The Chicago Blackhawks announced on Monday that top six forward Patrick Kane was cleared for contact and would return to the lineup for the team’s first playoff game.
Good news for him, and good news for the fanbase — but bad news for Antoine Vermette, who became the first casualty of Kane’s return to the lineup.
#Blackhawks lines: Saad-Toews-Hossa PB&K Bickell-Shaw-Sharp Nordstrom-Kruger-Teravainen. Vermette still on the outside.
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) April 14, 2015
The team isn’t in any kind of predicament they didn’t already anticipate at the deadline. When the team brought in Antoine Vermette from Arizona — sending a lottery protected first round pick and defenseman Klas Dahlbeck in the other direction — they added another player to the roster while still fully aware that Kane would render one of the teams active forwards obsolete, at least on a part-time basis.
It was a smart move on Chicago’s part. By adding a veteran player and using fewer call-ups to fill holes, Chicago — who had been creeping dangerously close to slipping into the Wild Card spot behind Minnesota — ensured that they had the experience of a former playoff contender in the lineup. Although Vermette’s production had been noticeably declining all season, there’s still something to be said for the value of having experienced talent in the lineup down the final stretch. Knowing that Vermette was, at the very least, a historically strong possession-driving forward — even if he doesn’t contribute to the scoreboard very often, he’ll at least keep the puck in the right hands.
Now that Kane has returned, though, the team had two options — keep Vermette in the lineup and hope his production increased, or play a younger, streakier center — namely, Joakim Nordstrom — and hope he can keep his head in the game in his sophomore playoff appearance. Last season saw Nordstrom post no points in any of his seven playoff games, but found the center a -4 and limited to just over eight minutes of ice time a night. In comparison, Vermette’s last post-season run — which saw the then-Phoenix Coyotes eliminated from the Western Conference Finals by the eventual 2012 Stanley Cup Champions — witnessed the 32-year old center record five goals and five helpers in sixteen games, all while taking nearly eighteen minutes of ice time per contest.
The most probable explanation for playing Nordstrom over Vermette, though, may be that the team wants to instill more confidence in the young forward over a player that isn’t likely to return in the off-season.
The Blackhawks will take on the Nashville Predators on Wednesday for their first game of the series.