Blackhawks Confidential

Quenneville scores in split of Toews and Kane

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Does Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville have a background cracking safes?  The man behind the Hawks bench has more line-up combinations than you would find at a Chicago police station.  The latest move to split up Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane appears to be a major score.

As they entered the NHL together two seasons ago, conventional wisdom paired the duo of Toews and Kane as life partners for the Blackhawks.  They would develop a bond as linemates allowing them to compete as one for a decade or more.  For the moment, Quenneville has seperated his talented young core.  For what purpose?

The simple answer is that Coach Q needed to spread out his talent.  Without the services of Marian Hossa for a couple of months, the Hawks need their top two lines to be equal offensive threats.  After two games, the decision is a rousing success.

The combination of Kane, Dave Bolland and Dustin Byfuglien was a dominating force in Finland.  It's only two games in, but Kane may be ready to take his game to an elite level.  You can also see the confidence oozing from Big Buff.  The converted defenseman has bought in to his role of creating havoc down low in the offensive zone.  The line plays with high energy and has been a literal hit for Quenneville.

Toews, without a goal in the first 17 games last season, is off to a slower start on the score sheet.  However, his line was still a positive contributing factor as Patrick Sharp leaves Helsinki with two goals and Kris Versteeg played well in all phases.  Toews play wasn't without effort as the centerman had eight shots on goal and won over 60% of his faceoffs.

As he approaches his first anniversary as the Blackhawks head coach, Quenneville has displayed a knack for getting the most out of his players.  The current line combinations are of the most benefit for Byfuglien and Versteeg.  It's my belief that these two players need to be challenged in order to be successful.  Buff is a big man who has wanted to play small earlier in his career.  He never wanted to be pigeon-holed as a banger on a third or fourth line.  The pairing with Kane works because Buff will be willing to use his body down low knowing that scoring opportunities will result.  Versteeg is a more skilled player, but I think he's also a complimentary skater rather than a guy you build a line around.  Steeger needs other skilled players with him in order to thrive.

I think Quenneville placed Toews and Kane on seperate lines with the addition of Hossa in mind.  Arguments can be made for putting Hossa on either line combination.  A pairing with Kane would free up ice for each of the skilled forwards.  Matching Hossa and Toews also provides intriguing possibilities.  Either way, Coach Q now has a couple of months to evaluate his new combinations.  If the Bolland-Kane-Byfuglien line continues to mature into a potent trio, Toews will welcome Hossa as a new linemate.  With Hossa added to the roster, no other team in hockey will match the Blackhawks top two lines.

Who is the odd man out?  The choice will fall to Sharp and Versteeg.  Both forwards are top six skaters.  Even though he spent time on the fourth line during the playoffs, Sharp does not belong on the bottom tier.  Steeger could fit on the third line, but I believe his stats would erode without skating along side someone such as Toews.  Take your pick, but someone will have to go.

Is Stan Bowman already contacting other GM's inquiring about available defenseman and goaltenders?  By January, other clubs will have their choice of Sharp or Versteeg.  You may not like parting with either player, but it's just the facts.  A rash of injuries could change the plans, but that will be the only way Bowman doesn't pull the trigger on a midseason deal.

Once again, Quenneville has demonstrated the ability to evaluate his talent and distribute it accordingly.  The Blackhawks' second year coach deserves credit for the Toews-Kane split.  If the first two games are any indication, the line combinations worked like a charm.  Coach Q broke open the safe and struck gold.

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7 Comments

Dave Morris said:

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Mark, another first-rate article from you...thanks for your consistently stellar work.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this Hawks squad, who seem have more 'edge' with these line combos, do against their lifelong opponents from D-troit.

It appears, by the way, the Blues may be formidable foes this year. Good for hockey fans overall.

And if you could trade for a goalie or defenseman, who would that be?

Cheers.

Forklift said:

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The piece that seems the most expendable, sadly, is Cam Barker. He's getting paid way to much for third-pair minutes.

I do think maybe a combination of Barker and Versteeg (I'd keep Sharp, who is a superior all-around forward) for an expiring contract would not only give the Hawks a hired gun for a playoff push, but would also give them the cap space needed to sign The Three come next summer.

Mark Kiley said:

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I agree that Barker is over-paid in relation to his minutes. I think that has more to do with the roster of defenseman more than Cam himself. He's too similar to the much higher paid Campbell.

I'm not opposed to a Barker-Versteeg deal that nets the Hawks a physical D-man in return that would also shed salary.

Morris, at the moment, I have no idea who that player could be.

Stylin19 said:

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Just an idea to clear up some cap room for next season, what about trying to dump Huet midseason for some lower salary and maybe some draft picks down the road. Neimi is showing he can be just as solid of a goalie as Huet and for a lot cheaper. Leaving space for Kane, Toews, Keith and Seabrook. Thoughts?

Forklift said:

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Aside from the fact that Niemi still isn't proven as an NHL goalie beyond a couple starts, why would anyone want to pay Cristobal Huet what the Hawks are paying him? Last year Huet was a UFA, and everyone had a shot at him then.
And for everyone with seller's remorse over Khabibulin, he's already had his first meltdown in Edmonton, and has 3 seasons before his contract year. Trust me, the Hawks dodged a bullet there.

Jamieroquai said:

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I would keep Sharp and Kane together because taking Kane away from Sharp will lower Sharp's production. During his first year with the Hawks, Sharp scored 20 goals and notched 15 assists for 35 points, which amounts to 0.43 points per game. The following year Sharp got stuck on a line with Kane and he scored 36 goals and 26 assists for 62 points, which amounts to 0.75 points per game. Last year Sharp missed 20 games or so due to injury but still ended up averaging 0.72 points per game.

With his passing ability and vision, Kane would probably increase the offensive production of any player on his line. Hossa will get his points with or without Kane, but I think Sharp needs Kane to be the type of offensive threat we need him to be.

Mark Kiley said:

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Sharp skated mostly with Toews this past weekend and was successful netting two goals. Sharpie will perform on either of the top two lines.

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