This weak point is named Michal Handzus. The rangy Slovak center has had a brutal second half of the season, putting up just six points (all assists) in 34 games despite playing almost exclusively with top-six forward talent at even strength. His possession numbers are even worse, as he has by far the worst relative corsi on the Blackhawks when adjusted for linemate quality.
Even Handzus’ career-long excellence at the face-off dot has disappeared in 2013-14, as he has operated under a 50 percent clip. He has also managed to suffocate the offense of his high-caliber teammates, with Patrick Kane notoriously needing almost 300 minutes of even-strength ice time to register his first (and only) goal of the year while on the ice together with No. 26. Handzus himself hasn’t scored a goal since Dec. 27.
Despite it all, Joel Quenneville has deemed him the second line center heading into the NHL playoffs, placing him in the middle between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. Quenneville is known to start shuffling lines almost as soon as he puts them together, but this is the type of initial decision that could swing an entire game (and, by extension, a series) toward one team or another. Handzus’ proclivity to massively diminish the offensive efficacy of his star linemates is no secret; an effectively useless Hossa and Sharp would be an enormous problem for the Blackhawks.
Peter Regin, who has played well since being acquired mid-season, would have been a far more sensible choice to play in the top-six. Moving Ben Smith into the role would have been a fine move as well — he excelled while playing center during the latter parts of the season. Smith moving to the middle would have also allowed the inclusion of Jeremy Morin into the lineup, a player who has been the best Blackhawk during the past several weeks.
Instead, however, the job is Handzus’. Quenneville is hedging his bets on the veteran summoning up something extra for the postseason, and that something he has plainly lacked all year long.