If last night provided a snapshot of the Hawks' lineup the rest of this season and next (with a few tweaks), then Hawk fans have a lot to look forward to: three scoring lines and a really active, dominant defense.
Yes, Columbus came out flat. And they were also without their standout goaltender, Pascal Leclaire. But all games, and all teams, are in some ways measuring sticks. Columbus, it can be argued, is a very similar team to the Hawks: a mix of veterans and skilled youngsters up front, a team that will finish somewhere close to .500 (though the Jackets should be above .500).
Not only did the Hawks outwork Columbus all night, but now that they're almost completely healthy, they look to have a fair amount more talent at forward and defense. Marty Havlat, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien dominated last night. Columbus' best defensemen: Foote and Klesla, look slow and one-dimensional compared to Seabrook, Wisniewski, Keith and Barker.
Some Columbus fans might argue Kris Russell is one of their best defensemen. I don't know whether that's a good thing. Russell has talent but he's very small, and probably should be in the AHL right now, working on his game and working out in the gym. He reminds me a lot of former Hawk Steve McCarthy. And again, I'm not sure that's entirely a good thing.
Cam Barker. No, he didn't score. But whatever Denis Savard is sprinkling on his corn flakes is working wonders. He's moving well, really strong in his own end, making smart, crisp passes and in many ways the Hawks' most solid defenseman right now.
Nikolai Khabibulin continues to play well. On one of Columbus' two goals last night, he made a great first save only to lose the puck in a mass of confusion around the net. The question before Hawk management is can he play at that level consistently through next year. And I will say that I would much rather have Leclaire right now than Khabibulin.
Look to see this lineup a lot the remainder of this year. And, look for the Hawks to only do some minor unloading of vets (Lapointe, Perreault) at the deadline.
Yes, it's somewhat unfortunate that this year had to be undermined by injuries. Still, last night's lineup holds promise. Add in another top 4 defenseman, maybe another top 6 forward, and this is a team to be reckoned with next year.