It’s still early and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville can be unpredictable, but here’s a look at the potential lines for next season’s team.
This line produced magic in the playoffs. Quenneville has preferred to keep Kane and Toews on separates lines for the most part in recent seasons, but Quenneville can’t ignore the success the trio had together last season. Kane and Toews are coming off two of their most all-around seasons. They may cancel out each other in the Hart Trophy voting, but they can be expected to be in the discussion if they continue to play as they did last season. Bickell spent the regular season on the third line, but he earned a promotion by becoming one of the go-to guys in the playoffs. Bickell’s 17 playoff points were only second to Kane’s 19 points. There’s still uncertainty whether Bickell can be that same type of player consistently throughout an 82-game regular season, but Bickell received a large raise to do just that.
The Blackhawks still don’t have a definitive second-line center. Dave Bolland was given the responsibility to start last season, but injuries and inconsistencies led him to losing the job. Kruger saw some time there during the regular season. Quenneville ended up utilizing Handzus in the playoffs there, and that worked out. Quenneville recently said he doesn’t expect Handzus to start the season on the second line, so that likely opens the door for Pirri or Kruger. Pirri is unproven in the NHL, playing just seven career games for the Blackhawks, but he’s shown promise in the AHL. He led the Rockford IceHogs with 53 assists and 75 points last season. If Kruger and Pirri don’t work out, Handzus could find himself back there alongside Sharp and Hossa. Sharp had a quiet 2013 regular season due to a shoulder injury, but he picked it up with a team-leading 10 goals in the playoffs. He can be expected to be in similar form throughout the upcoming regular season. Hossa is coming off a steady 2013 season, finishing third in points in the regular season and tied for third in points in the playoffs. He dealt with a back injury in the Stanley Cup finals, but he won’t need surgery. Hossa’s durability has come into question over the past few seasons and he could prove his doubters wrong by staying healthy this season.
The Blackhawks’ third line could be one of the youngest lines in the league. Saad will be 20 at the start the season, Shaw 22, Hayes 23 and Smith 25. Saad is coming off a stellar rookie season where he played mostly on the top line. Bickell’s playoff emergence bumped Saad to the third line, and Saad will likely stay there after Bickell’s big payday. The Blackhawks would like to see more consistency out of Saad this season. His play dipped in the playoffs. This will also be his first 82-game regular season in the NHL. Saad likely will have a role on the penalty kill and power play, too. Shaw progressed in his second season in the league, providing a mixture of offense, defense and toughness. He showed some maturity in the playoffs by minimizing his penalties. Hayes or Smith could fill Viktor Stalberg’s spot on the line. Hayes was solid in 10 games with the Blackhawks last season and scored 25 goals in 67 games in Rockford last season. Smith may have gotten a shot with the Blackhawks last season, but his season was derailed due to a hand injury. He had 27 goals and 20 assists in 54 games with the IceHogs and was Quenneville’s emergency choice when Hossa was a late scratch in the Stanley Cup finals.
The Blackhawks will have an assortment of options on the fourth line. A lot of it will depend on where players are placed on the second and third lines. If Pirri wins the second-line center job, expect Handzus to center the fourth line and Kruger to play the left wing. Kruger played on the wing alongside Bolland in the playoffs last season. Hayes and Smith likely will get a shot on the right wing on the third or fourth line. Brandon Bollig should be in the mix for a spot, too. He provides an element of toughness and played 25 regular-season games for the Blackhawks last season. Morin had 58 points in 67 games in Rockford last season and will be given a look as well. Someone could earn a spot on the fourth line by also embracing a penalty-killing role and becoming a replacement for Michael Frolik.