It is tough to watch, but the key faceoff wins and complementary play of the Chicago Blackhawks’ Michal Handzus is long-gone. In his place is a younger, faster, and smarter center. The battle began in training camp to see who would center the Blackhawks’ second line, and at last, Brandon Pirri has won.
Oct 11, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks centerMichal Handzus
(26) with the puck and New York Islanders goalieKevin Poulin
(60) watching on during the third period at the United Center. Chicago won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
The demise of the 38-year old center can be explained in one stat.
Handzus played his last game on October 22nd against Florida. Since then, the Blackhawks have averaged 4.5 goals/game. In the 9 games before, that number was 2.9.
The void on second-line center has been filled well by Brandon Pirri, NHL rookie, who many thought was pegged for the position during training camp. Pirri’s 41% faceoff percentage is only 10% lower than Handzus’ mark at 53%, and faceoffs were the reason that he was brought here from San Jose last season.
Stats aside, Pirri is much better than Handzus, and the youthful pivot has no trouble playing with experienced wingers Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. Pirri, who lead the AHL in scoring last season, is just as adept as Handzus as finding open ice, passing lanes, and shooting lanes, but the 22-year old’s abilities allow him to take advantage more effectively. Pirri has made an impact in all 10 games he has played in, while Handzus was mostly silent.
The general feeling from around Blackhawks’ camp is that Handzus’ days are numbered. The veteran currently sits on the shelf with an upper-body injury, and the clock is ticking before a move has to be made. Placing Handzus on the Injured Reserve seems like a viable option, freeing up a roster spot for one of the Blackhawks’ hungry prospects to get a shot on the big stage.
Blackhawks’ fans can purchase those #37 jerseys, because Brandon Pirri isn’t going anywhere. The future of Blackhawks’ centers is among us, with all four pivots aging under 25. Michal Handzus, at age 36, is the odd man out in the Windy City. All may seem well now that Pirri is in his rightful place, but the problem will not be solved until Handzus is taken care of. When will this happen? That question stands yet to be answered.
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