Dave Bolland Back Wednesday? Then What?

Rumors are swirling that Dave Bolland will return to the ice for the Blackhawks on Wednesday night at the United Center when the Blackhawks host the St. Louis Blues.

Bolland has been out since Nov. 5 because of a back injury (herniated disc) that required surgery. In the 13 games Bolland played for the Hawks before going under the knife, he scored two goals, was credited with four assists, and was +3.

If Bolland is in the lineup, the questions being dodged for the last month become relevant: who’s the odd man/men out?

The first issue to consider is the how coach Joel Quenneville puts his lines together with Bolland being available. The general assumption is that Bolland will be playing center on the Hawks second line, but it isn’t guaranteed that he’ll jump straight into the mix between Marian Hossa and either Patrick Sharp or another skilled wing in his first game action in almost three months. He might not be ready for the speed of the game, and expecting him to carry the 18-20 minutes required of the second line center would be an aggressive, and potentially irresponsible, move.

So where does Bolland go?

One logical spot would be into the third line. Bolland skated with Kris Versteeg at times last year, and has familiarity with both Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd. In this scenario, the top two lines for the Hawks would stay intact, and Bolland would bump John Madden to the fourth line with Ben Eager and Tomas Kopecky. Unfortunately for Colin Fraser, his roster spot is in jeopardy if this is the lineup Quenneville uses.

Another option would be to move Sharp back to wing opposite Hossa and indeed drop Bolland into his slot as the second center. That would shift Ladd down to either the third or fourth line, and could move Byfuglien down as well. In this scenario, Eager or Kopecky could be watching the game from the suite. Frankly, having Kopecky off the ice isn’t a terrible scenario; despite playing better lately, Kopecky still has the worst plus-minus on the roster at -4 and has scored only 11 points this season.

There’s another scenario that appears to be gaining consideration from many analysts, though.

All season, especially after the extensions to Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were signed, the Blackhawks have been in the forefront of trade rumors because of their salary cap situation. In early January, CommittedIndians discussed the long term reality for the Hawks roster, and at that time we postulated that it would be Ladd that might be dealt during the season because of his expiring contract.* Even though Ladd will be a restricted free agent after the season, odds are that the Hawks won’t be able to afford him, and moving him during the season to bolster the blue line makes more sense than waiting for the draft.

Considering the return of Bolland, it makes more sense that the Hawks are picking up steam in trade rumors. A number of sites, including the Daily Herald, have linked the Blackhawks to Pittsburgh defenseman Jay McKee. McKee was a healthy scratch last night, which has only elevated speculation that he could be moving. However, if the Hawks are going to make a move it would figure to A) be for a younger player than Brent Sopel and B) be for a player who’s better than Cam Barker. McKee fill neither of those criteria. However, according to one story, “McKee is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound physical, stay-at-home defenseman who interested the Hawks last summer before he signed as a free agent with the Penguins for only $800,000.”

That doesn’t sound like a player that would cost as much as Ladd, or even Sopel for that matter. If Pittsburgh was willing or able to take Sopel’s cap hit off the Hawks’ books, I’m sure Stan Bowman would sign on the dotted line with anything that writes, but that doesn’t seem to be logical or realistic.

Other names the Hawks have been linked to as potentially bringing depth to the blue line for the rest of the season have been Carolina’s Aaron Ward, Toronto’s Garnet Exelby and Los Angeles’ Sean O’Donnell. Considering the action that’s already taken place in Toronto this week, a move with Brian Burke and the Leafs is certainly possible.

What could evolve into an intriguing scenario, though, is how willing Carolina becomes to dump veterans. The Hurricanes are playing well, as the Hawks unfortunately found out on Saturday night, but are far from playoff contention in the East. They have been rumored to be ready to clean house, but are waiting for the right offer(s). A name that would look good in Chicago is Ray Whitney, who’s rumored to be drawing more interest than Ilya Kovalchuk right now. Whitney, 37, has scored 41 points this year and has the desired expiring contract that would make him a great veteran to add to the Hawks’ roster for the stretch. If he and Aaron Ward were packaged together, it would present enough value that the Hawks could consider sending a package including Barker and perhaps Ladd to Carolina.

Of course the Hawks have a history of dealing with the Canes; Ladd was acquired from Carolina just two years ago.

However the roster shakes down, it’s encouraging to have a healthy Bolland back on the ice. He’s one of the more skilled players on the roster, and Hawks management considers his Hockey IQ to be elite. The Hawks are three points behind San Jose for the best record in hockey, and they’re about to get better.

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