It seemed like the Chicago Blackhawks played a never-ending game of musical chairs with their lines in the 2011-12 season, and the string of injuries they suffered only made things worse.
Heading into this season, it looks like everyone will be healthy, which means less shuffling and more stability on the lines…right? Well, that all depends on who’s on which line.
Given the glimpses of combinations we saw last season, here are some possibilities for the upcoming season:
First line: Patrick Kane-Jonathan Toews-Daniel Carcillo
Before you screech about this choice, consider this: this particular line was effective during the December 3 game against the St. Louis Blues. Carcillo was on the line not so much as a playmaker but as protection for Kane and Toews as they chased the puck. The Blackhawks ended up winning the game.
Carcillo started to become a playmaker in his own right before his season-ending knee injury in January. If he can strengthen that and temper the two sides of his game, that first line will be hot.
Second line: Marian Hossa-Patrick Sharp-Viktor Stalberg
Sharp hasn’t really been used as a center, mostly playing left wing to Kane and Toews on the top line. But when Kane was put at center on the second line at the beginning of last season, he was mostly paired with Hossa and Sharp, and those three had some good chemistry.
Stalberg is the key here. His speed, combined with Hossa’s and Sharp’s skill, could make it a second line to be feared.
Third line: Marcus Kruger-Dave Bolland-Andrew Shaw
Bolland is the anchor on this line. When the other lines faltered, it was Bolland and his linemates that swooped in for the score.
Kruger could see even more improvement from last year on this line, and Shaw could have an amazing year after his hot start at the back half of last season. Bolland would be there to not only be a playmaker and enforcer in his own right, but he could bolster his linemates’ games.
Fourth line: Brandon Bollig-Jamal Mayers-Michael Frolik
The fourth line may seem like the bottom of the barrel, but when the chips are down, this line could well have what it takes to score in a clutch.
Like Carcillo, Bollig could be used in an enforcer role on this line. Frolik had a less that stellar 2011-12 season, but having Bollig’s protection and Mayers’ experience could give him the scoring chances he needs. Mayers has skill but isn’t afraid to scrap with someone. And even though Bollig only scored one goal in the postseason, he could surprise everyone and rack up the points.
The big question is who coach Joel Quenneville will eventually put at second line center. If he stops with the constant rotation and settles on someone who will be consistent at that position, the second line could be as tight as the first.
The Blackhawks need to be strong on their offense as they were in the 2009-10 season if they want another strong shot at the playoffs. With much of the core from that season intact, the key to another Cup run will be in the lines that are drawn.