1. The Toews Tango
In my previous post, one of the main reasons for optimism was the second line success of Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, and Patrick Kane. But this trio had to carry the rest of the team a lot last season. A glaring hole in the lineup was, and still is, finding someone to play with Jonathan Toews. Since the loss of Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp, the first line left wing has been a revolving door of players. No one seems to be able to keep up, or be effective, alongside Toews and Marian Hossa.
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Andrew Shaw held the spot for a while and had some success. But many thought he could be more appropriately utilized as a grinder on the third or fourth line. Andrew Ladd played this position after he was re-acquired by the Blackhawks at the trade deadline in March. He never really reached his potential there, and ended up on the third line during the playoffs.
Now both the above team members are no longer with the organization, and the Hawks missed out on signing free agents Jimmy Vesey and Jiri Hudler. Both these players would have been potential candidates for a first line role. The most recent person to get a chance alongside Toews was Richard Panik; and it is believed he could start this season in that spot. Unless one of the youngsters impresses at training camp.
To make matters even worse, Hossa, who has been on Toew’s right wing for what seems like forever, wasn’t very effective there for most of last season. Although still defensively sound, he doesn’t seem to have the offensive punch he used to. Like Ladd, he also found himself on the third line during the playoffs, and actually thrived in this spot. He might be more effective in a third line role this season as well.
So you see, besides Toews, who will skate on the top line is completely up in the air. Finding an answer to this dilemma will not be easy; but it could be key to the success of the team moving forward.
Next: Reason No. 2: Young Blood