Bigger Need For Blackhawks: Center or Defenseman?

By Randy Holt

When completely healthy, there’s no doubt that the Chicago Blackhawks are among the elite teams in the National Hockey League. They have the one of the league’s best core groups of players, a potent offense, and solid goaltending.

But, like almost every one of those elite teams, they do have holes that need to be filled when the trade deadline rolls around. Of course, those needs for the Hawks might just be a little more obvious than they are for others, like Boston.

As it stands right now, or when Patrick Sharp returns, the Hawks’ two biggest needs are in the middle and on the blue line. They have lacked a second line center for quite a few years now and have had trouble replacing Brian Campbell on defense, forcing way too much pressure on 20-year-old Nick Leddy.

The Hawks have had a revolving door on the second line this season at center. What began with Patrick Kane in the middle has recently transitioned to the disappointing Michael Frolik, and even some of the inconsistent Dave Bolland.

The only source of stability that the Hawks have gotten in the middle on that unit has come from Marcus Kruger. He hasn’t put up the numbers, but he’s been steady and plays a fluid, consistent game with his strong passing ability, smarts, and willingness to get to the dirty areas.

Is Kruger a permanent solution on the second line? Probably not. He’s more than likely suited for a role similar to what Bolland has been doing for the Hawks on the third line.

But if his body can hold up for a deep playoff run, which is a big ‘if’, I like a top six that includes Kruger and maybe Viktor Stalberg, assuming the Hawks don’t find anyone to fit in there.

Even with the uncertainty of the forward lines, the far bigger need is for a defenseman to fit into the Blackhawks top four. They miss Brian Campbell more than some anticipated, and playing Nick Leddy for 20 minutes a game, next to Niklas Hjalmarsson no less, has put way too much pressure on him.

While the play of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook has been as good as you can ask, Leddy and Hjalmarsson have been a huge letdown of late, and the third unit is essentially useless. That defensive ‘depth’ has proven more of a liability than anything, with Sean O’Donnell and John Scott swapping starts, and Sami Lepisto spending most of his Chicago nights in the press box.

If what we’ve seen in the first half of the season is any indication, the Hawks need help on the defensive end more than they need it in the middle. Not that both aren’t pressing needs, but if Kruger and Sharp both return healthy, and Kruger can sustain a deep playoff run, they are fine up front. They are going to score goals.

But scoring goals doesn’t mean much if the team can’t keep them out. In those four consecutive losses before their win on Tuesday, the Hawks allowed 16 goals. That can’t happen, no matter how well your goaltender might play. I don’t want to speculate as to just who they might make a move for, but a physical vet to pair with Leddy is the most likely course of action.

Stan Bowman could very well make some sort of move for both a center and a defenseman. But when the push comes to shove and the Hawks can’t have both, which would you choose?

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