Four Feathers: Blackhawks Search for Consistency at Center

While the Chicago Blackhawks are widely regarded as possessing one of the deepest lineups in the National Hockey League, there is always room for improvement. Following their recent 3-3-3 run, the defending Stanley Cup champions have been looking to upgrade up the middle, a position that has frequently stymied head coach Joel Quenneville when filling out line combinations.

Four Feathers: Blackhawks Search for Consistency at Center

The Hawks have attempted to resolve this problem from within their organization, even pulling players from their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. Although they have a player who is widely seen as top five center in the NHL in captain Jonathan Toews, the three remaining spots below him in Chicago’s lineup have been filled with question marks and uncertainty whenever a new individual is chosen to do the job.

2013 Calder Trophy finalist Brandon Saad has often found himself taking draws with Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg on the wings throughout the season. Just 21 years old, the Pittsburgh native plays well beyond his age. One aspect of the second-year forward’s game -that I am extremely impressed with is his tenacity. With or without the puck, you see Saad skating hard shift after shift, whether it be along the boards or in open ice.

The youngster acknowledges the opportunity he has been given and is not wasting a minute of it. With 40 points already this season, Saad is proving that he belongs in the NHL. His quick release and soft hands allow him to be successful around the blue paint and between the circles.

When Michal Handzus was acquired by Chicago at last season’s trade deadline, he played with a veteran’s mentality. He was winning faceoffs at will and finding his line-mates in improbable situations throughout the three zones. In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, his two-way performance was extremely overlooked, as he registered 11 points in 23 games.

In 41 contests this season, however, the 36-year-old has only managed to put up the identical point total. Call it what you want, Handzus is not nearly producing enough offense. He has also appeared significantly sluggish on the ice which raises the question of if he is approaching the end of his NHL career.

Marcus Kruger has a knack for eating up minutes on the penalty kill, and has attributed to their success this season. He is not known for his offense, but provides defensive stability when called upon. The 5th round pick in the 2009 NHL draft has bounced up and down the lineup, varying from the 2nd line to the 4th. His 24 points are 8th most on the team among forwards, which is not acceptable if he wants to increase his playing time.

Bottom line, the Blackhawks need to go out and acquire a scoring center to compliment the depth of talented wingers in their lineup. Chicago has been linked to several players that can heavily increase their chances of capturing their 6th Stanley Cup in franchise history.

David Legwand of the Nashville Predators could prove to be a huge boost both offensively and as a locker room presence if the Hawks look to acquire him. He has 30 assists this season centering the second line with Gabriel Bourque and Craig Smith. Imagine his production if he is placed alongside Patrick Kane, the possibilities are endless. Legwand can open up a lot of space in the corners, using his 6’2″ frame to protect the puck and keep it away from defenders.

Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman should recognize the 33-year-old’s determination to win his first ever Stanley Cup. A team like Chicago not only provides a championship pedigree, but an impeccable fan base. These factors will possibly persuade Legwand to lift his no-trade clause if he chooses to leave Music City.

Another center that could possibly be wearing a Hawks sweater by the end of the season is Calgary Flames forward Mike Cammalleri. He is on the verge of missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season, but if he is traded to Chicago, that trend will most likely change. The 5’9″ forward is not defined by his height, but by his passion and how he plays the game.

He tends to be significantly strong on the puck and utilizes incredible intelligence to make plays on the ice. Cammalleri’s inconsistency could be justified by the porous offense of the team he plays on, which won’t be a problem if he is sent to a Blackhawks squad that leads the league in goals/game with 3.37. A possible trade candidate that the Hawks could give up in deal for Cammalleri is center Brandon Pirri.

The 22-year-old certainly has a bright future in the NHL and would fit in very well with the quick offensive style the Flames instill in their game. He has 11 points in 28 games this season for Chicago.

If the Chicago Blackhawks hope to repeat as Stanley Cup champions and secure their third title in five years, they will need to receive more out of their roster players or be forced to explore the trade market and add a dependable center to their lineup.

 

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