5 Thoughts On The Current State Of The Chicago Blackhawks

By Gail Kauchak
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Mar 2, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Antoine Vermette (80) during the first period against the Carolina Hurricanes at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The dust has finally settled from a busy weekend of rumors and trades for the Chicago Blackhawks.  They have played three games without Patrick Kane, winning two of the three.  The Hawks have also had success in their first contest with newly acquired center Antoine Vermette and defenseman Kimmo Timonen, beating the Carolina Hurricanes by a score of 5-2.  Now they are in the middle of a much needed three day hiatus before they take on the Edmonton Oilers this Friday night.  This seems like a good opportunity to step back and take a look at where things stand.  Here are 5 thoughts on the current state of the Chicago Blackhawks.

5.  The Look of the lines.  The loss of Kane and the addition of Vermette has changed things up a bit.  But the lines Coach Q put out on the ice in this last game were strong, with a threat to score on every single one of them.  Toews and Hossa were joined on the first line by Versteeg.  Vermette centered the second line with Sharp and Saad.  This moved Richards down to center the third line with Bickell and Teravainen.  And finally, Shaw was essentially demoted to the fourth line with Kruger and Nordstrom (Kruger centering and Shaw on the wing).

Does this all seem a bit confusing?  Allow me to interpret some points here.  Vermette’s face-off percentage is currently at 55.7, just behind our fearless captain who it at 56; both being at the top of the league.  The addition of Vermette has immediately bolstered Chicago’s depth down the middle.  The Hawks are a puck possession team, and winning face-offs is a key component to that.  It can be argued that one of the reasons Chicago struggled last year in the playoffs against the LA Kings was because LA had more depth down the middle.  Now the Blackhawks appear to have an answer for that.

Vermette didn’t fare so well on the dot during this last contest, but give him some time.  It was his first game as a Chicago Blackhawk.  His history points towards him being very helpful to the Hawks in the face-off circle going forward.

Saad was moved to the right wing instead of the left, but this didn’t seem to faze him, as he scored a goal against Carolina.  His presence on the second line instead of the first line presents another threat for opponents.

A spot was still available on the third line for Teravainen.  Coach Q has mentioned before that his skill set is a much better fit as a top nine forward, versus playing on the checking fourth line.  This line didn’t score the other night, but Teravainen had a couple really good looks, and Richards was tied for second place on the team with 4 shots on goal (Hossa had 6 and Toews also had 4).

And I like Shaw on the fourth line.  He is an agitator, which is great asset to have on this final line.  Playing wing instead of center has allowed him to be more physical in the last couple of tilts.  In last Thursday’s shutout win against the Florida Panthers, Shaw was credited with 8 hits.  Shaw also has enough offensive prowess to again pose an extra threat on that fourth line.  This was shown on Monday night when Kruger scored and Shaw got the assist.

4.  Where does Andrew Desjardins fit in?  The Blackhawks traded Ben Smith for Andrew Desjardins, but Desjardins won’t play until Friday night against the Edmonton Oilers.  Ben Smith was making $1.5 million, and the San Jose Sharks ate half of Desjardins $750,000 salary, so Chicago saved a lot of money towards the salary cap.  Desjardins is known for being a scrappy and abrasive player that will fit in well on the fourth line.  This is a good thing, as Carcillo can’t really play that role now that he has a target on his back by the referees.  Physical play might be important, especially since the Hawks could easily match up against the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs.

I see Desjardins taking Nordstrom’s spot on the fourth line.  You better be good Desjardins, because you are replacing a fan and locker room favorite in Ben Smith.

Speaking of which, one last point here.  Smith participated in the Blackhawks morning skate on Monday, thinking he was going to play for them that night.  He was subsequently traded, and as he had no family obligations; he traveled to San Jose and was immediately available to play for the Sharks against the Montreal Canadians.  He proceeded to earn a goal and an assist with his new team.  That’s a Captain America move for you right there!  Good luck kid, and we’ll miss you!

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3.  Defensive Depth.  Kimmo Timonen is the newest addition to the blue line for the Blackhawks.  He is a almost 40 years old, and has battled with blood clot issues for over a year now.  Because of the latter, he hasn’t seen any game time yet this season.  Raise a few red flags?  Well, hopefully general manager Stan Bowman has done his homework.   Timonen has been cleared to play, and he did just that on Monday night, clocking in at 17:29 minutes of ice time.  He partnered up with Seabrook, and overall seemed to have a pretty solid night.

Timonen is veteran player and could easily be a leader in the locker room.  On the ice, he is well known for being a quarterback on the power play.  He has the ability to get the puck into the zone and set up shots.  This could be very helpful, as Kaner will be very much missed on the power play for these very same reasons.  Before he was injured, it wasn’t uncommon for Kane to be out on the PP for the full 2 minutes, trying to make something happen.

Meanwhile, Rozsival had a great night on Monday after being scratched the last 2 games.  He contributed with 2 assists.  Did the veteran just need some time off?  Although the timetable is unknown, both Oduya and Van Riemsdyk are slated to be back from injury before the playoffs.

If all goes well, I see Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Oduya, Timonen, and Van Reimsdyk being the playoff defensemen.  If all doesn’t go so well, Rozsival and Rundblad  could be relatively competent back-ups.