Now that the Los Angeles Kings remarkable run is over, I can take a little bit of time to talk about one of the major keys to their success. Yes, the Kings had the best goalie in the league and that helps a lot, but the production out of the center position was one of the biggest factors in LA winning the Stanley Cup. If your team is able to roll out Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar, Jared Stoll, and Colin Fraser to center your four lines, you will be in pretty good shape. Having stability and depth at the center position will go a long way for your success.
Stability and depth are not what the Blackhawks have at center right now. Jonathan Toews, when healthy, is everything you look for in a top line center and then some. The Hawks have been searching for a 2nd line center for almost as long as the Cubs have been looking for Ron Santo’s replacement at 3rd base. They are paying Dave Bolland like a 2nd line center but he just hasn’t produced the offensive numbers you would like out of that position. The Blackhawks are hoping that Marcus Kruger can develop into that roll but I don’t see enough offensive skill at this point.
The Kings have a roster full of guys whose natural position is center and they use them at the wing as well. Besides Richards, Kopitar, Stoll and Fraser, they have Jeff Carter, Trevor Lewis, Andrei Loktionov and Jordan Nolan who are all natural centers. This gave the Kings a lot of flexibility and options at the most important offensive position. The Blackhawks have a roster full of wingers who can play center when need be. They have tried Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp at center and have had some success with them at the position. Kane and Sharp are not natural centers and serve the team better by playing at the wing.
So how can the Hawks improve the center position? That is a very good question and will be something that Stan Bowman will need to address. I don’t think Bowman is dumb enough to actually believe that Kane will be the 2nd line center all season and that it could actually work. There are a few prospects at center in the system with the likes of Brandon Pirri and Mark McNeill but neither of them will make a big impact at the NHL level next season. There are not too many great names on the unrestricted free agent list either. The names topping the UFA center list are Daymond Langkow, Stoll, Ollie Jokinen, Paul Gaustad, and Jason Arnott. None of those guys make me excited or are a legitimate answer either. There are a couple good, young restricted free agents like Matt Duchene, TJ Oshie and Sam Gagner but I can not see any of those guys hitting the open market. This leaves Bowman with two options; stay with what you got or get creative with a trade. Kings general manager Dean Lombardi got very creative by pulling the trigger on the trade that landed him Mike Richards last season. Bowman will have to make a similar move if he wants to make a legit upgrade to the center position.
Tags: Andrei Loktionov Anze Kopitar Brandon Pirri Chicago Blackhawks Colin Fraser Dave Bolland Daymond Langkow Dean Lombardi Jared Stoll Jason Arnott Jeff Carter Jonathan Toews Jordan Nolan Los Angeles Kings Marcus Kruger Mark McNeill Matt Duchene Mike Richards Ollie Jokinen Patrick Kane Patrick Sharp Paul Gaustad Sam Gagne Stan Bowman TJ Oshie Trevor Lewis