Let’s keep this ship rolling right along. We get to the first “hole” the Hawks have, and that’s the second line center. They have wingers who fit here, Marian Hossa and Viktor Stalberg (and before you start, 21 goals without a PP one makes you a second line winger on most if not all teams). You could have Brandon Saad here as well, because I think this is where he’s ending up. We know Kane will end up here at times, and that Patrick Sharp probably should but won’t. But for now, let’s go with how it pretty much looked like last year, and that’s Stalberg-Kruger-Hossa.
Right, to it.
Viktor Stalberg (aka Vik Rattlehead): 79GP – 21G – 22A – 43P – +6 – 10.2 SH% – 0.12 Behind The Net Rating
Oh Stals. Yet another player I get hoarse defending. I understand most people’s complaint about Stalberg. You see the speed, you see the size to go with it, combined with a decent nose for the net, and you want to see him dominate games. Well, he’s not going to. That doesn’t mean he’s not a fine complimentary player who combined with his contract is one of the more valuable around. Stalberg could actually end up on the third line, you may remember he and Bickell making life hell for defensemen on the forecheck at times last year. He’s also been playing in Sweden, so he should be pretty sharp. There’s also a free agent period dangling out front of Rattlehead. You combine all that, and I think you’ll see another highly effective season out of the easy-on-the-eyes-Swede.
What’s hanging over Stalberg is disappearing in the playoffs the past two years (if you take out setting up the two OT winners the Hawks managed last year by hounding defensemen on the forecheck). Until he does that Hawks fans will never warm up to him en masse. We can also look for Stals to be bounced up and down the lineup, because when Q gets the blender out it’s always Stalberg that’s the first in it. We also probably won’t see Stals on either special teams unit, though I still maintain he could at least be a weapon on the kill. Because what opposing point-man wouldn’t be sweating and hesitating, knowing that any fumble will see Stalberg off and impossible to catch?
I think we’d all like to see Stalberg use his frame a little more, but if it were in him we probably already would have. He’s far from a perfect player, but that doesn’t mean he’s a useless one. Not by a longshot. Keep in mind that he was third best in CORSI for the Hawks last year, behind only Sharp and Toews.
Marcus Kruger (aka Dream Warrior aka Freddy): 71G – 9G – 17A – 26P – +11 – 10.1 SH% – 0.68 Behind The Net Rating
One of the apples of both Stan Bowman’s and Joel Quenneville’s eye. And it’s easy to understand why. Kruger is a very smart, responsible player who doesn’t seem to do much wrong. He’s unafraid to get dirty along the wall or in front of the net, even though he’s not much heavier than a box of Kleenex.
But we know what Kruger can’t do. He’s not a playmaker, at least not yet. He gets knocked around. He can’t win an important faceoff. Which makes him a tweener. I think he’d be an awesome 4th line center, because his buzzing style of play would fit in well with a energy line and his scoring would be considered glorious from the bottom unit. But seeing as how the Hawks don’t have a real #2 center (or one they’ll play there), he has to fill in.
What makes it hard to read Kruger is his very ho-hum play in Rockford. He started on fire, but has seriously become just part of the scenery later. Is it because he was bored? Saving himself? Just afraid to stick out at whatever level he’s at? Struggling with a purely offensive role? None of these questions make you feel any better.
It’s not that Kruger does anything badly. He just doesn’t make you get out of your seat. You’ll look at him and just want more. But he won’t hurt you except for at the dot. And we’re probably in for more of that and only that.
Marian Hossa: 81G – 29G – 48A – 77P – +18 – 11.7 SH% – 0.93 Behind The Net Rating
It’s been so long I forgot Hossa was the Hawks’ leading scorer last year. Though I haven’t forgotten how many times he made our jaws drop with his sheer power. There’s nothing couth about Hossbollah’s game. It’s straight-lines, through whatever might be in the way. And for a majority of the season, it was purely devastating.
But now we have all the questions for Hossa that we have for Toews, plus his age. While the time off allowed Hossa to fully recuperate, anyone who tells you they know what eight months off will do to a player is lying. Even when he missed his first two months of his Hawks career, that was five months off. Secondly, that major of a concussion could cause a hesitation or tentativeness in his game, at least to start. We don’t know, and neither does Hossa.
The other thing is that Hossa faded a bit toward the end of last season, and wasn’t much of a factor in the first two playoff games before the lights went out. How are his legs, which have been driving this monster truck for almost 1,000 regular season games (he’ll pass that this season) going to handle a compressed schedule? Will there be anything left when it matters? I don’t know, and you probably don’t either.
It’s a safe bet to say that there will be games when he looks like something out of the world of Marvel. There will probably be more nights than we’d like where he’s not noticeable. To save his legs, if Q were smart he’d get Hossa off the penalty kill, at least for a while. Yes, he’s a weapon there, but it’s the best place to shave some of his minutes down. Couldn’t Stalberg do some of what Hossa does on the kill? I wonder.