For all of Joel Quenneville’s tinkering, he usually leaves two things untouched. He keeps Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa together, and Toews and Patrick Kane apart. The first is to give the Blackhawks a top line that can both produce and shut down nearly any opposing line. The second is to give the Hawks offense some balance, and to force opponents to pick their poison.
But after three straight losses and just four goals in the last three games, Quenneville shook things up. Kane moved to the top line with Tomas Fleischmann and Toews, and Hossa took Kane’s usual spot alongside Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov. At least, to start Wednesday’s game against the Flyers. As always, Quenneville reserves the right to change his mind at any time.
“We always think of keeping Toews and Kane apart, and usually we get more balance when we do that,” Quenneville said. “It gives our opponents a lot to be concerned with.”
Hossa rarely has played with any center other than Toews, but understood Quenneville’s desire to inject some life into a flagging offense.
“Joel likes to do those things when things are not going well,” he said after Wednesday’s optional morning skate. “He’s done it in the past a few times when we didn’t score goals and here it is again. You try to make the best out of it and try to win the hockey game.”
Given how prolific the Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line has been all season, and how reliable Toews and Hossa have been together in the past, it’s likely just a short-term shake-up to give the Hawks a spark. But if it works, Quenneville’s not opposed to breaking his own two lineup rules long-term.
“We’re not changing things [when] things are going good,” he said. “We don’t change things unless we don’t like what we’re seeing. We’ll see what comes of it, but I think we have balance in all our lines, and we can get the energy, purpose, and production we’re looking for.”
Bryan Bickell continues to play well in Rockford, with 13 goals and 16 assists in 35 games. Quenneville didn’t rule out bringing him back up and giving him another chance come playoff time.
“That’s definitely under discussion, and we’ll see how things go here, and how things are going there,” Quenneville said. “That’ll be determined.”
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told reporters at the GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., on Wednesday that next year’s salary cap will be around $74 million. That’s $2.6 million more than this year, but a bit lower than previous estimates, as the Canadian dollar continues to struggle. That’s also assuming the NHL Players Association opts to use its 5-percent escalator, despite concerns over having to pay more escrow. If the NHLPA does not use its escalator, Daly said, the cap likely would remain flat at $71.4 million.