When analyzing the 2019-20 season for the Chicago Blackhawks, there is one word that sticks out more than others – that word is “inconsistent.” There are a lot of reasons why the Hawks have become very unpredictable and it starts with the lineup. On paper, they look like they have the roster that could go far. Unfortunately, that has not translated to the on-ice product. That has been the name of the game in hockey, however, because nothing is guaranteed.
One that has always remained consistent about the Hawks is their ever-changing lineups. Head coach Jeremy Colliton likes to switch up the lines before, and even during games. That strategy can work when you need to add a little punch to a team’s performance, but the record of barely being above .500 speaks for itself. That strategy has not worked in Chicago’s favor and the one player that gets the brunt of it is Patrick Kane.
In 2018, Kane gave a quote to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times that is prevalent to the current Hawks state:
It’s a little bit different,” Kane said after Thursday’s morning skate in San Jose. “With those two seasons, obviously, I had chemistry with a player like I never had chemistry with anyone before. That player’s gone now, and you’re trying to build it up with other players. Sometimes, you think it’s there, and other times, it’s a work in progress.(from “Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane struggling to meet his own lofty standards”, Chicago Sun-Times– 03/1/18)
The player that he is referring to is Artemi Panarin. The Panarin trade hurt the Blackhawks in more ways than one, but the one thing that has been really hurt is the lines. Kane is Kane, so he will produce at the elite rate that he did while he was paired with Panarin no matter who he plays with. That can’t be said for the rest of the lineup. There was a time back in 2010 where had danced onstage at a Jimmy Buffett concert that was deemed, “The Kaner Shuffle.”
Now, we are seeing that play out in real-time within the team. The constant musical chairs that have become Kane’s linemates with switching players night-in and night-out doesn’t allow players to bond together, which is imperative to a team. That, I believe, has contributed to the Hawks sporadic play this season. With that in mind, here have been some of his linemates this season.
Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome
The line of Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and Kane is actually a line that gives you a lot to look forward to. When the Blackhawks acquired Strome in 2019 from the Arizona Coyotes, the one thing that they knew that they could count on was Strome and DeBrincat’s chemistry. They had previously played on a line together for the Erie Otters of the OHL, with Connor McDavid, that won them a championship. DeBrincat had 127 points in 63 games and Strome had 75 points in 35 games during their time with the Otters.
The Hawks knew that those two could produce together which gives Kane more leeway. He is a great influence on whoever he plays with, so that line has been a great option for the Blackhawks to have to lean back on. You know you have a great offensive second line threat when those three are paired together. Unfortunately, that line didn’t stay together for too long as the team continued to struggle.
Brandon Saad and Ryan Carpenter
Brandon Saad is a player that has been mostly been linked with Jonathan Toews on the first line. When Colliton decided to pair Saad with Kane, it was a little surprising, but the pairing actually works. Saad’s strength is his speed, that Kane is easily able to take advantage of when he is feeding him the puck. Since Saad came back from his ankle injury, he has had 10 goals in 13 games; a good amount of those came while playing with Kane.
I think Saad will stay with Kane for the foreseeable future if he is able to keep producing at this rate. Ryan Carpenter is a head-scratcher. When Chicago signed him as a free agent from the Vegas Golden Knights, they knew that he could be a serviceable third or fourth-line center who is also an effective penalty killer. Not that Carpenter is necessarily bad with Kane, he just looks very misplaced on the second line. It doesn’t play to his strengths.
Kirby Dach is the center that has been greatly experimented with by Colliton to give him different looks on different lines. After all, he was the third overall pick by the Hawks at the draft last year, so they want to see his potential.
The line with Dach, Saad, and Kane has actually given the team an offensive punch as well. Dach has a five-game point streak going. Kane also has a 12-game point streak going as well.
The Hawks have a lot of different playmakers. That is known from the players aforementioned. The biggest issue is while Colliton is always giving Kane new linemates, he is also giving everyone else new linemates as well. Recently, DeBrincat has been paired with center David Kampf, and one of Alex Nylander, Dach, and Strome on the third line. Nylander, Kampf, and Strome have also been shuffled between the fourth line as well. Overall, it’s a free-for-all. I think it has hurt the team more than they would like to admit.
We know the Blackhawks can score. That was never a concern going into this season, but now it evidently is. It was put on display during their five-game Canadian road trip. During their matchup against the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 12, they scored zero goals, although they had 49 shots on net. Then, on Feb. 15 versus the Calgary Flames, they scored eight goals in their win; only to lose the next night against the Winnipeg Jets with only two goals.
It’s very confusing. Within this shuffle, DeBrincat’s points have slipped from last season as well as Strome’s. While players like Saad and Dach have benefited from Kane’s line, it leaves the other players hanging, as many others have not meshed well. It has left them unbalanced. If the Hawks miss the playoffs for the third straight season, the shuffle may be a big reason why.