Chicago Blackhawks Roundtable: Toews’ Linemates And Good D-Men

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Nov 23, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) watches the puck in the first period of the game against San Jose Sharks at SAP Center at San Jose. The San Jose Sharks defeated the Chicago Blackhawks with a score of 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

This week’s Chicago Blackhawks roundtable is brought to you by Blackhawk Up wishing Jonathan Toews was back in the lineup

There’s often more questions associated with a team when it’s struggling or losing than when everything is going great. Such is the case with the Chicago Blackhawks, who have lost their last two games and didn’t look real great in winning the previous week’s other two contests.

Much of this consternation centers on injured Jonathan Toews and recovering Corey Crawford. At least we know specifically what’s going on with Crow — an emergency appendectomy could keep him out up to three weeks from last Saturday.

But Toews has missed the last six games with a mysterious back injury. We thought he might play against Philadelphia on Saturday, but he didn’t. We then thought he might suit up against Winnipeg on Sunday, but again he didn’t.

Toews will eventually be back (right?), so what better time than to center our Chicago Blackhawks roundtable on him? The other question this week doesn’t necessarily have to do with Crow and the goaltending, but it certainly has to do with defending the net.

So here are this week’s questions for our stable of writers to answer:

Question 1: Who should the Blackhawks surround Jonathan Toews with upon his return from injury and why?

Question 2: Which defenseman have you been most impressed with so far this season and why?

Let’s see what everyone had to say.

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Dec 1, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa (81) celebrates with teammates after scoring the game-winning goal against the New Jersey Devils in overtime at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Bradshaw

Question 1: I think it’s very clear that Marian Hossa has turned back the clock so far this season. With that being said, maybe a reuniting of Toews and Hossa would be the best call. Throw in Vincent Hinostroza and I’d say the top line would look rather good given the success of Hossa and Hinostroza on the Triple H line.

Question 2: It’s really hard not to say any of the veterans here, but I’m going to go with Michal Kempny. With Kempny, there’s not much flash to his game but there is solid consistency. He seems so poised on every shift and seems to truly fit into the ’Hawks’ system. I sure would love to see him get that first goal, though!

George Clifford

Question 1: I’d like to see Toews with Ryan Hartman skating on the left wing and Marian Hossa on the right. Hossa has been one of the most productive ‘Hawks this season and already shares a synergistic on-ice chemistry with Toews.

With three goals on the seven-game Circus Trip, Hartman has shown the ability to finish and could thrive with the playmaking of Toews.

With Hartman, Toews, and Hossa skating on the top line, Coach Q can continue to roll Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane on the second line, and Dennis Rasmussen, Marcus Kruger and Richard Panik on the checking line.

Question 2: Brent Seabrook. With 15 points in 27 games, Brent Seabrook is on track to match his career-high 49 points from last season. The big, durable defenseman has already put up five multi-point games, the most of any Blackhawk blueliner, while taking penalties in only two games so far.

Blackhawks fans want to see more goals launched from Seabrook’s stick, but he’s already sprung countless scoring plays with his masterful stretch pass. In today’s NHL free agent market, Seabs is worth every bit of his 8-year, $55 million contract.

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Dec 1, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) controls the puck against New Jersey Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy (12) during the first period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Fitzgerald

Question 1: Jonathan Toews should play with Tyler Motte and Andrew Desjardins on the same line. All three of these guys are grinding forwards who can score and wear down the other team. Well, Motte and Toews can score.

Question 2: I have most impressed with Duncan Keith. Keith was rumored to start the year on IR with a knee injury. He sat out the World Cup of Hockey because of the knee.

Keith has appeared in all 26 games and has played an average of 26:03 minutes a night. That figure is his highest average minutes total since 2011-12. While Keith has zero goals, he does have 17 assists this year.

Aaron Goldschmidt

Question 1: Ryan Hartman and Marian Hossa should flank Jonathan Toews when he returns. Hossa has been the driving force this year for the Blackhawks and Hartman is finding a nice scoring touch. The ’Hawks should play the hot hand and throw this line together in offensive zone draws. It will be nice winning a few of those with Toews returns, too.

Question 2: Because none of the top guys have stood out to me, I’m going with Michal Rozsival. With TVR out and Forsling learning the game, Rozy has played a lot more than I thought he would and he’s been serviceable. I also like that he plays with an edge below the circles. We’ll probably see him more come playoff time, but hopefully it won’t be a Kimmo Timonen liability situation.

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Dec 1, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) celebrates after scoring a goal against the New Jersey Devils during the second period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Gail Kauchak

Question 1: The Triple H line has been doing an admirable job filling in as the second line during Toews’ absence. To me, it makes sense to keep two of these three together and move Hartman and Hossa up with Toews.

Don’t mess with Panarin-Anisimov-Kane. They haven’t looked all that great lately, but they will do better back with second-line competition. Dennis Rasmussen-Marcus Kruger-Richard Panik has been the best line on the ice in recent games; leave it alone. And with Nick Schmaltz being sent down, Hinostroza can fortify the fourth-line center spot.

So the lines look like this:

Hartman-Toews-Hossa

Panarin-Anisimov-Kane

Rasmussen-Kruger-Panik

Desi-Hinostroza-Motte/Tootoo

Question 2: Hjalmarsson, Hjalmarsson, Hjalmarsson!

Niklas Hjalmarsson is one of the most underrated defensemen in the NHL. He’s a defensive defenseman, but he’s not afraid to pitch in offensively when needed (see his goal last Thursday against the Devils).

He can play on the left or right side, making him a highly versatile option for the coaching staff. He blocks shots, and he’s got a great stick and a great gap. This man can do it all! Speaking of which, I need to get my Hjalmarsson jersey out of the laundry.

Colin Likas

Question 1: I’m probably the only person in this roundtable who is going to suggest the Blackhawks’ typical second line be broken up once Toews returns, but here we go. Toews should be paired with Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane upon his return from injury.

Here’s the thing. Toews seems to actually need someone to help him produce points this season. The captain had just four goals in 21 games to go with eight assists. Not an impressive output from your top-line center. Sure, Toews does more than produce points, but you kind of need him to put the puck in the net or help it get there with the youth on Chicago’s roster this season.

Kane helps with that. The typical nuclear option was producing pretty well earlier this season. We know those two have chemistry, and Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov do not need Kane to be offensively productive. Don’t give them Jordin Tootoo or Andrew Desjardins on the right wing, but almost anyone else would work (Tyler Motte?).

Hartman has looked good of late, mostly playing with Marian Hossa and Vincent Hinostroza. Imagine what Hartman might be able to do with playmaker Kane and all-around solid player Toews on his line? For everyone who wants Andrew Shaw 2.0, this is the chance.

Question 2: Michal Kempny. Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook take the runners-up award, but it has to be Kempny.

No, he doesn’t have the point total of Seabrook or Duncan Keith. The only player he’s outscoring (minus those who haven’t totaled a point yet) is Michal Rozsival — who has been decent in his own right. But it isn’t about the offense with Kempny.

The former KHLer has shown no apprehension about playing his first season on North American ice, and it’s almost as if there hasn’t been a learning curve. The guy looks extremely comfortable in his own zone, doesn’t get caught out of position much and wins a lot of board battles. He’s even been trying to pinch in on some offensive plays of late.

Kempny, in turn, has made Seabrook look good as well. The two play well off each other, with Kempny more defensive-minded and Seabrook aiming to set up offense. That’s why it was baffling when Kempny took a multi-game seat recently — only to return to babysit Trevor van Riemsdyk for a game. That has to be the most conflicting signal of trust/non-trust in the history of Joel Quenneville being a coach.

Regardless, Kempny has been the Blackhawks’ most surprising and successful blueliner so far this season.

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