Blackhawks’ bottom six a big question mark heading into next season

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Calgary’s Lance Bouma defends against Marian Hossa on Oct. 24, 2016 at the United Center. (Getty Images)

Lance Bouma scored only five goals in 105 games in the last two seasons. The Flames were drowning in opposing shot attempts when he was on the ice, and they bought him out of the last year of his contract rather than pay him another $2.2 million.

But he was just what Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman was looking for.

‘‘He said maybe [the Hawks] got away from their identity of the past, and I was a guy that he wanted to bring in and hopefully bring that back,’’ Bouma said. ‘‘Stan just wants to get back to the hard-working team that’s tough to play against.’’

It’s a somewhat perplexing strategy, given that the Hawks crashed out of the Stanley Cup playoffs because they scored three measly goals in four games against the Predators. Bowman’s hands obviously are tied by salary-cap constraints and the ongoing Marian Hossa saga, but he has been hoarding fourth-line wingers in the last couple of weeks.

Already holding a glut of bottom-six guys in Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza, John Hayden, Jordin Tootoo, Tomas Jurco and Tanner Kero, Bowman added Laurent Dauphin in a trade and Bouma and Tommy Wingels in free agency. Nick Schmaltz or Patrick Sharp will be a third-liner next season, too, depending on which gets to be Patrick Kane’s left wing.

Even with Andrew Desjardins and Dennis Rasmussen becoming unrestricted free agents and Marcus Kruger having been traded to the expansion Golden Knights, the Hawks have loaded up on fringe players. Some are fast and skilled and some are big and physical, but only Hartman has showed much of a knack for scoring goals.

Throw in prospects knocking on the NHL door, such as Alex DeBrincat, Alexandre Fortin, Kyle Baun and David Kampf, and there’s no telling what the Hawks’ third and fourth lines will look like.

That’s a problem because what has separated the Hawks from the pack in their best seasons has been their depth. Their third line in 2015 featured Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen. Their fourth line had Andrew Shaw. In 2013, their fourth line was Michael Frolik, Dave Bolland and Kruger. In 2010, their third line was Andrew Ladd, Bolland and Kris Versteeg.

The 2017-18 Hawks have nothing resembling those lines. A third line featuring Sharp, Hartman and Wingels has excellent potential, but it’s a bunch of unknowns and nobodies beyond that. Kero seems capable of taking over Kruger’s role as a defensive specialist, but there’s not a lot of offense there. And who’s the fourth-line center? Wingels struggles on faceoffs and is better-suited at wing. Hinostroza’s size is a concern in a checking role. Dauphin is a center but has played only 32 NHL games. And let’s not resurrect the Sharp-to-center pleas at this stage of his career.

After watching his team get pushed around and overrun by the faster, more aggressive Predators, Bowman wants the Hawks to be faster and less fancy, more north-south than east-west. That’s fine if you have the proper personnel. We don’t know yet if the Hawks do.

‘‘[Bouma and Wingels] are guys you notice out there with the way they play,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘They play a very direct style of hockey. They like to get the puck in the other end, forecheck and take the puck to the net. They play maybe a more simple style, but you know when they’re on the ice, and I think that’s something we were looking to add. I think we’re in a much better place right now than we were before.’’

That remains to be seen. Roster competition is always good, and the Hawks have at least 21 forwards who conceivably could make the team out of camp. But quantity doesn’t always translate to quality. And without quality depth, the Hawks aren’t going anywhere.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.



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