The second thing we need to recognize is what the lineup might look like should Kane miss absolutely no time. Joel Quenneville‘s mad-science experiments usually result in lines we fans haven’t even considered, but I’ll still take my best shot. My colleague Skylar Peters has already offered his forward lines for Opening Night.
In a cross-site piece with Kate Cimini of Bleedin’ Blue, I listed my top two Blackhawks lines. And I’ve already decided I need to change them. Here are my new top two lines, should Kane’s season be unaffected:
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
I still don’t think Q is ready to trust Teuvo at a center position, unless it’s on one of the bottom two lines. And that would be an underutilization of his skills, in my opinion. So keep him at the wing with two guys who can not only mask whatever defensive deficiencies he might still have, but who can also tutor him and make him a much better two-way player. Teuvo is no slouch to begin with and can help set up some fantastic plays for Toews and Hossa while also generating plays from those two.
Ever since Anisimov was traded for and extended, it has been assumed he’d serve the 2C role alongside Kane. So who slots in next to them? We haven’t seen Panarin in an NHL rink, but it’s been suggested he could be the Russian Kane. With two strong playmakers centered by a guy like Anisimov, this line could be potent.
So that leaves us with two more lines to fill. Of course, we have the issue of Marcus Kruger remaining unsigned and cap space needing to be cleared in order for that signing to occur. The talk here has centered around one or both of Bryan Bickell and Kris Versteeg being sent out, but the market seems absolutely dead for both. This is where I think some of Stan Bowman’s earlier offseason moves come into effect.
What purpose would Bowman have for stocking the Blackhawks with fringe third-/fourth-line forwards if not to package them with Bickell and or Versteeg in order to clear cap space? The Blackhawks aren’t going to want to eat salary on either guy, but it’d be much easier to eat salary on a Jeremy Morin ($800,000), Ryan Garbutt ($900,000) or Corey Tropp ($625,000). I also think there’s an outside chance Andrew Shaw is shipped out with Bickell or Versteeg as a deal sweetener.
But I’ll use my gut here and create third and fourth lines:
Kris Versteeg-Marko Dano-Viktor Tikhonov
Andrew Desjardins-Marcus Kruger-Andrew Shaw
I think Bickell will be the guy to go, and I think some of the names I mentioned above will go along with him (as opposed to Shaw). So Versteeg hangs around, but with an overabundance of right wings on the roster, I’ve moved him to left wing. I’d rather have a guy who has been in the NHL awhile shifting positions than having Tikhonov move positions right as he gets to North America. Dano is listed as a center by some outlets, and I think it makes sense to have him center a line versus having Shaw do it.
Keeping together a fourth line that did so much well during the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs should be a goal for Q. I shouldn’t need to explain why. Hopefully, keeping Desjardins, Kruger and Shaw together is a priority, assuming the latter two are on the Opening Night roster.
So, now we get to the important part of this post: What if Kane is not around at the start of the season?
Next: Kane-less lines explored
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