Last night's 6-3 Hawk victory in Columbus was gratifying for a few reasons: snapping a 4-game losing streak, keeping the club's faint playoff hopes alive and icing an intriguing new set of lines.
First of all, no surprise, neither Nikolai Khabibulin nor Marty Havlat were in the line-up. More on that in a moment.
Last night's first three lines were:
To quote Edzo: STOP IT RIGHT THERE!!!
Now fast-forward to next year, when a healthy Havlat (or so we're told) returns to the line-up. Let's also assume that the Hawks' excellent cap room and desperate need for power play help motivates them to re-sign Jason Williams (a safe, but not sure bet).
Now, let me first point out that the above third line was our first line at the start of this year. So essentially, six players have emerged as legitimate forwards this year. Kane and Toews no huge surprises. Byfuglien and Bolland, definitely.
Let me also say that what I saw last night was three lines that could score. And that's what a team needs to compete at the elite level of the NHL. Further, Denis Savard's tinkering also provided a real problem for Columbus' defense: if you throw out big physical defenders to deal with the Toews line, look out, because the Bolland line is all speed and skill.
And if your third line features Marty Havlat, Jason Williams and Bobby Lang, you're going to be matched up with opposing team's second and third defensive pairings on some shifts, creating some huge mismatches.
All this underscores what I've felt for a while: Dale Tallon's big off-season priority must be adding an elite power play running defenseman. If he fails to land a Brian Campbell or another two-way stud, then he needs to at least bring in a really gifted offensive defenseman. The kids on the back end are alright, but in my humble opiniion, somewhat overhyped. The power play is still pretty anemic.
Secondly, he needs to make some moves at goalie. In spite of his shutout against Anaheim, Corey Crawford should not be a lock as the future #1.
If Khabibulin comes back healthy, can Tallon find a taker this off-season? If the rumors of a four-goalie swap with Ottawa were true, then perhaps the Sens can be a dance partner for the Wall in the off-season. Again, the Hawks' cap room might not preclude a buyout either. Personally, I'd rather have Patrick Lalime as the de facto #1 at $2 million a year than Khabibulin at $6.75 million. My rough understanding of the CBA is that buying Khabibulin out costs the Hawks roughly $3.5 million next year. $3.5 million plus $2 million is $1.25 million less than $6.75 million.
And I, for one, would like to see Tallon try to re-acquire Craig Anderson, who is quietly proving himself to be a #1 worthy goaltender in Florida. A friend and former scout (and a former OHL goaltender himself) once told me that Crawford can't carry Anderson's equipment bag.
Regardless, adding another potential #1 goalie would not be a bad move at all. Maybe a kid like Joe Fallon emerges this year after signing his first pro contract. But that's a big maybe.
Back to the forwards. Those who feel the Hawks need to add there might also take a look at the AHL stats and see how well Troy Brouwer and Petri Kontiola are doing this year. Both should definitely be factored in for next year as well.
Finally, it'll be interesting see if and how long Savvy stays with the new line combos. Because it could very well stretch into next year.