Bowman needs to address undersized roster if Chicago Blackhawks are to rise to top again

NHL teams can't ice dance their way to a Stanley Cup title.

That goes without saying, right? When the playoffs begin, time and space shrinks as the biggest, baddest and best teams assert themselves in an effort to intimidate.

Tampa Bay's 2020 title team is a great example.

Sure, the Lightning possessed plenty of talent, but they also kept opponents off-guard thanks to hard-nosed players such as Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli, Yanni Gourde, Pat Maroon, Erik Cernak and Ryan McDonagh.

Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton noted as much before his team dropped another two games to Jon Cooper's squad over the weekend, saying: "They've got the high-end skill. They've got a lot of difference-makers in their group, but just the hardness (and) the physical, grinding style that they can also play.

"They're hard to play against."

Something the Hawks currently are not. It's one thing to play with passion, win battles and outwork opponents. It's quite another when the Hawks should be taking offense to questionable hits or challenges by a team like the Lightning.

Somebody needed to respond Thursday after Alex DeBrincat was leveled by Maroon. Or after the first or second time Connor Murphy was baited into fighting.

But nothing happened.

So, quite predictably, the Lightning were at it again Saturday. DeBrincat was cross-checked by Gourde before a faceoff. Patrick Kane received the same treatment from Gourde moments later. Then Adam Boqvist was leveled by a flying Killorn elbow.

And the Hawks did nothing. Again.

This would not have happened 5-10 years ago. A Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Troy Brouwer, John Scott, Ben Eager, Adam Burish, Dave Bolland, Brandon Bollig, Andrew Shaw or Jamal Mayers would have made sure of that.

Even Jonathan Toews stuck up for wronged teammates, as did Artemi Panarin. Who can forget the Russian putting Minnesota's Matt Dumba in a choke hold and wrestling him to the ice after Dumba crushed Kane on March 26, 2016?

Most of the problem lies in how the roster is constructed. Even a rebuilding squad should possess multiple players who will flatten an opponent or two to keep their more talented teammates safe.

Stan Bowman, who has fallen in love with undersized defensemen and forwards, absolutely must address this issue if he expects the Hawks to consistently battle for Stanley Cups in the future.

Only three Hawks - Murphy, Nikita Zadorov and Carl Soderberg - weigh more than 200 pounds. Nine weigh 188 or less. DeBrincat weighs 165, Ian Mitchell checks in at 173, Brandon Hagel at 174, Pius Suter at 176, Patrick Kane at 177 and Dominik Kubalik at 179.

It's a tall order for guys like that to go toe to toe on a nightly basis with a team built like the 23-6-2 Lightning, who trot out seven regulars at 215 or more. Only four weigh less than 190.

Vegas (21-7-1) is another great example, with the Golden Knights possessing eight players who weigh 210-plus, including the hard-hitting Ryan Reaves (6-1, 225) and former Chicago Wolves forward Keegan Kolesar (6-2, 227).

How Bowman addresses this issue will likely determine if the Hawks' rebuilding effort is successful.

Add the right players to this up-and-coming roster and you've got a tough, dangerous team on your hands. But do next to nothing and that's exactly what you can expect out of this franchise for years to come.

Blackhawks defenseman Nikita Zadorov and Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn mix it up Feb. 7 in Dallas. Associated Press
Columbus' Patrik Laine and the Blackhawks' Brandon Hagel duke it out Feb. 13 at the United Center. Associated Press
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