The Chicago Blackhawks are doing well lately. They have won four of their last six games and seem to be on a roll. However, questions remain. Although they look better as of late, there are still head-scratching decisions being made about the roster. The top-six on the roster is as good as set. They have Dominik Kubalik, Patrick Kane, Alex BeBrincat, Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach, and Brandon Hagel. The bottom-six is where it gets tricky. The Blackhawks’ coaching staff hasn’t been able to figure out how to make the bottom-six work cohesively. There isn’t a lot to be excited about when it comes to the bottom lines because it lacks skill, and that may hurt the team in the long run if it doesn’t get addressed soon.
On our weekly show, ‘Blackhawks Banter’, our Blackhawks’ team comprised of myself, Gail Kauchak, Greg Boysen and Shaun Filippelli will attempt to unscramble the bottom-six lines. Here is a glimpse into the show.
Gail: Infuse Offense With Grinders
I understand the Blackhawks don’t have a whole lot of dynamic offensive talent among their bottom-six forwards. So, they’re trying to grind it out. But can’t they insert a bit of a scoring threat along with the grinders?
Philipp Kurashev has been playing on the fourth line of late, and was even a healthy scratch against the Calgary Flames last week. But I like that he got back onto the third line against the Blues. In his rookie season, Kurashev was often the top-line center between Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat. He did quite well for himself, posting eight goals and 16 points in 54 games. He’s a smart and skilled player. If he’s not part of the Blackhawks’ top-six forwards, he should be part of a third line that’s more than just a checking line, but a line that’s a threat to score.
Also, what the heck is going on with Dylan Strome?! I have no idea why he was a healthy scratch against the Blues. When he moved to the wing on the second line for a few games, he actually played quite well. Strome has shown he can play better defensively when he puts his mind to it. Perhaps having him on the second line was a bit much, but I think he could thrive on the third line with the right partners. Finally, I feel the Blackhawks missed the boat with the offensive talent of Adam Gaudette. They never gave him an extended look and a chance to prove himself in the lineup. Again, mixed in with the grinding type players such as Jujhar Khaira, Ryan Carpenter, and even Reese Johnson and Mike Hardman, I believe they could have found a balance with Gaudette. Now we will never know since he was placed on waivers Friday and picked up by the Ottawa Senators Saturday. Best of luck to Gaudette with his fresh start.
Shaun: Making Sense of Starting Strome
Dylan Strome has been a regular topic of discussion for us so far this season, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Rather than hearing us celebrate any successes or push for top-line minutes, we’ve been stuck questioning where he’ll find a fit and what he still brings to this roster. Strome was a healthy scratch again against the St. Louis Blues. Despite the Blackhawks having gone on to win that game without his help, there are still too many reasons to let Strome play rather than continuing to find excuses as to why he shouldn’t. We’ve all made a case for why it makes sense to drop Dach through the lineup in an effort to give him a more realistic opportunity to build up his confidence by earning success against bottom-six opponents. On the flip side, taking Dach off the second line then means Strome can slot right into it and reunite with DeBrincat.
It’s obvious that this is the setup that brings him the most success, so why not let it play out to see what can come of it? Both Dach and Strome would benefit from this seemingly easy swap. That said, despite Strome having a mere three points on the season, he’s only averaging around 13:00 per night at the moment. While justifiable, if they’re not seeing what they want to out of him, putting Strome in a more ideal circumstance could change that. Then the Blackhawks would be benefiting from his advantageous faceoff percentage while also giving him a chance to raise his trade value if that ends up being their ultimate goal. It only makes sense to let him play more than they are.
Greg: The Rockford IceHogs Can Freshen Up Stale Lines
We’ve talked a lot about the Blackhawks lineup and particularly the bottom-six recently.
When you lack dynamic players, you will have trouble finding consistency and secondary scoring. They are trying to become a “grinding” team, but that is just a nice term for “we can’t score.” The problem with the bottom-six is that you have too many of the same guy. Carpenter, Hardman, Johnson and Khaira all fill the same role. You don’t need that many grinders. I like the experience and versatility Carpenter and Khaira bring to the table, so I would keep them in. That leaves Hardman and Johnson, who I don’t want to seem like I am picking on, but there is just too much redundancy when they dress. I think it is time to bring up Alex Nylander from the Rockford IceHogs. He has regained his speed and shiftiness on the ice and, most importantly, his confidence. While he is no savior, he is someone who can give you a threat of secondary scoring.
Two other guys I would give looks to down the road are Josiah Slavin and Andrei Altybarmakian. They can fit into that “grinding” mold while also bringing a little bit of offense. Slavin is a big body that plays physical. He has also been excellent on the penalty kill and has scored a pair of shorthanded goals. Altybarmakian is cut from the same cloth as Brandon Hagel. His motor is constantly going, he will check anything that moves and can score a goal from time to time. Even head coach Derek King said the lines were stale, so injecting some new bodies into them will help freshen things up.
Brooke: Spread Out Depth, Again
When it comes to the bottom-six lines, it’s frustrating because it doesn’t seem like there are many Blackhawks’ players that can move up and down the lineup because they lack depth. No matter who gets moved in the lineup, that will still create holes. The other frustrating aspect is that the coaching staff and Derek King don’t want to try anything new with the bottom lines. They’re keeping in players that haven’t been producing like Hardman and Johnson, and for whatever reason, they’re content. King said himself that there was no room for Gaudette in the lineup at the moment. Therefore, they’re satisfied. Although they’re winning at the moment, this is not a recipe for success going forward, and those lines will prove problematic.
Since the Blackhawks seem to want to stick with what they have, my suggestion is to move Kubalik to the third line and keep him there. He is currently on the team’s second line, which is where he usually should be. But he is going through a rough patch and hasn’t scored in 14 games. The second line hasn’t been able to rejuvenate him as hoped, and putting him on the third line instantly adds skill. The other option could be putting Hagel on the bottom lines. Hagel has a goal in three straight games on the Blackhawks’ first line, so moving him seems unlikely, but he isn’t exactly a first-line player. Having a grinder like him that can score is ideal for the bottom-six, especially because he has shown that he can produce with many different players. Dach is another option for the third line, because as we discussed before on ‘Blackhawks’ Banter,’ he isn’t getting it done on the top lines at the faceoff dot or in goals.
We have more bases to cover when it comes to the roster, so make sure to tune in and share your thoughts with us!
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Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.