It has been reported by many sources that Jonathan Toews has been skating consistently enough to get cleared for contact. Many of these sources, including Q himself, have stated the great possibility that Toews might play in the Thursday's game against the Wild. This news has a lot of significance for the Blackhawk community. First off, should we be pressuring his return, and second, how will this change the current line situation the Hawks have found some chemistry with?
To the first question; I am hesitant to see Toews back as soon as Thursday. With all that has gone on in the league with these kinds of injuries, and what recently took place with Montador, it only adds weight to the argument of holding off until there is ample time for him to skate with contact, and until the Hawks absolutely need him. Yes, I want to see Toews play this year, but I would rather watch him play for the next 10+ years healthy. Since I have no idea what his condition is, I probably have no place giving my 2 cents, but here it is anyway. Wait until the playoffs in the least. Let him scrimmage with the team until then. Depending on who the Hawks will have in round 1, it might even be a good idea to give it a few games then. Toews sustaining further injury is just way too costly.
Another buzz going around the internet is how Q will be faced with the burden of finding the right place for Toews in the new line combos upon his return. It has been mentioned that this is a good problem to have, and one Q has not had all season. I do not concur. Yes, Q has had this problem all year, as none of the forwards have changed names throughout the season, but he has not done the best job of getting the best out of players until now, which is the only thing that has changed.
Why has it improved, you ask? Well, I have to say that there has been a lot less of the line-juggling that we have complained about so vehemently for the past few years. Thats a start. It seems that having some time to get comfortable with their line-mates among a few other things has allowed us to see the best some of these individuals have.
As a result of getting consistent ice-time on a top line, Stalberg has been dominating lately. That chemistry I just spoke of has been booming on the 2nd line. Sharp and Stalberg look to be a great pairing on the wings, and Kruger has fit between them pretty darn well. This has been the best Hawks line for the past couple of weeks, and I see no reason to mess with a good thing. It is a great example of getting the best that each players has in them.
Against my better judgement, Kane has been performing fairly well at the center position with Hossa and Brunette taking his wings. This makes it seem wrong to take Kane out of the center position. But, should Q decide to place Toews back on the top line with Kane and Hossa, knocking Brunette down to the 3rd or 4th line?
Yes, this is a good problem to have, but I fear that Q will make the wrong move like he has so many times before. Line chemistry, and roles are a big reason why the Hawks have stepped it up lately. For me, the biggest dilemma is whether or not to knock Kane off of the center position. Given his recent performance there, doing so might not be the best for the team. But, Toews is as good a center out there, Kruger has performed well in that position, and Bolland is no-brainer. That leaves only one option, which is to move Kane back to the wing.
Here is my crazy proposal:
Toews and Kane make line one, with Brunette staying on the wing. His board work, and ability to get to the front of the net will be very important with on this line, most importantly getting in front of the net. In fact, I suggest having someone on every line who's main job is to do just that. Toews is great along the boards and this will allow for a great cycle out of this line, and for Brunette to do the dirty work in front. Plus, he is a veteran which is nice in the playoffs.
Stalberg and Sharp are kept together on the 2nd line with Kruger as the center. Kruger will be the body crashing the net in this scenario. Like I said, do not mess with a good thing.
So where is Hossa you ask? Well, given that I think we are seeing Hossa's move into playoff mode as he has proven to do so many years in a row now, which is to say, he will not be doing close to as much scoring anymore; he might be better suited for the shutdown role with Bolland. Bolland and Hossa play a similar style and have shown chemistry before when placed together. I used to be calling for Bolland to center the 2nd line with Hossa, but now see the better option is to move Hossa to the 3rd line at playoff time.
What does this mean for the Hawks? It means 3 superior lines for the them to role through the playoffs and more flexibility with them. Rolling the lines more evenly has been another key to the recent success of the Hawks. The last question for me is then, who is the other winger on line 3? Shaw has been the guy going to net for this line, but he shoots righty just as Hossa does, which might make the case for Bickell (and given his size) to stay. Plus, Bickell has brought his game up a tad, and Shaw is prone to mistakes. However, I see Shaw's ability to get in front of the net, and cause mayhem as winning him the role as 3rd line winger for now. Bickell goes to the 4th line for the moment in my scheme.
You might be thinking that this sounds a bit crazy, but so did hearing me say that Stalberg would be an elite player by next year, and that doesn't sound so crazy anymore.
BTW, are we hoping for a win tonight? I see no other way.