Evaluating the Chicago Blackhawks: Dave Bolland

The now-departed center will leave a hole the Hawks will have to fill

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Throughout the month of July, Madhouse Enforcer will be taking a look at various members of the 2013 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. What did they do right? What did they do wrong? What can they improve upon next season? We’ll answer all those questions and more in the lead-up to Blackhawks Convention, which starts July 26th.

Today’s subject is Dave Bolland, now a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs:

The Good:

Bolland came out of the gate strong for the Blackhawks, with two goals and an assist in the team’s second game of the year against the Phoenix Coyotes. He looked like he was going to at least be a serviceable number two center (the expectation for him going into the season) throughout that early part of the schedule, with a goal against the Blue Jackets on January 26th.

He also adapted to his role as the season wore on. After being sidelined with a lower body injury for the end of the regular season and the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Bolland still worked hard defensively despite his demotion to the third and fourth lines, and ended up being rewarded with the Cup winning goal when he crashed the net late in Game 6 against Boston.

The Bad:

Unfortunately for Bolland, he was never quite able to live up to the expectations that came with centering a line with Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on it. He didn’t get involved enough on the offensive side of the puck, going five straight games at one point without a shot on net, and his assist total was woefully low for having such talented wingers alongside him.

In addition to that, Bolland once again couldn’t stay healthy. He’s dealt with a myriad of injuries over the years, including back ailments and concussions, and this season it was a Shea Weber slapshot to the skate that hobbled him.

With a cap hit north of $3 million, the Hawks simply could not afford to keep him based on the role that they were projecting for him.

Best Game of the Year:

It would be easy to go with a game like the aforementioned Phoenix tilt or Bolland’s Game 1 performance in the Cup Final where he had a goal and an assist, but we’ll go instead with his game against the San Jose Sharks in February.

His late first period goal seemed to light a fire under the Hawks, and they ended up racking up 28 shots in the final two periods and dispatching the Sharks 4-1 at the United Center.

How the Blackhawks Will Replace Him:

Replacing a player like Bolland isn’t easy, especially on a team with a dearth of proven talent at the center position. His defensive abilities, which have been most prominently on display for the Hawks during the past few playoff runs, will be especially tough to duplicate.

It is going to take a team effort to do so. Marcus Kruger will likely have to pick up the slack in regular strength defensive situations, using the kind of aggressive puck-attacking defense that he displays on the Hawks’ power play. Andrew Shaw will have to maintain his physical approach to the game in order to throw opposing centers off their games as well.

Finally, on the offensive side of things, the Hawks will need a guy like Kruger or, more realistically, Brandon Pirri, to step up and be a facilitator in that second/third line center role.

Some combination of contributions from those players will help ease the transition away from Bolland, whose absence will be felt more than some fans seem to realize.

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