Morrison adds depth to Hawks' roster

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Morrison adds depth to Hawks' roster

It's a tale of two careers for the Blackhawks' newly-acquired Brendan Morrison. At one time he was an upper-echelon center in the NHL, but those glory days have passed.

During the prime of his career with the Vancouver Canucks, Morrison centered one of hockey's most lethal line combinations called the "West Coast Express" from 2002-2004. He played between Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi. During that three-year span, he scored 70 goals with 128 assists. However, in the last two seasons (94 games) he has just 13 goals and 41 assists.

But the scoring and top-notch playmaking ability has passed him by. At 36, Morrison adds depth at a critical position, and brings plenty of playoff experience.

A healthy Morrison assures that Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp can settle into their natural wing positions and not have to worry about playing center anymore. Morrison could immediately slide into the No. 2 role in between Sharp and Marian Hossa, and see a rise in his assists playing in between two elite snipers once again. That likely pushes Marcus Kruger to a fourth-line role in between some combination of Jamal Mayers, Michael Frolik, Andrew Brunette and Bryan Bickell while Dave Bolland resumes his regular spot on the third line, likely between Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes.

Morrison is also strong on faceoffs, winning them at a 50.3 percent clip -- now second on the team behind the league-leading Toews.

At best, Morrison flashes some of the play-making ability he once had and wins critical faceoffs. At worst, he is another Sami Pahlsson circa 2009. It's a low-risk, high-reward move as defenseman Brian Connelly -- while putting up nice numbers for Rockford -- was likely never going to crack the Hawks' defense corps.

Morrison won't put the Blackhawks over the top in the tough Central Division and isn't going to be the difference-maker in the run to a Stanley Cup. He'll help, sure, but he's just one more piece to a puzzle that's still incomplete -- likely the first of two or three moves between now and the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

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TSN coaches poll: Wild favored to win West over Blackhawks

TSN coaches poll: Wild favored to win West over Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups since 2010, and have eliminated the Minnesota Wild from the playoffs three times from 2013-15.

But it's the Wild that NHL coaches believe will win the Western Conference this season as we approach the trade deadline.

In his annual midseason poll, TSN's Bob McKenzie surveyed 25 of 30 coaches to vote on multiple categories, such as the league's best player and the team most likely to win it all.

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According to the survey, 11 coaches predicted the Wild will win the West while the Blackhawks and Sharks tied for second with four votes.

As for winning the Stanley Cup, the Washington Capitals are the favorite, earning 10 votes, followed closely by the reigning champion Pittsburgh Penguins with eight. The Wild and Blackhawks rounded out the poll with three and two votes, respectively.

Joel Quenneville earned one vote as the NHL's best coach, which is three fewer votes than he had last year, despite this year being arguably his most challenging — and best — coaching job since arriving in Chicago, given the youth on the roster.