotty Bowman.

  6. Sr. Brad says:

    As to the lineup questions next season, if Saad becomes the 2nd line Centre, I think it plays out like this:

    Bickell-Toews-Kane
    Sharp-Saad-Hossa (that’s a frightening line IMO)
    Smith/Morin-Pirri-Shaw
    Smith/Morin-Kruger-Hayes/Bollig

    Zeus is your extra guy rotating in all over the place…maybe 40 games?

    Seabrook-Keith
    Hammer-Oduya
    Leddy-Rozy/Stanton

    How much Rozy plays depends on Stanton…but I could see Stanton getting 60 games and Rozy filling in on the other 2 pairings to give guys rest…keeping our valuable defence VERY fresh for the post season.

    Crawford
    Habby

    I think Habby gets about 20-30 games to keep CC fresh.

    IMO, this is a very good lineup with lots and lots of depth…and with a short summer, a long season, and the Olympics, we are going to need it.

  7. EbonyRaptor says:

    Ordinarily I would have thought this was just so much convention blather – just throwing some red meat hyperbole to a fan base hungry to devour anything to do with the Hawks. But then Q qualified his comments by saying that he and his staff had thought about it during last season and then something to the effect that he thinks Saad has a good chance at winning that position. That takes it beyond hyperbole. That makes it serious. So if Q is serious about giving Saad a shot at the 2C spot – who am I question it?

    But then, there is more to this story. It appears this is the latest edition of Hawks front office … what shall we call it … disharmony? Wasn’t it Stan Bowman who was talking up the kids getting their shot and specifically mentioned Pirri? That would seem to be at odds with Q’s first choice for 2C. Now, this might just me reading into it something that really isn’t there, but there is some history here too. There seemed to be somewhat of a power struggle after 2011/12 where Q wanted Haviland replaced by his guy Kampon. Plus Q just got his contract extended and maybe feels he has a little more cache with which to steer the ship.

    If this is a power move by Q, then where I sided with Q after last season, I side with Stan this time. Where last time it was about the structure of Q’s staff, this time it’s about the organization making personnel decisions and that falls under the GM’s pervue. Stan needs to know what he has in Pirri (and others) so he can make those personnel decisions.

    We have a good thing going here so I hope I’m wrong because the organization all pulling together is ultimately more important that who plays 2C in 2013/14.

  8. SouthSideHawkMan says:

    I’m going to stick w my orginal comment when I 1st started watching Saad play in the Indian Sweater, he is the best Hawk drafted since Toews and Kane. He is 20 yrs old and his resume already includes, Stanley Cup champ, Calder runner up, and USA Hockey invitee(I’d be surprised if he doesnt make the team). The kid can really do it all, so it wouldnt surprise me if he cant develop into a legit 2C. However the thing I like about Saad is his ability to fight in the corners so I like him at wing. I still think LeBlanc is going to make the team and contribute. So this is how I’m looking at the roster @ forward

    Locked-Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp
    On the team-Bickell, Saad, Kruger, Shaw, Zeus(limited role)

    Question marks-LeBlanc, Pirri, Morin, Bollig, Ben Smith, Hayes
    The feel like the Hawks and Q will give this group every chance to win spots and the best players will play. Most likely all of these guys will see NHL minutes.

    IMO Danault should probably be in this group too, but I just feel like Zeus contract is keeping him in Rockford for 1 more season. However if he tears up TC the Hawks won’t hesitate to skate him on the big club same for McNeil.

  9. Morrison says:

    who sings…

    we stand for you &
    lift you up

  10. Kopuliak says:

    just note, it’s not surprise that Handzus production and FO % dropped as he played with broken wrist since DET series…

  11. Peter says:

    Devil’s Advocate Here and this is being picky…
    I like the lines that Tim and Brad have advocated and I already believe Saad is a Top 6 Forward in the NHL. If Saad could be a 2C, those are some pretty stacked top lines.

    However, we have gotten by with a weaker 2C for awhile now. Sharp and Hossa or Kane make up for the deficiencies of a weaker 2C to an extent. One of the things that has won us the cup in ’10 and ’13 has been a dominant 3rd line. A 3rd line that controls puck possession and is a nightmare for opposing teams’ lower lines and a headache to the opposing teams’ top ones. I do not know that a line of Smith/Morin Pirri Shaw has that same capability. Obviously there is no NHL tape on this line, but would they create the same havoc as a Laad/Bolland/Versteeg or Bickel/Shaw/Stalberg. Having one larger body might help and as SSHM has pointed out, Saad can do some dirty work in the corners and has proven he is suited to wing (the same argument can be made he could do that behind the net…). What I am saying is this having Saad on the 3rd line gives us a better opportunity now to have a stacked 3rd line where we let Sharp and Hossa make up for the deficiencies of a weaker player to still have a very good 2nd line.

    Regardless, I feel more comfortable coming into the season this year with having a “complete” roster. And if we want to have a 2nd line with Hossa, Saad, and Sharp; Sharp could always be 2C, but that is probably a different article and comment thread.

  12. wall says:

    Peter- agree- the 3rd line for the Hawks in 10 and 13 – were able to dominate at times …

    this doesn’t happen with Sadd or Bickell playing up!

    I pissed and moaned all year about Saad – and My thought that he should play down off of top 6- not because he isn’t ggood enough- but matter of his D strength and lack of patience for 20 yr. old… great Patient playoff goals were scored by Zus and 29 not because of being better than Saad- just more experienced… I am content w/ 29 or Saad playing on 3rd to balance out lines for the Marathon 82 game season…
    I think it makes Hawks better/deeper for that long season.

  13. Mike says:

    Brad, I think you are absolutely right about taking the pressure off Pirri. Kane needs to stick with Toews on the 1st line, have Bicks there is fine. Sharp and Hossa I think will be more productive with the way Saad plays. That line will be scary for the opposition.

    Say you move Shaw to a wing….Shaw/Kruger/Smith sounds like an awesome 3d line.
    The forth line can be an on going experience builder using a base of Morin/Pirri/Hayes while rotating Zues with Bolig, McNeill, LeBlanc and others including Beach

  14. Sr. Brad says:

    Guys, great, great comments…and I happen to agree with all of them…ER, there is an element of disagreement between the GM and the Coach, but that just comes with the territory. One is paid to oversee an entire organization and the other is focused solely on winning games at the NHL level, so they will never be entirely on the same page, and that’s fine. I think you are absolutely right…Q’s making such a bold, OPEN, statement about Saad this weekend is “push back” against all the Brandon Pirri talk walking into that 2nd line Centre role. I think Pirri can do it, but what do I know versus Q?

    The fact remains that the Bowmans, Q, and the elite players of this team realize that the Hawks have a chance at making history, and becoming a dynasty in an era where that is fundamentally impossible. So while I agree with Wall and Peter that either Saad or Bickell on the 3rd line makes us deeper and overall better, the fact remains a 2nd line of Sharp, Baby Hoss, and Hossa is FRIGHTENING and likely as good as any 1st line on another team. And if that happened, then there is NOTHING wrong with, as Mike said, Kruger centring a 3rd line with Shaw and Morin or Smith. That would leave a 4th line for Pirri to centre a combo of Smith, Morin, Hayes, Bollig and Zeus. I have no problems with that. The only issue is moving forward. As SSHM said, Danault might be ready to centre an NHL line this year, and to promote Saad to centre at the age of 20, means that the first 2 lines are sewn up for another 6 years. That means Pirri, Kruger, Shaw, Danault, McNeil, TT, Kevin Hayes, etc…are all competing for playing time on the 3rd or 4th line for the next 6+ years…and with Kruger signed on for 2 more years, that leaves ONE spot open for all those guys…in my mind, there is NO DOUBT that Danault will be ready next year…so where does that leave he and Pirri?

    Could this simply be the best option for the Hawk’s Cup options for one year only? Is that what Q is thinking? It may very well be, but what does that do to Saad at 20 moving him around year after year? I don’t know that answer, but it is something to consider. All I know is that a 2nd line of Sharp, Baby Hoss, and Hossa is a beautiful thing, and makes me want the season to start now…again, as Mike said, a 3rd line that features Kruger and Shaw is going to be hard to play against, and will control the puck…so from that perspective, you can’t really argue these moves, even if they are opening up a whole new can of worms.

    Again, great comments everyone!

  15. Tim G says:

    Im with Wall that Saad entrench on the 3rd makes us scary Deep. its not a demotion, rather an “even-ing out of talent”. And then you can give him a shift or 2 a game with Hossa and Sharp when you think you can take advantage of the opposition.

    But I think the bottom line here, is that Q will be in heaven cuz he will get to juggle as he always does. He will get to play “mad scientist” with this roster night in night out and interchange parts as he sees fit. And we will be left here critiquing every move with “i said he should have done that 2 games ago” remarks! lol

    The scary thing is that I dont think there is “one right answer” simple due to the fact that our roster is so talented and alot of these guys can play in 2 or 3 different roles and succeed! Pirri, Saad, Zus and Krugs will probably all see games at 2C… and that still pushes Shaw to wing full time with a guy like Leblanc in the fold too… I cant think of a single team with depth like that.

    Good problems to have fellas! Good Problems!

  16. southsidehawkman says:

    Tim I completely agree. If coach q has taught us anything it is that the hawks lines are not set in stone. To win another Stanley cup the hawks will need contributions from everyone. So experimenting w saad at center is a good idea.

  17. Sr. Brad says:

    I think you’re right Tim, there really isn’t one right answer…ultimately if Pirri can step in and become that 2nd line centre from day 1, it resolves a lot of issues though…

  18. EbonyRaptor says:

    As it stands right now, there are 8 certain starters (19, 88, 29, 10, 81, 20, 65, 16). Handzus will be a part time starter and most likely he will center the 4th line. That leaves 4 slots open (3 when Handzus plays) to be filled from among this group of players: Bollig, Winchester, Pirri, Morin, Smith, JHayes and maybe a surprise Danault.

    What I think should be avoided is a line comprised of inexperienced players, especially early in the season when those players are still getting their bearings and building their confidence. While I would like to see Saad grab the 2C position and give the Hawks a very good top-6, it would make it more difficult for Q to feel confident in rolling 4 lines because of all the inexperience on the 3rd and especially 4th line. Rolling 4 lines was a big factor in the Hawks success last season and with the shortened offseason it will be an important factor again in keeping the top line players from getting worn down throughout the season. Spreading out the inexperienced players across as many lines as possible would help toward achieving that objective.

  19. wall says:

    Also- I like the potential line of LeBlanc, Saad, Shaw line… two wings that can play D and cover for Drew D-wise… and two wings that can finish off of the creative, patient, puck controlling LeBlanc— would love to see Morin eventually in place of Saad (Saad moving up) and Morin is a great finisher- but don’t know if I want two Newbies (Morin /LeBlanc) skating together … just yet.

  20. scottie p says:

    Can’t wait until this title defense starts. Honestly I think the conversation is fun and it makes me smile to hear the endless amounts if options the hawks will have this season, but we all know these lines will change thousands of times. If I had to make a choice for the sake of conversation I’m going with Saad at 2C. Really think he has the chance to be something special and would love to make him comfortable at a top six position on our squad. Make him feel welcome and part of the bigger picture so he stays. LeBlanc is also very easy to like and root for. Either way great comments guys. Go hawks.

  21. This was a thoroughly entertaining and informing article and comments. This is one of the best discussions I’ve seen about lines and the 2C position.

    Q as a mad scientist tweaking his lines is one of the most perfect descriptions I’ve ever heard. And it makes me want to sketch it up. I can just see it now.

    Thank you for the discussion. Though I’ve been a hawks fan for decades, it was more about the team and the love of the sport having never played it. I’m just really learning about the technical parts of it. Breaking it down like this made it completely understandable.

    -Brooke

  22. Morrison says:

    Yes to not having more then 1 rookie on a line.

    All of these guys will play in different positions the first 20 games. Then I think Q settles in for the bulk of the season. Its what hes done for all 4-5 yrs…

    Lots & lots & lots of Options (in terms of line combos…), the bigger the ‘playbook’ the moar weapons we have & can adjust against other teams types of systems/personnel.

    Just like this year, were going to play the more experienced (current skill level) players. When any of the younger guys plays better than the more experienced players, then theyll get in. When we have the deepest team in the league (2 yrs in a row & counting…) were not going to play as many rookies at once as we can…

    29-19-88
    10-26-81
    20-65-11
    **-16-28

    ** deadline trade
    ** if pirri does real well, then handz on 4th line

    We have 2.4m for deadline

  23. John Wangsauce says:

    What’s Saad’s previous experience at C in his career? I haven’t read anything besides some face off stats from last season.

  24. Joey Zamboni says:

    With the medical advances we have seen over the years, can’t we take some of 19’s DNA & mix it with some of Patrice Bergeron’s & Sid’s & create the “perfect” 2C in a test tube…..? Actually that would be the perfect 1C…… ;+)

  25. Mike says:

    The Hawks are in a great position but don’t discount the fact that a trade or a signing will not happen. There are a few centers that could fit into or compete for a 2C role that could be affordable. Malhotra and Wellwood come to mind. Even a Lombardi might be affordable given the chance to win a cup.

  26. Michigan Mo says:

    Looking to nail down line combinations now is fun, but seems somewhat irrelevant. Q has always switched up lines all throughout the season, and tends to stick with a combination for a while when it is productive. Sometimes it’s a surprising combination that works (I wouldn’t have picked Bickel to round out that top line before the season started last year).

    I’m guessing that whether Saad stays at wing or moves to center, Q will end up spreading out the wealth between the top three lines, and he may end up playing with several combinations of our top 6-8 forwards.

  27. 'hawks58 says:

    I would love to see Saad on the second line…….on Sharp’s left wing.

  28. Dickie Dunn says:

    I completely agree – “Guys, great, great comments…”

    And, I’m glad that we’re keeping the discussions alive.

    The #2 center and lines — I don’t know. I do believe the Hawks have the depth to almost “pull names out of a hat” (- one of Billy Reay’s borrowed from the Hall Of Fame) and any combination will be competitive most games. If it’s Saad – great. If it’s Pirri – maybe also great(?)…Sharp and Hossa help out with defense, and maybe Saad on the third line contributes to better balance? It will work out…

    GO HAWKS!! Do it again.

    Enjoy the rest of Summer, all…

  29. Sr. Brad says:

    Yeah Dickie, I think most people feel the same way…if Pirri can work out on the 2nd line with Sharpie and Hoss, then a 3rd line of Shaw centring Saad and Smith/Morin would be a fantastic line and really allow the Hawks to continue rolling 4 powerful lines…because with Kruger centring the 4th with Zeus and the kids from Rockford, that’s going to be a good line as well.

    Its just are we underutilizing Saad? He is going into his 2nd full season, and was a dominating forward on a dominating 1st line as a rookie…Why take Saad out of the top 6? So it will be interesting to see how things play out.

    I do see Kruger and Saad as being our #1 PK unit…and then Toews with whomever…Hoss can rotate in and out…Morin and Smith were both very good on the PK in Rockford.

  30. Tim G says:

    Brad- As far as “under-utilizing” Saad goes, I don’t think that would a concern even if he ends up on the 3rd line. Like i said earlier, you can still shift him a time or two with the top 6. Then, like you said he should be on the PK, and personally, I think he will find his fair share of PP time too. So if that is the case, he will get plenty of ice time.

  31. EbonyRaptor says:

    I’m still on the “don’t stack all the rookies on one line” campaign which is (again) why I favor Pirri getting (earning – not handed to him) the second line center position – because it moves Saad to the 3rd line providing a better mix of the rookies throughout the lineup.

    But – that doesn’t mean Saad can’t try to convert to center. He could center the 3rd line which would move Shaw to his (arguably) better position of wing. Centering the 3rd line might mean a little less pressure to produce points allowing Saad an easier transition. If he shows he can handle playing center – whether it’s on the 2nd or 3rd line – it is a plus for the Hawks to have another option available not only this season but also future seasons.

    Just food for thought, how about something like this:

    Bickell-Toews-Kane
    Sharp-Pirri-Hossa
    Morin-Saad-Shaw
    Kruger-Handzus-Smith

  32. Tim G says:

    Looks good to me ER… I really like that lineup. I might flip Smith and Morin, but that might be splitting hairs at that point.

  33. Sr. Brad says:

    Its a good thought ER…I think Shaw really took to centre defensively, so I am okay with him there, but Shaw is also a great RW…so giving Saad a shot at Centre there wouldn’t hurt…plus, he could move back and forth between lines at Q needed.

    Honestly, I think Pirri is going to WIN that 2nd line Centre spot…and with Sharp and Hossa as wingers, he will be fine defensively.

  34. Tom Jaremka says:

    Great comments, boys……….we are ALL true Hawk fans and we all have a vision for the lineup that will get us to another Stanley Cup in 2014.

    The thing that concerns me a little is the physical and mental beating that this team took in the playoffs and the short amount of recovery time that the players have had since the season ended. After the series, we heard that alot of players were injured and some had serious injuries that needed surgery. Plus there were injuries that we didn’t hear about. Let’s face it, these boys sacrificed everything they had to win the Stanley Cup.

    My point is that I think that the Hawks are going to be a little slow coming out of the gate, this year. The slow recovery time combined with the new younger and inexperienced players may put us behind the eight ball for awhile. Hopefully we can tread water until we can get our legs under us and make another run for a cup.

  35. Morrison says:

    Weather we are 1st, 2nd or 3rd in division. Were probably going to play the same 2 teams anyways. Although, it is always better to have home ice. Almost every round was 3 home & 2 in other rink this yr.

    This realignment format is better, we could even be 7th in conference standings but still be a 2nd seed… We only have to have a better record than Minnesota & Nashville and were 2 seed worst case.

    Until Minnesota gets better (and they have good prospects) we only have to have a higher record than St. Louis to win division. Probably for next 3-5yrs…

    This realignment will help, if we have a slower start. (In 2011 we started 8-9 & didnt get over the hump until 20-15)(& we still ended up +16 after 81 games). Just need to start better than 8-9…

  36. Morrison says:

    The 20 day break is going to make a big difference good and bad for a number of teams…

  37. AJWoS says:

    I cant believe Mikhail grabovski is still on the market.. the hawks have needed a 2nd line center and hes perfect.. he was used the wrong way his last couple years in toronto and is still regarded by thier fans as the hardest working player on the ice. His defensive skills and pk make up for bollands departure.. his speed makes up for stahlberg.. and honestly the guy has better hands and offensive skill than anyone weve lost..combined.. we can afford him and between sharp and hossa… we are talking the two best forward lines in the nhl.
    His offensive skills would shine in chicago. And his work ethic would make him a fan favorite and an asset to an already great team.

  38. shamrock says:

    How far away is Danault from along the hawks? Is there a reasonable chance he will be in nhl before season is over?

  39. Mike says:

    AJWoS, unfortunately the Hawks can not afford him. Their 22 man roster leaves only about $1.5MM give or take. Grabovski will fetch at least $4.0MM IMO. The only way would be to move Leddy ($2.7MM) and replace him with an EL contract player. Not gonna happen

  40. Bilbo161 says:

    Excellent article and comments everyone! I think the line will all work out fine. Q will do what he wants with what he is given. I like the competition that is being set up with so much talent going for just a few open spots. I would like to see some movement in the pipeline so we get at least a couple new faces every season. The one problem that needs to be addressed and the one place the Hawks can really improve is on the Power Play. Does anyone think that we have new pieces that might help us there? With all the talent on the team I was extremely disappointed in the performance. I’m starting to think its a coaching issue. But what do I know.

  41. wall says:

    TT would be the Best option at Point for the PP… the guy has great vision and Shot to boot! 2 years away though!

  42. Bilbo161 says:

    Thanks Wall. Too bad he’s so far away. The strategy we used certainly didn’t work too well. I thought the guys spent too much time passing it around and not getting shots on the net. Not sure they should keep to that strategy. Too many times they didn’t even get a shot on goal during a pp. We will see what Q does to address the pp this season.

  43. Mike says:

    I think you can be sure of changes on the power play. You know that EVERYONE in the media is asking Q and SB the same question. After a horrible 11-12 and a very mediocre 12-13 you can bet that the pressure is on.

  44. Tab Bamford says:

    Mike: regarding the pressure being on because of the powerplay… after winning a second Cup in four seasons, exactly how much “pressure” do you think is really going to be on the coaches to fix it?

    Certainly the PP needs to be better, but they won without a dominant unit. It would be nice if they had the best PP in the league, but did their ineffective play with an advantage take anything away from their championship? No.

  45. Yeah, I'm doing the drywall up there at the new McDonalds says:

    Phil Danault makes this team out of camp. You watch. And he’ll be a revelation at Center, although growing pains will be expected.

  46. Mike says:

    Tab, understand your point. But I do think that the hockey media, right or wrong, and the ownership expect more from the PP. They expect more from the high paid stars. They expect more excitement. That’s where the pressure will come from. You are also right that a mediocre PP in 13 does NOT diminish the championship.

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