On what line will Dave Bolland be most effective?
Will Bolland fill Chicago's glaring need at the number two center position? Will he remain at the heart of the 'Hawks checking line?
The way the organization slots Bolland into the lineup next season dictates the direction GM Stan Bowman ventures in obtaining another center. Where The Rat lines up is the subject of great debate.
So are the concerns for how many games Bolland is capable of playing next season.
Bolland's forays in and out of the lineup over the past two seasons have been as frustrating to fans as his defensive tenacity is to opposing forwards. After missing over half the regular season in 2009-10 with back surgery, Bolland played in just 61 games this season.
Bolland did not look comfortable in the early going. He missed six straight games with an upper body injury (ribs), prompting questions of his surgically-repaired back. Was it more the added responsibility of centering the second line rather than an injury that hampered him?
Bolland began to find his game in December. In his last 40 games before suffering the concussion that ended his regular season, Bolland had 14 goals, 32 points, and was plus-11. He was a big part of Chicago's eight-game win steak that put the 'Hawks back in the playoff picture.
Bolland also make his mark in the playoffs, coming out to lead Chicago to a Game 4 victory with a four-point night against the Canucks. He notched two more points in the Blackhawks' Game 6 win and played on a very effective checking line with Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik.
This is where the discussion begins. What is Bowman's plan for Dave Bolland?
Bolland can be an elite defensive center on the third line. The offense he provides at this spot, coupled with the headaches he creates the opposition's top scorers, is the kind of luxury desired by a team looking to get back to the top of the league.
On the other side of the equation is the $3.375 million price tag attached to Bolland.
The Blackhawks signed Bolland to that kind of money to be the second line center. How important to the organization is it that they play him in that role?
Well, Chicago is paying their third defenseman over seven million dollars next season.
They are shelling out over five million so that Cristobal Huet can man the net in Switzerland.
Compared to those contracts, overpaying Bolland a bit for what he brings to the third center role isn't a big concern to me. If we get 40 or 50 points a year from him and get shutdown defense, it's money well spent. The 'Hawks are a deeper, and better team with him there.
However, can Chicago find the right man to center that second line?
With prospects like Marcus Kruger and Brandon Pirri still a ways from taking on a top-six role in the 'Hawks offense, a one or two-year solution is needed until Chicago has a candidate from within the organization to fill that role.
What is the best lineup at center for the Blackhawks?
The free agent pickings are not in the 'Hawks favor. A guy like Florida's Marty Reasoner (who stopped off in Chicago briefly this past summer) may be cheap enough to sign, but would he be able to put up the numbers the 'Hawks are looking for?
Bowman likely needs to trade for the missing piece at center. It will be a tall order to find a scorer and distributor of the puck who doesn't command an excessive cap number.
I like the prospect of Bowman trading for Stephen Weiss, who has two years at $3.1 million on the cap remaining. That would allow the 'Hawks to groom a prospect. Chicago has plenty of draft picks and talented youngsters to swap, but can they afford the cap hit?
The team could decide that the answer is moving Patrick Sharp back to center.
Sharp has been effective at the position, although he prefers the action on the wing. Having a player with that versatility is vital, as Bolland's medical history says it might be tough to expect 82 games out of him.
Sharp is a very solid insurance policy at the center position. Should he be expected to play there on a full-time basis?
Another option for Chicago is to use Bolland on the second line, making Bowman hunt for a checking center instead. This might give the club more cost-effective options to obtain such a player.
The 'Hawks have Bolland signed for the next three seasons. If they have a player who can stay healthy and play in most of Chicago's games in that stretch, it's possible that Bolland works out on either line.
Of all the circumstances surrounding Bolland's role on the Blackhawks, his future health remains the biggest question mark of all.