While the Convention passed with many video montages, cute moments, and fun had by all, of course there was one bit of news that came out on Saturday that probably deserves a little focus now, and a whole lot of focus come training camp.
Joel Quenneville announced that your leading contender for the #2 center role next year is….Brandon Saad.
Does Brandon Saad play center? No. Has he since he was 16? No. Was he drafted as a winger? Yes. Does he exhibit any skills that scream “put him in the middle!”? No.
Let’s have some fun. Here are the names of everyone who’s been tried as the center behind Jonathan Toews since the Hawks and Patrick Sharp decided that winning a Cup with Sharp at center was something they never wanted to do again because it would be more fun this way:
(Deep breath)….Dave Bolland, Brandon Pirri (who’ll get another chance), Patrick Kane, Ryan Johnson, Michael Frolik, Ben Smith (who might get another chance), Marcus Kruger, Tomas Kopecky, Andrew Shaw, Brendan Morrison. If I’ve left anyone out, feel free to let me know in the comments. This does not include Jimmy Hayes’s conversion to center in Rockford, or Kris Versteeg being plugged there at times during the first Cup year. So needless to say, Quenneville and the Hawks are not opposed to experimenting.
What this means, other than Brandon Pirri going to have a nice cry and a viewing of The Notebook somewhere dark, is not much. I really think it’s probably something they just try in camp to give it a look. But then again, I thought that about Patrick Kane at center and he ended up there for half the season — though some of that was aided by Jonathan Toews missing just about that same half of the year.
I’m not sure where people are getting this “Saad is a great playmaker” storyline that was thrown at me when I questioned the idea. Does Saad make things happen on the ice? Of course. But mostly he does that by being a tenacious forechecker and physical presence on the ice. That’s hardly the same thing as being able to float a backhand pass through three guys to open space right in time to find a streaking teammate. He’s certainly not going to win any faceoffs — not that Pirri would either (LeBlanc might) — but the Hawks have proven they don’t really need that center too, I guess? Defensively, Saad is very aware as a winger, but it’s a whole new ballgame at center. And being there would rob the Hawks of his most precious skill (or at least one of them) as he would not longer be the first one into the attacking zone to make things happen below the net. And it might rob him of some finishing opportunities, which he’s shown a nose for, no?
Maybe the Hawks feel the need to keep Bryan Bickell — assuming his multiple procedures to make him the new Bionic Man go well – on the top six with that contract. With him and Sharp taking the two left wing roles, that would move Saad to the 3rd line. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Saad would be an excellent checking winger for this year, and might lower the pressure on a sophomore campaign that many players have found a much bigger challenge than their rookie one. In recent history, the last Calder-finalist for the Hawks, Versteeg, ended up on the 3rd line with Bolland and Ladd to great effect in his second year.
Do I think Brandon Pirri is NHL ready for sure? No, I don’t. Drew LeBlahBlah probably isn’t either. But Pirri has at least earned a shot to earn the job, not have to climb over a misplaced winger simply because Quenneville is feeling his oats again after a contract extension. What’d that take? Five minutes? I don’t know that Pirri has anything to prove at the AHL level. But as we all knew, he’s going to get about seven minutes of ice time in the preseason to prove it, because Q has an IDEA!!!!
Even scarier than that was the mentioning of Michal Handzus in the role before Pirri, as Q can’t go without his blanket. The Hawks came up with three 7’s on Handzus in the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean he has any business anywhere other than the 4th line in an 82-game regular season, and for only 60-65 games at that. If Q tries anything more, he’s going to be left with a very large, Slovakian puddle.
There was a second there where I thought we would be done with all this. Must’ve missed it.