If there is one thing that Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville has become known for during his time with the team, it has been his penchant for constantly shuffling his lines if they aren’t performing up to snuff.
This has become such a well-known personality trait that some intrepid Photoshop savants have created images of Quenneville spinning a Price is Right wheel, among others, but despite the occasional mockery and frequent parody of the moves, sometimes the coach hits the nail right on the head.
One of those instances in recent games has been the union of Bryan Bickell and Jeremy Morin on the team’s third line. In the four games the duo has been together, they have provided some serious offensive punch from the bottom six, and they’ve been instrumental in the team winning four consecutive games despite missing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane because of injuries. Morin has been the more spectacular of the two, racking up three goals and two assists while playing excellent defense at the other end of the ice.
Unfortunately for Morin, there is a possibility that he could be removed from the lineup despite his excellent production, and that’s because of the number 12. That’s the number of forwards that can dress in an NHL game, and when Toews and Kane come back from their injuries (presumably in Game 1 of the team’s first round series), the Hawks are going to have to remove two forwards from their lineup to make room.
One of those players is bound to be Joakim Nordstrom (although there’s always a possibility that Quenneville could re-insert him in place of a guy like Brandon Bollig or Brandon Saad), but the other forward that’ll trade a jersey for a suit is up for significant debate. Kris Versteeg is one of the guys whose name has been bandied about, as Stan Bowman’s “big move” this season has turned into more of a bust. Quenneville seems to have a lot of patience for the forward as he tries to find his game, and if that continues to be the case once the postseason begins, then Morin might be the next guy out of the lineup.
All things considered though, Quenneville’s loyalty to Versteeg needs some serious re-evaluation. While the veteran was brought back to Chicago because of his abilities as a two-way forward, he has become less dependable at both ends of the ice, and in some situations, he’d already be on his way to the press box instead of suiting up every night. Morin’s play may be really impressive now, but judging by the way Quenneville has handled some of the younger players on the team in the past, Morin might still get passed over for a playoff lineup spot because of Versteeg’s experience in the postseason.
If Quenneville is trying to assemble his best roster for the postseason though, Morin has got to be on it. He has shown great chemistry with Bickell, and also seems to mesh well with Peter Regin when the center is in the lineup. That could be a formidable third line for any team to deal with in the postseason, and if Versteeg is removed from the lineup, a guy like Saad could easily slot in on the top line with Toews and Marian Hossa, as he has in the past. That would leave Kane with Patrick Sharp and either Andrew Shaw or Michal Handzus on the second line, and with a group of top nine forwards like that, opposing teams would have a difficult time containing the Hawks.
Of course, knowing Quenneville he’ll continue to tap into an unseen reservoir of patience with Versteeg, and will allow him to keep floundering in the lineup without contributing much on either end of the ice. The coach would be much better off conceding that Versteeg isn’t one of the Hawks’ top 12 forwards right now, and doing so would be a smart move as the playoffs approach.