Jarret Stoll #28 of the Los Angeles Kings and Michal Handzus #26 of the Chicago Blackhawks jostle for position after the faceoff in the third period of Game One of the Western Conference Final during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center on June 1, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Kings 2-1. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
At the NHL’s trade deadline in April, there was plenty of talk about whether or not the Chicago Blackhawks and General Manager Stan Bowman would add any pieces to the roster. The team was well on its way to winning the Central Division title and wrapping up a President’s Trophy victory, so the debate centered on how such a move would affect the chemistry of the team.
With bigger names like Derek Roy, Jarome Iginla and countless other names on the market, the Blackhawks eschewed making a big splash and instead opted for veteran center Michal Handzus.
The move perplexed many Hawks fans, who saw only a lackluster stat line (2 points in 28 games with the San Jose Sharks before the acquisition) and an age (36 years old) that suggested his better days were behind him.
At first, those skeptics had reason to be suspicious. Handzus took a while to get going, and his lack of speed became an increasing point of contention among those who watched the team play.
The criticisms of Bowman and Handzus seemed to come to a head during the early stages of the series against the Detroit Red Wings, as Handzus only had three assists and eight shots on goal in the first nine playoff games for Chicago. With the Hawks unable to get anything going offensively, some began to wonder if maybe Bowman wasn’t capable of constructing a team that could succeed in the playoffs.
Then, beginning in Game 5 of that series, Handzus went to work proving Bowman’s vision right, and he hasn’t stopped. Over that stretch, he has two goals and three assists, and his methodical style of play has been much more of a benefit than a detriment to the Hawks’ chances.
He is responsible defensively, has deceptively quick hands on offense and has really done a good job of anchoring down the second line center spot that Dave Bolland was supposed to occupy this season. He is helping Patrick Sharp to a blistering scoring pace, and he is even taking care of business when he is out on the penalty kill as well.
Even former teammates of Handzus’ are starting to speak their minds about his critics. One such player is Ryane Clowe, who the Sharks dealt to the New York Rangers at the deadline:
I thought Handzus was too slow? Speed is great in late march, little different game in early June.
— Ryane Clowe (@ryaneclowe29) June 3, 2013
Obviously, a former teammate is going to hold bias towards an old friend, but Clowe’s words definitely carry some weight. Handzus has 13 goals and 27 assists in 88 postseason games in his career, and while that isn’t otherworldly, the Hawks don’t need him to be the big offensive stud.
They need him to be a complimentary piece, and that certainly is the vision that Bowman had in his head when he acquired the center.
Questions over the construction of the team will ultimately arise again if the Hawks don’t win the Stanley Cup, but at least in this instance, the doubters have little room to talk. Handzus is doing everything the team expects of him, and that makes him worth the cost of acquiring him.