It has been a difficult year for the Chicago Blackhawks, trying to build chemistry with new teammates, dealing with poor penalty killing, poor faceoff numbers and shaky defense but what is the most glaring need of the Blackhawks?
Many would say that the Blackhawks depth at defense has been the biggest hole in their lineup and while I would agree to an extent the emergence of rookie defenseman Nick Leddy has lessened the strain on the top four defenseman. Now the ‘Hawks do need to add a depth defenseman to play alongside Leddy and further lessen the strain on the top four but is this their biggest need? In my mind the answer would be, no.
The biggest need for the Blackhawks, in my mind, is the ‘Hawks depth down the middle. Although the ‘Hawks do have one of the best centers in the game in Jonathan Toews but beyond him the depth drastically decreases. Currently slotted as the second line center, Dave Bolland has had a solid bounce back season recording 30 points in 51 games but has struggled mightily in the faceoff circle with a dismal 44% faceoff percentage.
The third line center position is currently held but utility forward Tomas Kopecky who is currently have a career year, production wise, notching 32 points but the problem for Kopecky, much like Bolland has been his ability in the faceoff circle with a team worst 37%. Finally centering the fourth line for the Blackhawks is the gritty Jake Dowell, Dowell in his first full NHL season has played he role well and hasn’t been a disappointment at all for ‘Hawks brass. He knows his role, plays will a ton of energy and all though he is not a good fighter he can stand up for his teammates if called upon.
You look at the centers that sit behind Toews and you wonder how many scoring chances might have been reduced if they had at least one other center they could depend on to take a critical draw. So although the defense has been shaky at times this season some of that responsibility does fall on the forwards shoulders, especially the centers.
So what is a possible fix for this center ice deficiency? It depends on if the ‘Hawks are looking for a one year fix or a long term fix.
The ‘Hawks do have talent in their pipeline that could eventually fill the gaping hole down the middle, two names that come to mind would be Marcus Kruger and Brandon Pirri. Kruger currently is playing in the Swedish Elite League where he has put up solid numbers playing with men. The downside for Kruger is that he has been playing in Europe his entire life and might not transition smoothly to the North American style.
Pirri on the other hand is currently playing in the American Hockey League with the Rockford Ice Hogs, in Pirri’s first professional season he has been solid but still seems at least a year or two away from being ready for full time NHL duties.
So if Kruger and Pirri look to be the solution down the road would the ‘Hawks consider making a trade to improve the center ice position for just this season or possibly for seasons to come?
To be completely honest their is not a ton of names being floated around the league, with Stephen Weiss being the biggest name mentioned in trade deadline talks but recently it has been reported that Weiss is likely not going anywhere. So where does this leave the ‘Hawks?
Likely out in the cold as there just isn’t a lot of centers out there and with multiple teams still in the playoff hunt there just are not as many sellers. Even if the ‘Hawks waited until the offseason to address the center situation it is not easy to just find second line centers and the free agent class is rather thin at that position beyond Brad Richards who will not be signing with the ‘Hawks this offseason.
In all honesty it looks as though the ‘Hawks will need to play the waiting game, either wait until the trade deadline and hope to swing a deal for a center or wait until either Kruger or Pirri are ready for full time NHL action.
The latter seems like the more likely situation and will be reliant on the likes Bolland, Kopecky and Dowell for the remainder of the season. A scary thought but if any of the three can “bear down” and become a solid contributor at the faceoff dot it might very well be the boost this ‘Hawks team needs to make a strong playoff push.