Blackhawks Offseason Outlook: Centers

Blackhawks When Marcus Kruger signed a two-year contract to stay with the Chicago Blackhawks, it cleared up a few things. The team sits right around $2.5 million under the salary cap; so once Kruger’s official number is reported, they will be even closer to the ceiling. That means his signing is most-likely the last major move of the offseason for the reining Stanley Cup Champions.

The depth chart down the middle of the ice is basically set. Jonathan Toews is a leader in every facet of the game. He can be counted on in all situations. Toews has eclipsed the 20-goal mark in each of his six seasons with the team, including last year when it was shortened to 48 games. He was named the best defensive forward when he won the Selke Trophy.

A very close eye will be kept on the battle for the second center position. Michal Handzus filled in admirably in parts of last year and may have had the biggest goal of the postseason. In Game 6 of the series against the Detroit Red Wings, the ‘Hawks entered the third period a mere 20 minutes away from elimination. Handzus scored less than a minute into the final frame and the team caught fire.

There is a chance the team would rather fill that spot with a younger, more offensive-minded player. Brandon Pirri basically fits that description to a ‘T’. He led the AHL in scoring last year and turned 22 in April. There is a chance one of their prospects impresses the coaching staff enough to keep them, but as Justyna Gluch reported during prospect camp, there was a little left to be desired from that group. The more likely scenario is that the youngsters get some more seasoning in Rockford and get called up around the Olympic break or near the trade deadline.

Kruger and Andrew Shaw probably will be interchangeable on the third and fourth lines throughout the season. They both play the game with a sense of grit. Neither has a problem with going to the front of the net. Could one of them end up playing in the top six? It’s not out of the realm of possibilities, but they are better served in grinder-type roles.

For the first time in half-a-dozen years, Dave Bolland will not be seen in a Blackhawks sweater. He was sent to Toronto during this year’s entry draft for a few draft picks. Bolland’s offensive game never reached its potential and it became frustrating. Shaw and Kruger will be under the same scrutiny next year. As well as they play defensively, at some point during the season, someone will bring up the lack of points for one or the other. They need to stay focused and do their jobs. The same can be said for anybody on the roster, but those two in particular need to ignore criticism from fans and media alike.

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