As the Blackhawks enter the postseason, they will have an issue to address which is the lack of depth that they have on their team.
During their series against the Los Angeles Kings, it was apparent that the Blackhawks didn’t have the depth. Last year, Joel Quenneville was comfortable rolling four lines. In the playoffs this season, he was uncomfortable rolling all four lines and the Blackhawks became a three line team. The Kings on the other hand were able to roll out four lines.
If the Blackhawks are going to return to the Stanley Cup Final in the near future, they will have to add depth. It is simply too taxing if Quenneville has to shorten his bench every game. There is no doubt that the wear and tear of extra shifts did contribute but the Kings were still a deeper team, something that the New York Rangers are finding out very quickly.
Too often in the playoffs, the Blackhawks were a one line team. In the early part of the Kings series, it was the Jonathan Toews, Bryan Bickell and Marian Hossa line that was producing. Then when Patrick Kane got hot, the Toews line cooled off. The only time that the Blackhawks seemed to have more than one line clicking was the final game when the Kane line continued their torrid play and Patrick Sharp awakened from his playoff long hibernation.
Now Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik were not game changers but they were reliable. When it came to it, Quenneville didn’t trust Brandon Bollig or Kris Versteeg which often led to a rotation of ten forwards. By the time the Blackhawks had reached the end of their playoff run they were gassed.
It appears that the Blackhawks may have a candidate to solve their second line center woes in Andrew Shaw. Given the tinkering that Quenneville enjoys doing, Shaw is going to have to improve his faceoff percentage if he wants to center Kane and Brandon Saad. However, with the cap situation that the Blackhawks are going to encounter when Toews and Kane sign extensions for most likely around $8-9 million a year and Saad, who is also due a hefty raise after next season, there are going to be players who have to be moved.
Whether it is Shaw or Tuevo Teravainen, expect the Blackhawks to try to solve their second line center situation from within. They simply don’t have the cap space as currently constructed to go out and acquire a Ryan Kesler or Joe Thornton to be a second line center.
There are several players who could be jettisoned though. Versteeg has a very manageable cap hit of $2.2 million and Bollig signed an extension during the season that will kick in with a cap hit of $1.25 million. After underwhelming seasons both could be traded during the offseason as the Blackhawks need room for Jeremy Morin and Joakim Nordstrom to play every game as well as Teravainen. This will help their bottom six depth but Quenneville needs to trust them come playoff time. Another intriguing name that you will hear in trade rumors is Patrick Sharp.
Barry Rozner of the Daily Herald has stated that sources have said the Blackhawks will kick the tires to see what they could get for Sharp. If they move Sharp expect a move for a second line center then as Sharp counts for $5.9 million and there would be plenty of room then for a second line center. But this very unlikely to happen as Sharp is still a crucial part of the Blackhawks core despite his postseason struggles.
The other area that the Blackhawks could look to improve is their defense. Johnny Oduya could be moved rather easily as he is entering the final year of his contract with a cap hit of $3.375 million and will be 33 at the start of next season. Oduya did not play well and frequently lost track of his man and turned the puck over during the playoffs. However, it would be a shock if Brent Seabrook is moved although he does possess great value, he is the only player on the Blackhawks defense who is very physical.
Either Nick Leddy or Michal Rozsival could be moved as they both have cap hits of $2+ million. For the Blackhawks, the best thing might be to move Oduya to try to improve the forward depth and allow Leddy to move up and play with either Seabrook or Niklas Hjalmarsson on a regular basis. There are two young defensemen in the AHL in Adam Clendening and Klas Dahlbeck. Clendening recorded 12 goals and 47 assists this season after nine goals last season. Dahlbeck was impressive with 10 goals this year. Both are knocking on the door and it would not be a surprise to see several defensemen traded or moved even before July 1.
There will be plenty of options for the Blackhawks but the number one priority will be to improve the bottom six and finally allow some kids such as Morin to take permanent jobs on the NHL club.
If the Blackhawks decide to allow the youngsters to come up from Rockford there could be mass changes. More likely is the fact that the Blackhawks will make room for Clendening and allow Dahlbeck to gain some more seasoning. But it won’t just be the status quo for the Blackhawks this offseason. They know they need to make minor changes and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see minor changes. In fact, the only shock would be if the Blackhawks actually address the second line center position. Other than that, minor additions here and there can make a huge difference next year.
One way or another expect a deeper Blackhawks squad come fall.