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)
Prior to the Chicago Blackhawks' game against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday, an interesting development occurred in their lineup. No, we're not talking about Bryan Bickell's "lower wardrobe malfunction," but rather about the decision by Joel Quenneville to move Brandon Saad out of the center position and back to his normal winger spot.
To his credit, Saad embraced the change just as he did the move to center, telling CSN Chicago's Tracey Myers:
"I'm a born winger, I've played there pretty much my whole life. They tried me out, they've got some guys coming back from injury, and they put me back at wing for a bit."
The guys that quote refers to are Michal Handzus, who hasn't played yet this preseason but should be ready to go when the regular season begins, and Brandon Pirri, who has been out for a week or so with a lower body injury but will play for the Hawks against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night.
Obviously, the Blackhawks have been looking for a suitable second line center for a very long time. Saad was just one of many wingers that Quenneville and company have moved into the spot over the years, including Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, and Andrew Shaw, but in the early preseason action, it did seem as though Saad was getting comfortable with the position, and he seemed to be picking up his defensive responsibilities quickly.
For the short term, this probably means that Pirri and Handzus will be competing for the second-line center position, likely to mean having Sharp and Marian Hossa on the wings, but Handzus probably has the inside edge for now. He was really good during the playoffs, and even though questions will linger about his conditioning considering that he hasn't played at all during the
preseason, his veteran knowledge will likely give him the tools to get through that process.
Pirri, meanwhile, will likely be slotted into the third or fourth line center position for the Hawks, depending on how Quenneville wants his lineup to take shape. One could see Pirri centering a line with Saad and possibly a bigger player like Jimmy Hayes or Ben Smith, and Shaw possibly dropping down to the fourth line to team up with Marcus Kruger and another of the team's many
options at wing.
These decisions will also be based on the health of players involved, with Hossa still not skating and with Shaw still not rejoining the lineup just yet after suffering an injury earlier in the preseason. If those guys are still limited or can't go when the Hawks begin their season next Tuesday against the Washington Capitals, then there is going to be a huge opportunity for a player or two to make a big mark in the season's early days.