Joel Quenneville shaking up lineup in search of balance

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Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews have played together for several seasons, but likely will start the season on different lines. (AP Photo)

Marian Hossa wants to play on the top line with Jonathan Toews, not in some checking role with Marcus Kruger. Patrick Kane wants to play with his kindred hockey spirit, Artemi Panarin, not with some unproven rookie.

But it’s not as if either Hossa or Kane went ballistic and started hurling chairs against the wall when Joel Quenneville approached them about his idea for a more balanced lineup to start the upcoming season.

“We do talk to our guys, the guys that have been moved around a little bit — be it [Kane], be it [Panarin], be it [Toews], be it [Hossa],” Quenneville said. “We’re just trying things out. Everybody’s been fine with the balanced look, or the thought process of three different looks on all the lines. We know if it works, great. It it doesn’t, we’ve got something else.”

But Quenneville knows he’s taking a risk — and going against his players’ wishes —by splitting up his longest-standing tandem of Toews and Hossa, and arguably the best line in hockey with Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Kane.

“You look at [Anisimov], he centered a rookie of the year and an MVP,” Quenneville said. “So you’re wondering why we’d do something like that.”

The reason is pretty simple. The Hawks were basically a one-line team last year, and one-line teams don’t usually go very far in the postseason. With Hossa struggling to a career-low 13 goals last season, and with a rotating cast of underwhelming left wings, Toews’ production dropped off a bit, too, with 58 points in 80 games. Toews likely will start the season flanked by Panarin and Richard Panik, while rookie Tyler Motte is likely to open with Anisimov and Kane. Hossa has been skating with Kruger and rookie Ryan Hartman.

On paper, it makes sense. Each line has at least one elite scorer. Each line has at least one savvy defensive forward. And each line has at least one relatively unproven player who can be sheltered by veteran linemates.

“The whole idea behind it is a little more balance,” Quenneville said. “We feel we have scoring on all the lines, we have speed on all the lines, and we have the ability to check on all the lines.”

On the other hand, it puts Kane in the same frustrating position he had been in for years until Panarin showed up. Kane has been saying all the right things and shrugging off the changes, but his chemistry with Panarin is undeniable, and still evident when they work on the power play together.

“Last year is probably the one year that I really only played with a couple players, so I’m used to playing all over the place, playing with different guys,” Kane said. “We’ll see what happens. … I’ll just play where they tell me to play I guess.”

Hossa, meanwhile, has 499 goals in his career. And while he’s one of the best defensive forwards in the game, he still fancies himself a top-liner. In Toronto for the World Cup, he made it clear he preferred to stay with Toews, and that he was fine with an occasional shift on the third line, where he played —and thrived — for the final three games of the playoffs last spring. On Friday, he was more conciliatory.

“I talked to Q about it, and he wants to balance the lines, and I’m totally fine with that,” Hossa said. “Wherever I can help the team. I know that’s up to the coaching staff, and I finished the season with the third line, and we played so much ice time. So as long as you play and you’re in the game, you’re OK with it.”

Of course, this is Quenneville, the master tinkerer, we’re talking about. Sure, it’s possible these lines all click and stick for the rest of the season. But they might also last a week. Or a game. Or a shift. The nuclear option is no longer Toews with Kane. It’s Panarin with Kane.

“We know we’ve got that in our back pocket and [can] easily get back to it in an instant,” Quenneville said. “If it works, great, if it doesn’t, we’ve got something else.”

NOTES: Duncan Keith (knee) is fine, Quenneville said, but won’t play in Saturday’s preseason finale in St. Louis, which will be one final showcase for the younger players in camp. Corey Crawford will play the whole game.


Twitter: @marklazerus

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