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With the NHL trade deadline fast approaching, there is no player on the Chicago Blackhawks that has been under more scrutiny than second line center Dave Bolland.
Bolland was looked at by head coach Joel Quenneville to have an improved offensive campaign this year, but with no goals scored in his past 13 games and only 12 points overall to his credit this year, it is safe to say that he isn’t living up to expectations.
And he knows it.
“My offense isn’t where it should be,” he told Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune. “It’s a little different playing on the second line and doing what I do. It’s something I just have to keep battling through.”
“Doing what I do” in Bolland’s case is antagonizing an opponent’s top line offensive talent. That ability has been on display quite a bit during the playoffs the past few seasons, and Bolland recognizes that is his niche on the club.
Kuc states in the article that “Bolland is confident he will ratchet up his game as the regular season draws to a close and the playoffs begin.” Bolland backs this up by saying of his own game that “something always gets you going about the playoffs.”
Quotes aside, it’s time to give Bolland a bit of a reality check. With only 16 games left in this shortened season, let’s take a look at how Bolland has fared over that same stretch of games in each of the past three seasons:
A caveat about those numbers is that Bolland has missed time at the end of each of the past two seasons. In 2010-11, he missed the last month of the regular season and didn’t come back until the middle of the Hawks’ first round playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks. In addition, he also missed the last two games of the 2011-12 season with an upper body injury, but recovered to play throughout the first round against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Now let’s take a look at Bolland’s playoff numbers:
Bolland’s numbers aren’t necessarily bad during the last stretch of the season, and there is a compelling argument to be made that since he was busy playing largely defensive minutes during that time, that his offensive numbers should improve with better linemates and more ice time. It’s another quote from Bolland, however, that betrays this assumption as a bad one:
“Their checking line is against us (Bolland and his linemates Patrick Kane and Jimmy Hayes/Patrick Sharp) so it has changed. It’s a little different from that third line when you dump and chase and get that puck in.”
It is this little bit of honesty from Bolland that exposes why any expectation of him being able to be a productive second line center is false hope. The fact of the matter is that if Bolland stays on that grouping with Kane and Sharp, he isn’t going to get those favorable matchups that he has been able to get in the past during the playoffs. When the Hawks are facing off with a team like the Los Angeles Kings or the Vancouver Canucks who can play a physical brand of hockey with their third line, much like Bolland used to do against them, then Bolland simply isn’t able to do the things necessary on offense to be a quality second line center in this league.
The Blackhawks would be much better served if they were go out and obtain a guy who is used to playing top-six minutes and can actually distribute the puck. Doing that would enable not only Bolland to drop down to the third line where he is more effective, but would also give Andrew Shaw the chance to switch back to the wing position that he is more comfortable in.
Dave Bolland is not a bad player. He is just being misused by the Blackhawks at a time when they are going to need his skill set the most. If Stan Bowman is in a position to make a good acquisition to put at that second line center slot, then he needs to do it. Bolland has the confidence to do the job, but unfortunately, that’s a lot different than having the ability to do so.