Center of Attention: Second Line Options For The Blackhawks

As the owners and players sort through the legal details of getting hockey back on the ice, fans are left to wonder which players will be playing somewhere else in the next couple weeks. And, with a very small window of time before the 2013 regular season begins, the trade market could open up fast and furious.

In Chicago, the Blackhawks have two major needs: a second line center and a confident starting netminder. While all signs indicate the organization will give Corey Crawford the opportunity to fulfill the latter, a trade might be the best place for the Hawks to go for the former.

Who are some options the Hawks might consider if GM Stan Bowman goes shopping? Let’s take a look.

frans nielson

Frans Nielson, New York Islanders
Age: 29 (in late-April)
Contract: 4 years left @ $2.75M cap hit

Nielson would undoubtedly be harder to acquire. He just signed a four-year, $11M deal before the lockout and is slotted to skate as the Islanders’ second line center moving forward. He posted 47 points (17 goals, 30 assists) last year.

There are a few drawbacks when considering Nielson. First, he won only 45.2 percent of his faceoffs last year, and isn’t bigger (6-0, 185) than Marcus Kruger. Also, the remaining years on his current deal might not be ideal in the eyes of the Hawks’ front office if they feel a prospect would be ready before the term is up.

However, Nielson did average over two minutes per night on both penalty kill and power play duty for the Isles last year and was credited with 66 blocked shots. His ability to help on both special teams units would make him a valuable asset, and his offensive production would be an improvement from Kruger instantly. He’s a solid two-way center.

What makes Nielson an interesting possibility is the news that Lubomir Visnovsky will be staying in the KHL for the rest of this year. With that in mind, the Islanders might start desperately shopping for help on their blue line, and might consider moving Nielson if Niklas Hjalmarsson was involved.

Jason Arnott, free agent
Age: 38
Contract: TBD

Arnott’s age might be the biggest negative on his resume, but it also makes him more likely to take a one-year deal. He had 34 points (17 goals, 17 assists) and won 50.3 percent of 769 faceoffs in St. Louis last year.

The lockout-shortened season makes Arnott a more intriguing player, and his effective work on the power play with the Blues last year could make him a valuable asset for the Hawks. He wasn’t a factor on the penalty kill unit for the Blues last year, though.

It is hard, however, to get over the fact that he was the seventh overall pick in 1993… roughly six months after Brandon Saad was born. As an unrestricted free agent, it obviously wouldn’t cost the Blackhawks any assets to add Arnott, but they would need to make room on the roster somehow; they’re already at/near a full roster heading into training camp.

Shawn Horcoff, Edmonton Oilers
Age: 34
Contract: 3 years left @ $5.5M cap hit

Horcoff is older and not likely the ideal long-term fit as a second-line center for the Blackhawks. But he would be a better fit there over the next 48 games than Marcus Kruger, and the potential to move him over the next two summers in the new CBA makes him a rental the Blackhawks might consider.

Where Horcoff would help the Hawks most might be special teams. He averaged well over two minutes per night both on penalty kill and power play duty, and was effective at the dot in both scenarios. Indeed, he won just under 50 percent (49.4) of 1,475 faceoffs last year, another area in which the Hawks need improved performances this year.

While Horcoff’s offensive production has been trending the wrong direction (34 points in 81 games), skating next to either Marian Hossa or Patrick Kane could improve his production. Reality in Edmonton is that he’s an old man on a young team, and the organization’s best interests are for their kids to get the bulk of the available ice time. But over a 1-2 year time frame, he might be able to adequately fill a need for the Hawks.

What would it cost to get him? Considering the Edmonton Journal wondered on Sunday if the Oilers might consider their captain a buyout candidate, it likely wouldn’t take a king’s ransom to get him (and his cap hit) off the books.

shawn horcoff

24 thoughts on “Center of Attention: Second Line Options For The Blackhawks

  • January 8, 2013 at 4:45 am

    would that be 5.5m/2 = 2.75m to each team (in those new trades)(3 per team)
    They buy him out & we sign him for?

    Is there going to be a lot of trades in the next 30 days or will teams wait until deadline…

  • January 8, 2013 at 8:33 am

    It will be interesting to see if Bowman trades Hjalmarsson within the next couple of days. And gets a “serviceable” veteran center in return. I’ve watched enough of the Rockford Icehogs to conclude that Marcus Kruger is not a legitimate top 6 center in the NHL…not yet at least. Brandon Pirri isn’t ready or legitimate either. And it would be a big stretch (and a mistake) to plop Dave Bolland on a 2nd line pairing.

  • January 8, 2013 at 9:22 am

    Too many people are too hard on Bolland…
    IMO- he is capable of being a 2nd line center or an agitating 3rd line guy- his biggest issue his Injuries… he is not durable enough… but he is very smart and talented!

    Kruger- I think he has played well in Rockford. But he is what he is… undersized- willing to battle on boards- but not strong enough… yet he is smart and skates well.
    3rd or 4th line guy.

    Hawks w/ Kane and hopefully Teuvo on team in near future- need a TRUE POWER FORWARD- for PP and letting guys like TT and Kane skate and create freely. If he is Center great– but if there is a Buff, Ladd, Brown, or Ryan type available (after we shed one of our overpaid D-men)- go and get it!

    I think Bickell will have a good year- (CONTRACT YEAR of course)

  • January 8, 2013 at 11:49 am

    What happened to filling out the roster from within?

  • January 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    The only one of those I would be interested in is Arnott. I don’t buy into this notion that just because he is “so old” he was drafted when Saad was born that he’s not useful. He’s a heck of a player and experience is huge…remember Madden?

  • January 8, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    I really like Jason Arnott, because its pretty safe to assume Kruger should not be a 2nd line center and Mark McNeill isnt ready yet. So Arnott would be an affordable, low risk deal.

  • January 8, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Jason Arnott makes sense. The Hawks don’t have a 2nd line caliber NHL Center right now. I agree that we also need a power LW. Brandon Saad isn’t ready based on my scouting trips to watch the IceHogs. Vik Stalberg? Please. Last season was the zenith of his NHL value. Who really gives a crap that he can put the biscuit in the basket against the bottom feeder teams of the NHL. Stalberg has no business playing on the top 2 lines. He was invisible in the playoffs. And against virtually every defensively intensive Western Conference opponent we faced in the regular season. Bryan Bickell? I bet he steps his game up, but he’s not top 2 line caliber either.

  • January 8, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    I believe that Arnott is the best of the options presented above. He has size, plays physical, wins over half of his faceoffs, has leadership qualities from being a Captain for Nashville and will not cost us anybody via trade. We should sign him to a one-year deal, plug him in a 2nd line C and dangle our defensive depth over teams (like Ottawa) hoping that they will be willing to pull the trigger and unload a quality player in return.

  • January 9, 2013 at 12:51 am

    It would not take a Kings ransom to get Horcoff! Just ask any Oiler fan, as most I know would take a bag of pucks just to get rid of him, and for that cap it, NO THANKS!!! He is not the answer!

  • January 9, 2013 at 4:50 am

    I think he meant they would buy him out & then we would sign him for way less $ (plus give them a prospect/player for a pick…)

  • January 9, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    None of these players improve the current situation….just because your hockey card or says you play center doesnt mean you do it well….look at Kane. On some websites listed as wing/center. Clearly cannot play why would you give anything up for any of those guys when it doesnt help you?

  • January 9, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    I didnt mean Kane cant play hockey i meant Kane cant play center before i get jumped on just wanted to clarify

  • January 9, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    Why not go after a guy like Jamie Benn and put sharp in the middle? It adds size to the line, youth, speed, and special teams options sharp not great at the dot but you gotta admit Benn Sharp Kane….that would be pretty bad ass and thats something that could stay together for awhile and he is a free agent (restricted) but so was Niemi

  • January 10, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    If you can`t land a second line center then try signing Andrei Kostitsyn on the cheap. I think he`s on an invite to the Panthers Camp. Lines could look like this :

    Kostitsyn Toews Kane
    Stalberg Sharp Hossa
    Bickell Bolland Frolik
    Carcillo Kruger Shaw

    I would do this in a heart beat

  • January 11, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    just read (espn rumors page) he doesnt want to play on florida team now… so maybe he would for a top5 team.

    PM ET
    Florida Panthers

    Belarussian pro appears happy enough in KHL

  • January 13, 2013 at 9:35 am

    This is an “issue” that should have been taken care of a long time ago by committing Patrick Sharp to the role of center.

    Quite frankly, non of these “free agent” fixes are really very good fixes, especially considering that, as things stand, the Hawks already have a set of difficult questions to answer this offseason, having to cut 2 mil in cap space in order to make themselves cap compliant for next season.

  • January 13, 2013 at 9:39 am

    @ Rufus T Firefly

    Jason Arnott is no longer a scoring line centerman, and hasn’t been for quite some time. Arnott would be a fourth line center that we don’t really need and that doesnt really fit the team’s style of play.

  • January 13, 2013 at 11:04 am

    Looking at next year’s tighter budget:

    Hawks will be damned if Bickell and Stalberg actually put up good numbers… not to mention Leddy.
    It will be interesting to see if Hawks brass try to limit Stalberg/Bickell production.
    If they meet their career bests… they will both be asking for around 3+… which would put Hawks in a real bad spot…

    Another interesting thing to watch will be Duncan Keith… I have always been in the Hawks 2010 Team won him the Norris camp… I will throw this out there… if he has a season like 2011… we move him or lose him to meet 2014 cap budget!!! Along w/ Monty or Hammer!

  • January 13, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    @ wall

    Looking at how things have gone down in Rock Vegas, its looking like Adam Clendening, while still at least a year away, will make Nick Leddy increasingly redundant, if Clendening keeps progressing it will make StanBo’s decision much easier, turf the kid. I think its been the operating assumption that Stals and Bickell will be moving on. Too bad, toward the end of the year they definitely filled out as two of the better role players and two of the best forecheckers on the team. They are good role players, but they’re just that: role players. Replaceable. The amount to which we miss them will depend on how quickly kids like Danault, Morin, Saad, etc. step in to fill their shoes.

    Truly the biggest questions facing Stan revolve around the fact that he has a very expensive (and now aging) core, and thus possesses a very limited budget with which to fill a gaping organizational vacuum at the goaltender position. Neither Crow nor Emery are longterm solutions to questions that anyone would ask, and Carter Hutton’s game doesn’t necessarily scream future NHL-level featured netminder. It’s sort of frightening when you consider how much of the organization’s future in net was placed in the “Alexander Salak” basket. Not one of Stan’s finer moments.

    Other questions will of course be possible coaching changes. If the Hawks make another first round exit (which seemed to be Q’s specialty in Denver too, a quality that got him shit canned there) then its time for a new coaching staff. Preferably one that meshes better with the front office than the current circus.

  • January 13, 2013 at 2:03 pm


    This whole “there’s a hole at second line center” has gotten so stupid.

    If you look around the league, most teams have a hole somewhere in their top six, that’s just a reality of the salary cap era. If the organizational emphasis is so heavily placed on being strong down the middle then I don’t know why we don’t just fill that gap with Sharp. Otherwise, it seems monumentally stupid to worry about “holes” in a top six unit that features 4 all-world players when there are other far-more-pressing issues. (Goaltending)

  • January 13, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    Aaron, agree about goaltending… which just adds to the 2014 cap issues…

    I agree about 2nd center… to me it is more power forward/net presence that is needed and a physical D-Man… to many “puck movers”!

    Disagree- Hawks will need/want to keep at least one of Stalberg/Bickell -Cap allowing.

    But w/ Cap issues coming- It really supports possibly letting go w/ skinniest overpaid D-Man== Keith (if he plays as weak as last 2 years!)

  • January 13, 2013 at 7:14 pm


    Keith is many things, overpaid is not one of them. You’d pay as much for nyone comparable. I dont anticipate that the new CBA will significantly lower the dollar amount for elite players.

    More realistically, people need to get used to the idea of parting ways with Hossa. The way the new CBA will punish cap circumventing contracts by adding cap penalties will most quickly become a problem with Hossa. He is also the oldest member of our core with the most health issues. He probably should be traded while he still has value,or Stan has the option of using one of his amnesty buyouts to clear that huge contract. One way or another there is no way the Hawks can reinvest in other areas of need (getting more size or goaltending) without parting ith one of the pieces of its core.

    Also it isnt critical to retain Bicks or Stals. there are other options in juniors amd in the A with more potential and less price tag. Since Stals and Bicks are poised to go UFA they will recieve larger contracts than what they are worth. Not a judgment of their play,just the reality of the business of hockey, where developing and locking up rfas.

  • January 14, 2013 at 12:04 am

    Aaron, as suggested… Right now the Hawks have Stals/Bicks slated for 3rd line…
    this is a great move by Hawks to limit their point production… and minimize their “raises” next year… Hopefully someone stands up Saad or Frolik or other and can be effective on 1st or 2nd lines??? So Stals/ stays under 15 goals and does not command 3 + mill next year…

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