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Thin depth at center concerning for Hawks

Published: Monday, March 10, 2014 9:08 p.m. CDT

Hockey players are going to get hit, and they’re going to be slow to get up every once in a while. It happens often and to everyone.

When a player as important as Jonathan Toews is involved, a Blackhawks fan is going to have his or her heart skip a beat when they’re moving gingerly. That’d be true if the Hawks’ other three centers were Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux and Anze Kopitar.

Sunday night in Buffalo, when an awkward play left Toews requiring assistance from his teammates to limp to the bench, I didn’t feel concern. I felt panic. Part of it was the thought that Toews was involved, and Toews is great. Part of it was that, should Toews be seriously hurt, the Hawks would be left with Michal Handzus, Peter Regin, Marcus Kruger and probably Andrew Shaw again at center. You ain’t winning a Stanley Cup with that.

It was a false alarm. Toews soon was back on the ice, and he looked no worse for the wear. But it was a reminder that, as a few Hawks bloggers had pointed out already, the Hawks are a Toews injury away from having a bottom-six talent centering their top line – and bottom-six talents centering their other three lines.

Now, there wasn’t a center on the market at the trade deadline that would’ve put the Hawks in a position where they could comfortably lose Toews. Ryan Kesler might come close to matching Toews’ production, but he would’ve cost a king’s ransom and his actual availability is debatable.

How much someone like Marcel Goc actually would help is debatable, so I can live with G.M. Stan Bowman being so quiet at the deadline. Thing is, the Hawks wouldn’t need a No. 2 center (and arguably wouldn’t need anything) had Bowman addressed the issue when it first became a problem ... you know, like three or four years ago.

Two points should be made in Bowman’s defense. One is that the Hawks dominated the league and won the cup in 2013, and their depth at the position wasn’t any better than it is now. A second is that Bowman not wanting to allocate big resources at the position now makes sense with mega-prospect Teuvo Teravainen waiting in the wings.

Being happy with what the Hawks have now, when the rest of the roster could easily compete for a third Cup in five years, doesn’t make much sense either. The Hawks refused to give Brandon Pirri much of a chance before shipping him off to Florida. His attitude and his defense may have been problems, but I’d be willing to overlook them for offense, and offense is something Pirri probably would have provided.

And it’s only the latest in a string of puzzling decisions from Bowman. Last summer, he committed $36 million to Corey Crawford and $16 million to Bryan Bickell.

During the season, Bowman took a flyer on Kris Versteeg (which I kinda sorta liked at the time, but it hasn’t really worked out), traded Pirri for peanuts (which I hated), dumped Mike Kostka because he said the Hawks had too many defensemen before then trading for defenseman David Rundblad (which was really weird, but probably made the Hawks slightly better so whatever) and gave a three-year contract extension, at non-minimum prices, to Brandon Bollig.

I can’t complain too much about the G.M. of a team that’s won two titles in the past four years. I know that some of what he’s doing is to placate coach Joel Quenneville, and that he doesn’t want to create a rift between the coach of those two Cup teams and the front office. And people who know hockey better than I do insist he’s one of the best in the business.

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