Coach Joel Quenneville's desire to keep the players on their toes has meant ever changing forward lines for the Chicago Blackhawks. That's been Quenneville's M.O. for as long as he's been coach of the team.
Maybe the best change would be no change at all.
Quenneville trotted out a new round of lines in preparation for a big game in Nashville Tuesday night. The combinations looked like this:
Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Andrew Brunette-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell-Dave Bolland-Viktor Stalberg
Jamal Mayers-Brendan Morrison-Andrew Shaw
The first line combination was one of the hottest in the league around this time last season, yet Quenneville has barely used this group together in the 2011-12 campaign. Then again, the coach isn't famous for letting chemistry develop over time.
If Quenneville holds true to form, he will give these combinations a period or two to produce instant results, then start tossing out variations of his Random Line Generator if the 'Hawks fail to keep the lamp lit. It's practically a foregone conclusion that he will shuffle the lines, and to tell you the truth, I'm getting a little tired of it.
Looking at these lines for 60 minutes wouldn't be a bad thing, would it? Maybe we could even see some of these lines together for a week or two before switching out parts seemingly at random?
How should Joel Quenneville handle his lines?
This is a team built on a core of stars, right? Shouldn't those players get consistent time with the same linemates?
They do on teams like the Canucks and Red Wings. Chicago's most common combination, Toews centering Kane and Viktor Stalberg, has been used less than eight percent of the time this season despite yielding good results.
Compare that with Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit, who centers Todd Bertuzzi and Johan Franzen nearly twice as often. The Sedins and Alex Burrows together account for over 20 percent of the Canucks ice time.
I'm all for changing things up when they don't work, but there's something to be said for persistence. These are professional hockey players, not seven-year olds trying to build model airplanes.
Andrew Brunette was picked up to be a top-six forward. I saw him as a good fit on the second line with Marian Hossa, but the two have barely played together at even strength. Quenneville should let the two veterans explore all facets of their game and how they might mesh before throwing in the towel.
I like the potential of Shaw with two longtime players in Morrison and Mayers. Why not let this group settle in and see what its capable of?
Injuries and such are going to have a bearing on who's together on the ice, but it seems odd that the top guys don't get more time in consistent groups. Hossa, in particular, has made it known that he prefers to have a center he can count on skating with every night.
I can understand that Quenneville wants to try different combinations to see what could work in the future as well as to provide a fresh look from time to time. At the same time, guys like Bickell, Stalberg, and Michael Frolik don't necessarily profit from being constantly switched up and down the lineup.
A guy like Shaw is going to skate hard, get to the net, and get greasy goals regardless of what line he is skating on. Other developing players like Jeremy Morin and Ben Smith might benefit from regular linemates.
The argument can be made that Quenneville's constant shuffling has brought the Stanley Cup to Chicago and produced top-tier offensive numbers. The 'Hawks are still third in the Western Conference in goals scored, after all. But is that because of the constant change, or in spite of it?