Nov 9, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville and players watch the action in the third period against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center. Chicago beat Dallas 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Dear Coach Q: Break Up Toews, Sharp, and Hossa

Dear Coach Quennville:

First and foremost, congrats on your victory over the hated Vancouver Canucks last night and becoming the third most winningest coach in the NHL with 693 W’s. Not to take anything away from the win, but I am writing you with some constructive suggestions regarding the current lineups you have hitting the ice with our beloved Chicago Blackhawks.

Let’s face the facts here Coach Q: despite a few highlights (i.e. wins against the Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks, etc.) during the month of January, our Blackhawks have suffered two bouts of winless stretches. After two Stanley Cups, I am certainly giving you the benefit of the doubt that you’ll get things under control, but as an avid Hawks fan I of course have my own theory how to ameliorate the Blackhawks’ recent woes.

Three words: shuffle the deck. Everyone knows your penchant for changing up the lines when things aren’t humming, and well, after a 5-3-6 January, suffice it say things ain’t hummin’. At least not for a team that realistically wants a shot at the first Stanley Cup repeat since the late 90’s.

Let’s be clear: the current depth chart has certainly done well in the past, but I bet I’m not alone in my sediment that the Hawks offensive lineup is currently running at about 75% of its full potential. As you know, as the season goes on and players endure the usual wear and tear the depth chart needs to adapt to accommodate, and the first step for this at this junction of the season I feel is simple: split up the 1st line of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp.

Don’t get me wrong, the Toews-Hossa-Sharp line is every Hawks fans’ wet dream and they’ve certainly been inking up the stat sheet consistently and thoroughly, but front loading the lineups so much has a downside. Opposing teams can focus on shutting down the 1st line and force the Hawks 2nd and 3rd lines to beat them, which as we both know hasn’t been going too well lately because frankly, right now these lines are a bit out of sorts. For this reason I can’t blame you for rolling out the 4th line of Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger, and Ben Smith so early and often against the Canucks. They’re the only lower line with any kind of chemistry at the moment.

One of the main problems is Patrick Kane, one of the NHL’s best finishers, doesn’t have an equally talented playmaker to skate with sans a Towes, Hossa, or Sharp. Brandon Saad and Brandon Pirri are darn good line-mates for Kane, but the problem is neither of these players are playmakers on the same levels (at least not at this point in their careers) as Sharp, Hossa, or Toews who can serve as the line’s anchor and dictate the offensive pace.

Another upside of spreading seasoned leaders and playmakers like Toews, Sharp, and Hossa through the lines is that their guidance will bring out the best in other Hawks forwards. We’ve all seen how often finishers like Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw can score when they’ve got good playmaking line-mates feeding them the puck while they’re camped out on the crease. Furthermore, Hawks forwards like Kris Versteeg would benefit greatly from the influence of a Towes, Sharp, or Hossa on their line, because his turnovers are becoming more costly by the game. I also salivate at the possibility of Hossa and Saad skating on the same line, considering their similar playing styles. There’s no telling what heights Saad’s game reaches when his line-mate is the league’s best two-way forward.

Finally, I don’t know if Michal Handzus once pushed you out of the way of an oncoming car (I bet that car was made in Detroit – spitting sound!), but your consistent inclusion of him in the lineup this season despite his lack of production, speed, and success at the dot, not mention his ability to drag down the output of whichever line he’s skating with, is mind-boggling at this point. Other Hawks players like Pirri and Bickell have been thrown in your doghouse for far less. Furthermore, if you want Handzus to have anywhere near the same impact he had during last year’s post season, his minutes needs to be managed in the same vein as Michal Rozsival’s, if not more so, especially since he’ll be playing in Sochi next week. So it’s time to face facts with Zus and do the right thing because his current ice time isn’t doing anyone any favors.

With all due respect Coach Q, I know you’ll figure things out. You’ve done it before and you can do it again, but I at least hope I’ve given you a few things to stroke your mustache over.


John Q. Hawks Fan


Tags: Andrew Shaw Ben Smith Brandon Bollig Brandon Pirri Brandon Saad Bryan Bickell Chicago Blackhawks Joel Quenneville Jonathan Toews Kris Versteeg Marcus Kruger Marian Hossa Michal Handzus Patrick Sharp

  • Lloyd A Brodnax

    Excellent article

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  • Steve Chanin

    Some good points here, and I have no problem if Q shuffles the lines from time to time, as he tends to do. I love it when Kane and Toews get to skate together. They have great chemistry (and they’re two of the best players in the league, besides). But I also think the Hawks have enough depth to roll out at least one main “dream” line. And that top line has been huge. Not having Kane on the first line is Q’s concession to depth. If he can find a consistent center—and he doesn’t need to be spectacular—to play with Kane on the second line, the Hawks still roll out potentially the best third and fourth lines in the league (assuming Bickell picks it up). And Kane has shown he can play with anyone on the second line. I don’t think Handzus is as bad as all that. He’s a smart player who compensates for what he lacks physically at this stage in his career. And he was very good in the Cup run last year. That said, you’re right; he’s slow and shouldn’t be anchoring the second line.

    Unrelated to the talk about forwards, but I think the guy who saved Q from that oncoming car is Brookbank. How does he get as much ice time as he does, when they’re letting a useful guy like Kostka go on the waivers?