With the signing of Brad Richards, the Chicago Blackhawks are almost assuredly done making significant roster additions. The rest of the offseason will be dedicated to extending the contracts of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane as well as shedding whatever contracts are necessary in order to get under the salary cap ceiling in time for the 2014-15 NHL season. With the roster largely set, it’s a sensible time to take a look at what line combinations Blackhawks fans should expect next year.
At this point, the first line looks to be Brandon Saad with Toews and Kane. Saad and Kane were brilliant together in the last three games of Chicago’s series against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final, and Joel Quenneville has indicated that he’d like to keep them together in 2014-15. This would leave Richards, the team’s long-awaited true second-line center, between Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp on the other scoring line. Sharp and Hossa provide tons of speed, perhaps the one part of Richards’ game that has been most affected by age. The trio possesses a nice mix of goal scoring talent and playmaking ability.
The bottom two forward lines are a bit more difficult to predict in light of the uncertainty surrounding Teuvo Teravainen and Jeremy Morin. The ideal scenario may be to trade Kris Versteeg and make room at wing on the third line for the cheaper (some would say “better”) Morin. If Versteeg is dealt, Chicago could boast one of the most versatile and interesting third lines in the league with Teravainen centering Morin and Andrew Shaw. That would slot Bryan Bickell, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith onto a very impressive fourth line.
On defense, the only change from last season will probably be on the third pairing. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook should continue to get the most overall minutes while Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya take the toughest assignments. Nick Leddy is not quite a sure thing to return to the Blackhawks next season, but it would still be a surprise to see him moved. With Michal Rozsival almost definitely gone, expect a third pairing of Leddy and one of Klas Dahlbeck, Stephen Johns, David Rundblad or Sheldon Brookbank.