Mar 30, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa (81) celebrates his gaol with Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) during the third period at the United Center. The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Los Angeles Kings 4-1. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Teuvo Teravainen-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
This line wouldn’t need to be broken up with Kane out. Putting a less-experienced player (like Tikhonov) alongside Teravainen and Toews would be detrimental to the first line’s success. Until Hossa shows that age is truly catching up to him, having him alongside Toews is best for the team. Basically, your second option is either Tikhonov, Versteeg or a free agent (more on that later). I’ll pass on all of those options, especially from a defensive standpoint. Toews has a way of making all players around him better, but saddling him with a pair of young guns in Teuvo and Tikhonov or a pair of defensive concerns in Teuvo and Versteeg would be an issue.
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Kris Versteeg
This line obviously has to be changed if Kane misses time in 2015-16. Moving Versteeg back to his natural spot make sense, as he basically tries to be a Kane Lite to begin with. Putting Panarin alongside Anisimov would probably offset the lack of stability brought to this line by Versteeg. We could, again, move Tikhonov here, and it would make a certain amount of sense. That would create an all-Russian line, which would have some cohesiveness before even hitting the ice (think Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya, the Swedish connection).
Phillip Danault-Marko Dano-Viktor Tikhonov
This line is, admittedly, a little insane. Danault has past play at wing and will very likely see some ice with the Blackhawks in 2015-16 (though not necessarily at wing) after playing in two games last season. I still like the idea of Dano playing center as a means of keeping Shaw away from the spot and keeping that fourth line intact, but Shaw could end up centering this line as a means of veteran leadership (really). Tikhonov is probably best situated either on this line or the second, but I’ve got him here for the time being.
There’s another idea I’m throwing around my head: free agency. We previously discussed Kane’s contract temporarily coming off the books should he be suspended. While no guarantee by any means, we’ll consider the prospect. A Sean Bergenheim type could be brought in to play left wing, or a Tomas Kopecky type could come in and switch from right to left wing to bring some stability. I’m imagining Bickell being moved along with Garbutt and one of Morin or Tropp, and I don’t think those latter three have a place in the regular lineup at this time.
Andrew Desjardins-Marcus Kruger-Andrew Shaw
Look, I know Q is almost definitely breaking up this trio at some point in 2015-16, maybe even on Opening Night. But it’s such a fantastic line — a defensive shutdown unit that found a way to turn play back to the offensive zone against some of the NHL’s best in a playoff atmosphere. The prime reason this line would be broken up, sadly, would be to get Shaw back at a center spot. It may be a necessity, but it should be avoided. Should Shaw get moved to 3C (I’m not even considering a promotion to 2C), this line wouldn’t really be a home for Dano, as its role would blunt his offensive upside. It’s leaving me at a loss as to how to fill this right-wing spot, as Versteeg wouldn’t make sense on a defense-focused line and Tikhonov is a little unknown in that regard at this point. Maybe Morin?
There are many things left to be worked out before we even get to Opening Night, and those things could drastically change our forward lines discussion. But the white elephant in the room that is the Kane investigation necessitates a look at some sort of future without him, especially as we get closer and closer to the regular season.
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