Patrick Kane has played with every forward on the Chicago Blackhawks roster this season, but it hasn’t stopped him from having a career year. But how much better would he be if he had a true second-line center on his line?
CHICAGO – If the Chicago Blackhawks are indeed looking for a second-line center, they won’t need one for long. The way Teuvo Teravainen played for Finland during the World Junior Championship, he looks to be holding that role down as early as next season.
Which puts the Blackhawks in an interesting situation. They really don’t have a second-line center at the moment. Just ask Patrick Kane, who has played with every center and every winger the Blackhawks have. They’ve tried Andrew Shaw, Michal Handzus and Marcus Kruger in that spot with not much success.
The question is, do the Blackhawks need to get a second-line center before the trade deadline? And the second, and more difficult one to ask is, who is out there who can fill the role?
As far as the first question goes, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman isn’t convinced it’s necessary. The Blackhawks went out and got Handzus at the deadline last season as a depth player, but he ended up carrying the second-line load at center through the run to the Stanley Cup. When the Hawks won in 2010, Patrick Sharp was their second-line center, but he’s now found a very productive home on the left side with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa on the top unit.
“What’s misunderstood sometimes by people is that Patrick (Kane) needs this high-powered center to play in the middle,” Bowman said. “Patrick sort of is the center, when you think about it. He doesn’t take the draws and maybe he’s not down low in the defensive zone, but as soon as you get past your on blueline, Patrick really controls the whole play. He just needs players who are responsible safety valves and that’s why Handzus was so good in the playoffs.”
It’s hard to argue with that, since Kane has had an absolutely prolific offensive season without that go-to guy in the middle. Going into Tuesday night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche, Kane sits second in the NHL with 56 points and is on pace for a career-high 96, with the possibility of his first 100-point season not out of the question. But it also begs the question, how good would Kane be if he had someone who could both fill that defensive role and get him the puck?
Bowman is also wary of upsetting a good thing. The Blackhawks, as you can imagine, have tremendous team chemistry. Unlike 2011, they have been able to avoid any kind of Stanley Cup hangover and have done well with the lineup they have. Not to mention that they have almost no cap room, meaning if they wanted to take on salary at the deadline, they’d also have to shed some.
“Sometimes you bring in someone who needs a lot of ice time and they need to play on the power play,” Bowman said. “But we’ve got a great power play right now. You get a guy in here who needs that role and you try to jam him in there and all of a sudden you had a good thing and it’s all mixed up.”
So if the Hawks were to go out at the trade deadline and get someone, it would almost certainly be a guy with an expiring contract who could complement what they already have. And players who fit those kinds of roles aren’t exactly in huge supply.
Neither Paul Stastny of the Avalanche nor Derek Roy of the St. Louis Blues is going to be dealt here. Would the Nashville Predators be willing to trade David Legwand in their own conference? Mikhail Grabovski would be a terrific fit, but the Capitals need him for their own playoff run.
Matt Stajan of the Calgary Flames? Hey, don’t laugh. He has played much better this season and would not be a high maintenance guy. Steve Ott in Buffalo and Manny Malhotra in Carolina probably don’t fit the profile, but both would provide some depth at the position.
GAME NOTES: Paul Stastny has a leg injury and will not be in the lineup tonight when the Avs visit the Blackhawks and he is out day-to-day. So likely is backup goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who has had back spasms. Sami Aittokallio will serve as Semyon Varlamov’s No. 2 tonight…Without Stastny, the Avs will dress seven defensemen, meaning Tyson Barrie will be in the lineup…The Blackhawks have been rotating their No. 6 defense spot all season among Michal Rozsival, Sheldon Brookbank and Mike Kostka and it looks as though it’s Rozsival’s turn…Avs coach Patrick Roy was asked what he remembered about Chicago from his playing days. “There was nobody in the stands,” Roy said. “We could barely see them on TV and now they’re all over the place. They’ve done an outstanding job here and it’s great to see the fans back in Chicago.”
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.