Who is centering that second line? That seems to be the question Joel Quenneville and the Chicago Blackhawks have been asking for years.
Everyone knows that captain Jonathan Toews will be centering that top line and, when healthy, Dave Bolland is probably manning the middle of that third “checking” line, but then what?
Unfortunately, over the years, the task of centering the second line has fallen on the shoulders of Patrick Sharp, who does a good job, but would be better suited out on the wing.
Around the time of the Blackhawks Convention this summer, I thought GM Stan Bowman would ideally have liked Toews, Bolland, Marcus Kruger and Jamal Mayers centering the four lines.
However, Stan Bowman decided not to go out and find an outside answer for that second-line center, instead hoping they could fill it from within and maybe make a trade during the season.
Now, with Patrick Sharp missing most of the preseason, Dave Bolland being a little banged up and management favorite Marcus Kruger struggling, many are questioning the thought process behind not bringing someone in.
Who is going to center all these lines?
Like I said, we know Toews will be on that top line and Dave Bolland will be centering either that second or third line when healthy. However, if Bolland is going to miss 20 games per season, can they really depend on him to center that second line?
Who should center the second line?
The other choices right now are either Patrick Sharp or Patrick Kane.
If Sharp is healthy and ready to go, it is probably his job, but the idea of Kane at center is interesting. During his first real action there on Wednesday, he won eight of the 12 faceoffs he took. The real question with him is if he can handle the defensive duties of being a center.
I mentioned on my radio show on Friday that a line of Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp could be ideal. That lineup would allow Kane to play center on offense and then have Sharp man the duties on defense.
With Kane or Sharp manning center on the second line, it would allow Dave Bolland to stay on the third line, which is possibly the best spot for him. We have all seen how effective he can be in that role during the playoffs in the last few years and his staying there makes the Hawks better.
So, with the first three lines settled, we come to the fourth line.
In a perfect world, I think Marcus Kruger and Brandon Pirri would both benefit from spending the season in Rockford. While Kurger has struggled, Pirri has impressed. But being only 20, is he ready for the big leagues?
Over the past few years they have played with young guys like Jake Dowell and Colin Fraser with so-so success, but when they had a veteran like John Madden there, they won the Stanley Cup. The other guy in line to center that fourth line is Jamal Mayer who, like many on this team, is more of a winger than a center.
Another guy on the team who could center one of the lines is Michael Frolik, but I think and feel he agrees only in a pinch or for a few games.
Speaking of John Madden, he is currently a free agent. So, if Joel Quenneville isn’t happy with that fourth line, there is a guy out there that Stan Bowman can sign who knows the system.
Ultimately, I think we may see all the guys I mentioned in some combo centering these lines because Coach Q loves to mix things up as season's progress.
But, no matter what, I would expect management to add a center to the mix at some point during the season. Over the last two preseason games we will hopefully get some answers.
Like I said, we know Jonathan Toews is centering the first line, but after that I don’t think anyone really knows.