While it’s still too early to project the Blackhawks lineup for opening night of the 2020-21 season as so much more could happen with player transactions between now and training camp, we can at least make educated guesses on how to structure the forward lines and defense pairs.
Here is some food for thought to aid in predicting Chicago’s starting lineup once the regular season commences in what looks to be either January or February.
WHAT WE KNOW
By way of various public interviews, it has been declared that the Blackhawks are shifting away from a team built around the core -- which is now half of its original composition with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook remaining -- and towards a youth movement instead.
It remains to be seen whether the trend towards younger players will be a full infusion right away this upcoming season or a gradual integration over the next several years. However, if the acquisitions of Nikita Zadorov, Mattias Janmark, and Lucas Wallmark are any indication, the latter is the likely scenario.
One other thing that is known is -- at one point at the beginning of the prior season -- head coach Jeremy Colliton outwardly stated it doesn’t matter who each player is partnered with. Skillset isn’t a determining factor either. Instead, working hard and competing matter most.
While stressing work ethic and compete level is never a bad thing -- and are traits that I place at a high premium -- should they be prioritized to the point where teammate chemistry and skill are reduced to non-factors when writing out the lineup card?
That is debatable. In my opinion, it’s not an either/or situation but rather both/and. Why not leverage work ethic, compete level, teammate chemistry, and individual skill to formulate the most optimal lineup possible?
Giving credit where it’s due, I gain a great deal of how I think about forward lines from a popular and deeply respected member of the HockeyBuzz community. Most of you may know her as none other than L_B_R. Not only is she a guru with advanced statistics but she also has a keen sense of who pairs well together.
One consideration is best described by one of her most recent posts on the message board for the last blog:
"...teams are succeeding with offensive 3rd lines more than they are with checking 3rd lines. It's been more common to win with a 3O-1D line rollout than not over the years.
"...there are multiple ways to construct a roster. The Pens and Caps won through high offense; the Hawks, Blues, and now Lightning won more through balance of offense-defense. [The] Lightning were kind of a 1-2A-2B-4 kind of system where that 2B was two-way and the 4L was a traditional checking line."
Do the Hawks have the personnel to roll three offensive lines and a 4th line that plays the checking role? Or are they better off icing two offensive lines, a 3rd line that is the checking crew, and a 4th line that plays limited minutes to just agitate?
Another L_B_R axiom to consider that I put a lot of stock in is having a shooter and a playmaker on each line. I would take that one step further and add a space creator on each line as well. This third linemate creates space for the playmaker to wheel and deal and for the shooter to float to open seams for prime scoring chances.
On the backend, there are two schemes I would suggest for consideration.
One scheme that is a bit old school but still has merit is pairing a mail-carrying offensive dynamo with a physical stay-at-home defender. These complementary partners would have one player be the genius on and generator of offense while the other is the defensive conscience and muscle.
The other scheme is more modern and is predicated on having the six blueliners be all-around players who can skate well, defend using a variety of techniques (i.e. stick checking, managing gaps, closing off lanes, bumping to cause separation, playing the body), and flip the ice either by making a crisp pass out of the zone or moving the puck up ice on their own.
While not every D-man can be the total elite package like Keith or even Drew Doughty, Kris Letang, or Torey Krug -- all of whom play with an edge -- possessing these skills and using them to be a balanced player who can be effective in all zones seems to be the wave of the future.
Fortunately for the Hawks, they do have such prospects in the system -- with varying levels of this balanced two-way play -- including Lucas Carlsson, Nicolas Beaudin, Ian Mitchell, Chad Krys, Wyatt Kalynuk, Alec Regula, Slava Demin, Alex Vlasic, and Jakub Galvas.
So let’s revisit this blog again as we draw closer to training camp so we can use these formulas and plug in players who are either definitive starters or in the mix for spots that may be up for grabs.
I’m not going to project lines just yet -- maybe I’ll throw out some ideas on the message board -- but am interested to hear your ideas on how to draw up forward lines and defense pairs and who you would want in your lineup.
See you on the boards!