The clock is ticking.
Yes, the Chicago Blackhawks returned for the 2013-14 season with a team much the same as the one that won the Stanley Cup 3 months earlier, but more than one of those links in the chain are growing steadily weaker.
Blackhawks’ defenseman Michal Rozsival and center Michal Handzus have a combined age of 71. To contrast that, stars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and young defenseman Nick Leddy have a combined age of 71. Toews recorded 48 points in 47 games. Handzus had 8 in 39.
There is a reason that both these players are on the Blackhawks. Rozsival was a journeyman defensive signing, meant to bring an accustomed stability in the Blackhawks’ final four blue-liners. Defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya, and the aforementioned Leddy benefited immensely from his influence, and now the Blackhawks’ defense has more depth than many of their NHL counterparts. Handzus’ goal was simple: faceoffs. Dave Bolland was struggling at the 2nd line center position, (a position that has been the Blackhawks’ Achilles’ heel for nearly a decade) and Head Coach Joel Quenneville knew that more puck possession would lead to good things.
All was well in Chi-town. Handzus developed chemistry with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, and the three were arguably the Blackhawks’ most consistent line. Rozsival was a calming presence when in possession of the puck, and always took care of Chicago’s own end before exploring into the opposition’s. After the Cup win, the pair were re-signed: Rozsival inked a two-year deal, and Handzus signed on for one more year, after contemplating retirement.
Flash forward to the present day: The Blackhawks are only 10 games into their 2013-14 campaign, and already, a toll has been taken on the two veterans. Rozsival is in a nightly battle with defenseman Sheldon Brookbank to simply get in the lineup, and Hawks’ color commentator Eddie Olzyck has described Handzus as “a step slow” for the past 4 games, at least. There was a very stark example of Handzus’ inability in the Blackhawks’ loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday night: Sharp was put with Jonathan Toews for one shift, and he scored.
So, the question ensues; what is to be done? There’s one obvious route: give them rest, and fill the spots with prospects. Brandon Pirri, who lost the battle at training camp for the second-line center position, has scored two goals in four games since being recalled from Rockford, (Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate). Jeremy Morin and Brad Mills have also been called up, making it very easy to substitute Handzus for a young gun for a game or two. It gets a little more complicated in Rozsival’s position: The Blackhawks will be without D Mike Kostka for three-to-four weeks, after he was injured last Tuesday. With only 5 regular defenseman left, the Blackhawks will either have to dress both Rozsival and Brookbank, or make a call for another body. The latter sounds more attractive, with current defensive prospect Adam Clendening leading the Rockford IceHogs in points, with 8 in 10 games.
After all, let’s remember what was said when both players were re-signed. It was clearly expressed that the Blackhawks won’t need their services for all 82 games, and there are heaps of qualified prospects to fill their void. Their drop in performance could just simply be a signal for a scheduled pit-stop, or it could be the sign of a bigger problem; they aren’t as good as they were expected to be. One thing is nearly certain: the contracts signed this summer will be the last two for these players, and at the very least, the last ones issued by the Blackhawks.
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