By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) A couple times a month, I will be reaching out via Facebook, Twitter and 670thescore.com for your Blackhawks mailbag questions. Here’s the latest installment, with a ton of questions regarding the future of Brandon Pirri.
Dave K.: Why is a guy who couldn’t crack the NYI lineup (Peter Regin) getting the chance at the 2C position over a guy who led the AHL in scoring last year (Brandon Pirri)?
Jay Zawaski: Stan Bowman has shown a knack for getting ahead of things when the trade deadline rolls around and for finding diamonds in the rough. Johnny Oduya was a deadline acquisition, and while he’s far from a perfect defenseman, he’s been a solid contributor in his years in Chicago. Michael Handzus was last season’s trade deadline shocker. For years now, the second-line center position has been a need. Bowman tried (and succeeded) in temporarily filling the role with Handzus. Now, Regin seems to be the next candidate to get a crack.
Pirri was the preseason favorite to win the job. Last season, he led the American Hockey League in scoring and seemed poised to fill the role. He suffered an injury in the preseason, which set him back. He’s been back and forth between Chicago and Rockford this season and was sent down last week when the Hawks acquired Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard (who is currently playing in Rockford).
It’s not secret that Joel Quenneville is, and has been, unhappy with Pirri’s defensive and neutral zone play. There’s little question he can be a one-dimensional scorer at the NHL level, but his overall game is lacking.
Pirri is a restricted free agent this summer. I’d be surprised if we see him in a Blackhawks sweater again.
Bob C.: Rumors that the Hawks are shopping Pirri. Is it too early in his career to give up on him?
Roger V. : I agree with Bob’s question re: Pirri. Given that Handzus, Rozsival and the new Ex-Isles contracts are all up at year end, why trade a young asset only to be required to find a replacement this summer?
JZ: First to Bob’s question. Yes, I believe it is too early to give up on Pirri. I don’t feel he’s been given enough of a look this season. A long-term injury in January hurt those chances, for sure. However, Pirri didn’t show much improvement between call-ups. He was handed the opportunity of a lifetime (centering Patrick Kane) and didn’t make the best of it. I still think he’ll be a successful NHL player, but far from a superstar, and not with this franchise.
As for Roger’s question, if the Hawks have determined that they don’t like Pirri and don’t have a place for him on the big club, it’s smart business to see what they can get for him. It’s hard to imagine his value being any higher than it is now. Remember that former first-round picks Teuvo Teravainen, Mark McNeill and Ryan Hartman are on the horizon. Both are candidates for the second-line center job. Whether Teravainen is an NHL center remains to be seen, but at this point, he looks like a star player in the making.
Sarcastic Mik : How would you evaluate the progress of Nick Leddy? He has nights where he looks like a top-pair defenseman, while other night’s he struggles.
JZ: Leddy is certainly a fascinating player. His offensive tools are overwhelming, and he has the top-end speed to make up for almost any mistake he can make. It’s important to remember that, despite his experience, he’s only 22 years old. He’s shown improvement every season, and this campaign is no exception. He’s logged big power-play minutes, which has been a huge boon to a unit that was the only weakness on the 2013 team.
He’s maturing at a consistent rate. His good games have far outweighed his bad games, and he appears to be getting stronger physically.
Hawks fans have been spoiled with Jonathan Toews and Kane. Prospects don’t typically develop as quickly as those two did. It takes time. Leddy is on the right path.
Mike: Do you see the Hawks making any additions now that they have a better idea of their team? Maybe a fifth or sixth defenseman? More depth up front? Seems there are nights Q is grasping at straws, especially occasionally using Kostka on the wing.
JZ: I guess this answer is a bit of a cop out, but I think the Hawks/Bowman are always looking to improve. Obviously, their cap situation restricts them from doing too much, but if there’s a move to be made, they’ll pull the trigger. That said, Bowman is extremely patient and conservative. You won’t see him make a move for the sake of making a move. We know who’s untouchable. Aside from those select players, I think anything CAN happen, but it doesn’t mean it will.
They could certainly use a second-line center (of course) and a depth, stay-at-home defenseman.
So will they make a deal or not?
Short answer = Maybe.
Steve M: The Blackhawks have 10 players from their roster playing in the Sochi Games. Of those players, for whom should Hawks fans be most concerned? Who will the extra play effect the most?
JZ: Well, the main concern is injury to any of the big five: Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp and Keith. That can happen at any moment. Aside from injury concerns, the issue of wear and tear becomes very real for the more veteran players like Hossa, Handzus and Michal Rozsival. Quenneville has held Rozsival and Handzus out of games through the course of the season. It’s unclear whether those are for the purposes of conservation, but nights off here and there certainly won’t hurt either of them. With Hossa, it seems every year we just expect him to slow down or show signs of age, but we haven’t seen it yet. He’s been one of the most consistent Hawks this season. I don’t think a handful of extra games is going to kill him by any means. The Olympic schedule didn’t seem to affect anyone in 2010, but they players didn’t have to come home and deal with a 10-hour time change.
If the Hawks can avoid injuries, everything should be fine. That’s a big “if.”
Thanks to everyone who took the time to submit a mailbag question. If you’d like to get ahead of the game for next time, feel free to send an email to Jay@670theScore.com or find me on Twitter.