The Chicago Blackhawks sure could use a solid center on their second line. That's been a familiar lament for the past several seasons. Is GM Stan Bowman going to address the issue this summer, or does he believe that he already has the solution in house?
Bowman thought he had the answer a season ago, as we came to find out as training camp approached. Patrick Kane slid into the middle for portions of the 2011-12 season with mixed results.
Coach Joel Quenneville used a variety of approaches to the second line, leaving a vacancy that begs to be filled on a more permanent basis. Does that get done this summer, or are we in for a rotating committee at the position?
Here are six options at Bowman's disposal to find that elusive piece in the middle.
If Bowman continues to think he's hit on the solution in Kane, expect to see lots of him in the middle. Using one of his more versatile wings in that fashion has worked before.
Case in point: Patrick Sharp.
Sharp is still the best stop-gap measure at center, as he is capable of being effective in his own end of the ice. He did, after all, hold down the job when Chicago won the Stanley Cup.
Sharp spent a bit of time at center later last season when Jonathan Toews was out, but it doesn't appear that he wishes to be there permanently. His skills translate better to wing, as do Kane's when you toss in the faceoff and defensive responsibilities.
The wait has been on for Bolland to make that jump from the checking line. Despite matching his career-high in goals last season, it hasn't happened.
At this point, it seems like Bolland's skills are prioritized on the third line. The team doesn't seem to think they can find a match for his defensive game that would tempt them to bump him up.
It seems that promoting Bolland and finding a solid checking center in free agency or a trade would not be difficult. However, the 'Hawks like Bolland and his reputation right where he is.
The two young players who could be earmarked for the role are Marcus Kruger and Brandon Pirri. Both are left-hand shooters, which is the preference of Marian Hossa (assuming he's ready to go when camp starts).
Bowman would love Kruger to inherit the job, as it vindicates his ability to select talent. Kruger had a solid run on the second line this spring and has the play-making skills to merit consideration.
Pirri led Rockford in scoring last season and is eager to show that he's ready to play full-time in the NHL. I'm not sure management believes that quite yet, but he is a good fit for what he could add offensively.
If the front office isn't of the mindset that Pirri is the heir apparent, they could include him in a deal to obtain a long-term solution.
In fact, Bowman has plenty of prospects stockpiled in the organization that could be used to get his man in the middle. Bowman simply needs to decide on which up-and-comers he can let go.
As long as he's not to attached to his prospects, this is a viable solution.
This seems the least likely of scenarios, as the pool at center wasn't deep to begin with.
The 'Hawks were obviously interested in Olli Jokinen, who signed with the Jets. The only guy worth even a passing glance would be a guy Winnipeg is letting walk.
Kyle Wellwood is the type of playmaker that would fit well on the second line. He has good vision and a lot of touch with the puck. He probably could be brought in on the cheap, even after setting a career-high with 47 points (18 goals, 29 assists) last season.
His skating leaves much to be desired, and there are questions about his motor. He is not a physical or defensive type. There's always the chance that he's figured it out and has some more consistent hockey in him. However, Wellwood is a roll of the dice at best.
Bowman could just maintain the status quo on the second line on the theory that Chicago scores enough to get by without a full-time center.
He could be of the mindset that Kruger, Pirri or an up-and-comer like Philp Danault will soon be ready to be that player. Making do until then could be the plan.
In that case, be ready to see several players log minutes there again in 2012-13.