Face it, last season spoiled us rotten. I’m not talking about postseason play, and the special units invoked the phrase “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.” When I say we were spoiled, it’s that we had a second line that really dazzled. Above that, it was relatively static for the entire season.
But that was last season. Things are different this time, and it’s starting to scare everyone. Let’s call it “the Kanarin Conundrum”.
The Kanarin Conundrum is explained like this: the second line of Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane were so, so good last season. Thanks to being so, so good, it now boasts the league MVP and Rookie of the Year. Now, a wrench has been thrown in – there’s a giant left wing-shaped hole on the top line. Should one of the young kids get the chance to fill it? Or maybe, as it’s been hinted, would Panarin fit on that top line?
On its face, it seems like a good idea. Remember when Kane and Jonathan Toews were the unstoppable duo on the same line, but they were eventually split? Fans panicked, just as we’re doing now. It was a rocky time, and it seemed that Kane struggled to connect with the guys who were in a never-ending game of musical chairs called the second line. But finally, with Anisimov and Panarin, he found instant chemistry. Toews has also seen his share of linemate turnover, but it’s worked well for him. The problem with Toews is that it’s not chemistry but the linemates not being able to fully handle the top line status.
A good reason for splitting up Kane and Panarin is to see if the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. Putting Panarin on the top line would test if he’s able to connect with Toews and whoever else would be on top (presumably Marian Hossa or someone who’s normally a center). It didn’t quite work in Saturday’s game against the Blues; Panarin and Kane were on the first two lines, but they worked better together on the power play and a brief time in even strength. Kane’s showed that he can work well with others, but it seems that only Panarin can match his speed and anticipate his moves to a successful degree now.
As for Toews, he didn’t have the best season. It could be that, like Kane, he didn’t have the right chemistry with his revolving linemates. Giving him someone stable would surely help bring back his confidence, and his leadership would in turn help a younger player should they be given the chance to play with him. Putting Panarin on the top line would show whether or not he’s adaptable to different styles of play.
If you think about it, it stands to reason that it might work. Kane and Panarin have similar styles of play, and Toews worked incredibly well with Kane. But it’s been a while since they were solid linemates, and they’ve only played together in desperate situations. Toews could fall into familiar territory, or the pairing could founder because it doesn’t quite click.
So the question stands: is it really better for the Blackhawks to break up the best line they had? If it happens, how long would the break last before Joel Quenneville brings the band back together? We’ll have to see how this plays out, and perhaps we will when Toews returns to the ice for the rest of preseason. But for the love of everything sacred and holy, don’t make me curl up in a corner tearfully singing “Separate Lives” all season.