Chicago Blackhawks’ 6 Questions Before 2016-17 Season

By Colin Likas
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Mar 11, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) and head coach Joel Quenneville watch their team take on the Dallas Stars during the third period at American Airlines Center. The Stars defeat the Blackhawks 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Tough Question: Who plays with Jonathan Toews?

This is probably the most difficult but also most crucial question facing the Blackhawks. Toews is supposed to be the Blackhawks’ top-line center, but coach Joel Quenneville and GM Stan Bowman could hardly surround their talented captain with the appropriate pieces to succeed last season.

Marian Hossa could easily start on Toews’ right wing, but last season we appeared to see the start of Hossa’s career decline. Now there’s talk about him playing on the third line with the likes of Marcus Kruger, especially after the two fared well together late in Chicago’s 2015 playoffs run.

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If Hossa does get the first crack at top-line right wing, it’s not impossible Q will look to a youngster to fill the left wing role. This was an abyss last season, eating alive multiple players who couldn’t hang.

But maybe the youthful exuberance and talent of a Nick Schmaltz-type could do the trick. Maybe Tyler Motte, even, if he performs well out of camp.

There’s been plenty of talk of handing the top-line right wing position over to Richard Panik, which could work. But there’s little to prove he can provide sustained production from that spot over the course of 82 games. So for starters, I like a Schmaltz-Toews-Hossa setup.

chicago blackhawks
Dec 6, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) celebrates with right wing Patrick Kane (88) and center Artem Anisimov (15) after scoring a goal during the third period at United Center. The Blackhawks won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports /

Easy Question: Will the second line stay together?

This is a definite yes, even though Coach Q tends to go mad scientist on us when we least expect it. But he has absolutely no reason to break up Artemi PanarinArtem AnisimovPatrick Kane, especially with the amount of doubt regarding the rest of the lineup’s production ability.

There are only two reasons I think Q would break up the group prior to the postseason. One would be injuries, and the other would be if the team is in danger of missing the playoffs late in the regular season.

The injuries would be an unpredictable case, but it could necessitate a temporary breakup. As far as missing the playoffs goes, it’d seem counterproductive to break up your best line if you’re chasing a postseason spot. But we know the nuclear option of Toews-Kane with a third member is always open if the Blackhawks are in dire straits.

But outside of those two situations, Q won’t be touching this line. Even he’s not that crazy.

Next: The Defense And The Goaltenders