As the NHL trade deadline approaches, Blackhawks fans are squarely focused on the team acquiring a second-line center.
But could the Hawks have an answer on the roster already?
Dave Bolland simply isn’t getting it done, offensively or in faceoffs. This season, Bolland is winning only 44.1 percent of his even-strength faceoffs, and his faceoff win percentage has dropped from 46.8 percent in February to 44.7 percent in March. And he hasn’t scored a goal in a month.
There will certainly be some names that are thrown around the trade rumors in the coming week. Dallas’ Derek Roy and Vernon Fiddler could both make sense on this Hawks roster, as could Washington’s Mike Ribeiro and Matt Hendricks and Buffalo’s Steve Ott. It seems everyone has a favorite, as is the case every trade deadline.
The Hawks might not want to part ways with the prospects being asked for the player(s) they desire. Certainly the return Calgary received for Jarome Iginla could help bring the market down a little, but Iginla had all of the power in that scenario and Pittsburgh (and Boston and LA for that matter) knew they weren’t bidding against 28 other teams.
That won’t be the case for some of those other names.
If the Blackhawks aren’t able to make the right deal, should they consider moving Marcus Kruger back up to the second line when Patrick Sharp returns?
In 12 games in March, Kruger has three assists while averaging 13:32 of ice time, primarily as a fourth line center and killing penalties. Bolland, meanwhile, has five assists in 10 games in March while averaging 17:15 on the ice per night as the team’s second line center.
Only three Blackhawks forwards – Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad – are averaging more ice time per night in March than Bolland. All three of them are point-per-game performers over that stretch.
Consider for a moment these trends inside Kruger’s numbers.
He’s winning 48.6 percent of his even-strength draws this year, and his overall faceoff percentage has improved from 43.4 percent in February to 47.4 percent in March.
Kruger’s 47.4 percent at the dot in March compares favorably with the list of potential trade targets outlined above. In fact, it’s just behind Roy (47.6), who has nine points in March.
While Ott is winning 56.6 percent of his faceoffs this month, he has 23 PIM and eight points in 12 games. Ribeiro has 13 points in 13 games this month, but is winning only 39.3 percent of his faceoffs.
For the season, Kruger is averaging 1.57 even-strength points per 60 minutes, more than Andrew Shaw (1.34) or Bolland (1.23). When looking at potential trade targets, Kruger’s even-strength points per 60 minutes stack up well. Ott (1.49), Hendricks (1.23) and Fiddler (1.01) are lower, while Roy (2.25) and Ribeiro (2.24) came in with better numbers.
Digging deeper, though, we find that Kruger is having an interesting month at the dot.
Kruger has struggled the most in the offensive zone in March, winning only 17 of 39 faceoffs (43.6 percent). His work in the defensive zone is better (45.7 percent). But in the neutral zone, Kruger is having a very strong month. He has won 24 of 45 neutral zone faceoffs (53.3 percent) in March, a number that increases to 61.1 percent (22 of 36) if we remove a poor performance on March 1.
Kruger’s CORSI numbers indicate Kruger is doing more with less, and is actually generating more offense than Bolland.
Kruger’s on-ice CORSI (9.96) ranks sixth among Blackhawks forwards, while Bolland’s on-ice CORSI (-13.21) ranks dead last on the roster. Also, Kruger’s relative CORSI (4.0) ranks sixth among Hawks forwards; only Jimmy Hayes (-25.6) ranks lower than Bolland (-25.3) in relative CORSI.
One of the most telling differences between the two is where their 5-on-5 shifts start and end.
Only 35.8 percent of Kruger’s even-strength shifts start in the offensive zone, the lowest total on the roster; Bolland is currently only one spot ahead of Kruger, but starts 49.5 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone.
However, Kruger’s shifts end in the offensive zone 52 percent of the time, a 16.2 percent jump. Bolland’s shifts end in the offensive zone only 45.8 percent of the time.
What does all of this mean?
Obviously the Blackhawks would like to have someone producing more offense as the center on the team’s second line than Bolland has to date, and clearly they need someone who can win faceoffs on a more consistent basis. But it might not be a terrible idea to give Kruger a shot in that role. He’s certainly earned it.