Chicago Blackhawks: Opening Line Assignments Create Intrigue

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IOctober 2, 2009

DETROIT - MAY 27:  Dustin Byfuglien #33 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates against the Detroit Red Wings during Game Five of the Western Conference Championship Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 27, 2009 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. The Red Wings won 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

As the Chicago Blackhawks prepare to drop the puck in Helsinki, Finland, to begin their 2009-10 season, Coach Joel Quenneville has stirred the pot already.

The opening line pairings were announced before the game, and the groups are intriguing to say the least.

Of course, Captain Jonathan Toews will skate with Patrick Kane, but their wingman today will be Dustin Byfuglien. That moves Patrick Sharp to the second line, with center David Bolland and last year's rookie star Kris Versteeg.

Newly acquired center John Madden will skate with the third line, accompanied by Troy Brouwer and Andrew Ladd, with new wing Tomas Kopecky skating with Colin Fraser and Ben Eager on the fourth line.

Also creating interest is the defensive pairings. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, one of the best duos in the entire NHL, will stay together, but that's where it becomes interesting.

Youngster Niklas Hjalmarsson will skate with Brian Campbell as he did for much of the second half last year.

Hjalmarsson playing next to Campbell, though, means Cam Barker (and his $3 million salary) will be on the third defensive line.

He'll be paired with Brent Sopel, who spent all of last season injured. According to reports, though, Sopel has been among the most impressive skaters during pre-season camp for the Hawks.

Quenneville has a history of his lines being a fluid situation, and whomever skates with Toews and Kane until Marian Hossa returns in November is obviously temporary.

But moving Byfuglien up indicates that the Hawks are high on the physical presence he brought to the ice late last year.

Chicago is also likely trying to get the second line of Bolland, Sharp, and Versteeg together as a potential season-long group.

Behind Cristobal Huet will be Anti Niemi, as Corey Crawford has cleared waivers and will likely be headed for the AHL when the team returns to American soil.