The Chicago Blackhawks finally got on board the trade train on Monday afternoon, acquiring center Michal Handzus from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a fourth-round pick.
The move was made my GM Stan Bowman for a simple reason: this team desperately needs help in the face-off circle. No center other than Jonathan Toews is even sniffing a 50% success rate in that area, and Handzus has won 55.6% of his draws this season.
The question, then, is where Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville envision Handzus being slotted in the lineup. Those Blackhawks fans that think he is the team’s answer to their second line center deficiency are simply wrong. Handzus has one goal and one assist in 28 games this season, and he has been a healthy scratch for the Sharks for the past six games.
The fact of the matter is that he is not fast enough to fill that role for the Hawks. If anything, one could see him being utilized in much the same way as John Madden was during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup in 2010. Basically, he comes on the ice when the team needs a defensive draw won, does the job, and then immediately skates back to the bench.
With that being said, it doesn’t seem that there is a clear spot for Handzus to slide into the lineup. Granted, that changes if Dave Bolland is unable to play on Thursday night against the Blues, but in that scenario, Quenneville would be better served sliding Marcus Kruger up the depth chart and into the top six. If Bolland can go, then some would argue that Handzus could play on the third line and have Andrew Shaw move to the winger spot, but that would break up the line that has had the best chemistry on this team all season, and would limit their ability to generate the kinds of scoring chances that they did in last night’s third period against Nashville.
Even putting Handzus on the fourth line isn’t a slam dunk. If Bolland plays, then it’s hard to argue convincingly that Kruger deserves a spot in the press box considering his work on the penalty killing side of things this season. Sliding him into a winger spot could be the answer there, but then the Hawks would have to sit Daniel Carcillo, and it doesn’t seem likely that Quenneville would like to go without the grit and intensity that Carcillo plays with.
Handzus’ role on this team isn’t going to be one of a savior. Instead, it’s just going to be as a depth piece, and that’s perfectly fine. If this team can’t get a second line center before Wednesday’s trade deadline, then there really isn’t any reason to make any other acquisitions, and Handzus can be the lone addition.
A Quick Note on the Deadline
If the Blackhawks are going to address any other needs on their team, it will require releasing or trading a player currently under contract. Under NHL rules, a team is only allowed to have 50 contracts on its books, and the Hawks hit that magic number when they acquired Handzus on Monday.
That fact will either prohibit the Hawks from doing anything else, or it could leave the door open for Bowman to trade a guy like Viktor Stalberg or Daniel Carcillo prior to Wednesday’s deadline.