The Chicago Blackhawks penalty kill just took a heavy blow on Friday afternoon as it was announced that Marcus Kruger had undergone surgery for a dislocated wrist.
Marcus Kruger had surgery today to repair a dislocation of his left wrist. Anticipating return to hockey activities in approx. 4 months.
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) December 18, 2015
Marcus Kruger Out Four Months
He will likely be placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), a move that will free up an additional $1,500,000 in cap space as the team heads toward the trade deadline. They also have the cap savings they got in return for Trevor Daley which would equate to just about $2,800,000 total once they pull the trigger and place Kruger on the LTIR, which seems inevitable. How they will use the extra funds is anyone’s guess; However they spend it, it will be difficult to replace Kruger.
Kruger suffered the injury in Thursday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers when he took an awkward fall into the boards. He returned to the bench and appeared to make an attempt to shake it off, but he quickly headed back to the locker room for further assessment. When it was ruled that he would not return a little while later, it started to become clear that this was not a minor injury. Though no one expected the news that was delivered this afternoon.
Marcus Kruger will be out for the next 4 months. Wasn't expecting that…
— Road to #7 (@hawknation88) December 18, 2015
Four months is a long period for the Blackhawks to go without one of their top penalty killers, and it will undoubtedly warrant some line changes.
Break Out the Blender
Just when it looked like the line blender had been put on the shelf with the lines all seeming to click of late, the injury has dictated some changes, and with those will come growing pains. Phillip Danault has already been recalled from the Rockford IceHogs.
He will likely be tasked with absorbing some of Kruger’s minutes though he may have to earn his spot on the penalty kill as he has not played a game with the Blackhawks since last season and is coming off hip surgery over the summer.
Danault has recorded 68 points (20 G, 48 A) with the IceHogs through 160 regular season games since the Blackhawks selected him in 2011 with the 26th pick in the draft. Danault being called up to the Blackhawks indicates that he may be the go-to guy for now, but this role is anything but solidified as Joel Quenneville will make changes early, and often if any one player isn’t working out. His patience is likely to be thin as the Blackhawks can not afford to lose ground on their penalty kill in the tight Central Division.
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) December 18, 2015
Who’s On Deck?
For the Blackhawks, this is a particularly hard player to replace because he is a face-off specialist who is primarily deployed for defensive zone face-offs and especially on the penalty kill. He has recently been centering a line with Andrew Desjardins and Ryan Garbutt, but Andrew Shaw has also been on that line at times throughout the season, and for most of last season.
It is possible that Shaw will drop back to center the line in Kruger’s stead, but he is not the ideal candidate to be taking face-offs on defensive zone starts. His face-off success rate is considerably lower than Kruger with 46% for Shaw, and almost 50% for Kruger. In addition, Shaw takes far fewer face-offs in either end. Odds are he will remain on that third line.
Tanner Kero may return at some stage as coach Quenneville had enough faith in the young center to let him anchor the third line for a stretch with Teuvo Teravainen. However, it is more than likely the infamous blender is going to get a workout in the coming weeks as the Blackhawks try to find a solution to fill this rather large void.
Penalty Kill Progress
In recent weeks, the Blackhawks penalty kill had been on a roll. It had gone from one of the worst in the league to tenth, and Kruger was a large part of how it ignited. Fortunately, Desjardins, Shaw and Garbutt can all work the penalty kill, but the pivot on that fourth line has always played a big role for the team both in 5-on-5, and on the kill.
Jonathan Toews will certainly pick up some of the defensive zone starts, simply because of his success rate on the dot, and that should help take some of the pressure off of the player that will be tasked with filling Kruger’s role on the penalty kill, but clearly it is not ideal to use Toews exclusively for defensive zone starts. Someone is going to have to step up and take ownership of that role.
The hope is that Danault or Shaw can slot in and be more than a place holder, but the Hawks also have another option. As they did last season when Patrick Kane went down just before the deadline, Kruger will certainly be placed on the LTIR freeing up cap space.
It's going to be tough for the Blackhawks to replace a player like Kruger. His penalty kill time alone will be a struggle
— Claiborne Snowden (@SnowdenClay) December 18, 2015
Is A Rental On The Horizon?
Since Kruger’s four month time table would have him returning around the playoffs, they could use up that cap and the savings from the Trevor Daley-Rob Scuderi trade to acquire another center. Last season, Kane’s stint on the LTIR enabled the team to pick up Antoine Vermette, and there appears to be no shortage of rental players this season either.
Should the Blackhawks opt to go this route, Kruger would not be able to make an early return, as the cap space during the regular season would not allow it. That is the one of the downside to this type of move this soon after the injury. Because losing Kruger may not have the same kind of implications that losing Kane had as the Hawks battled for a playoff spot late last season, they may choose to stay with an in-house replacement or replacements. Another downside to a rental player is the cost. Such a move would inevitable require the Blackhawks part with a prospect, which is a high price to pay for a player who will not be back next season.
Replacing Kruger may not seem as daunting as replacing Kane, but time will tell. The penalty kill carries a lot of importance as it can often turn a game, and in the ultra-competitive Central, every advantage is important.