Oct 9, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman David Rundblad (5) watches from the bench during the game against the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center. The Blackhawks defeat the Stars 3-2 in the overtime shootout. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Blackhawks Sci-Fi is a mini-series I’ll periodically be doing here on Blackhawk Up that is for fantastic hypotheticals. I consider the following speculation science fiction at this point because as of now, it’s pure fantasy, but who knows what the future will bring…
Our beloved Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman certainly likes keeping us on our toes. Don’t get me wrong, he’s proven to be quite a wily opportunist with a demonstrated long term outlook when it comes benefiting the competitiveness of our boys in red, white, and black. That being said however, Bowman is certainly not known for his predictability.
The latest curveball Bowman has thrown Chi-Town is the trade of Hawks’ farm defenseman Adam Clendening for Gustav Forsling. This move was certainly out of left field, considering many Hawks fans and analysts alike (myself included) pegged Adam Clendening and his Rockford IceHog blue line partner Klas Dahlbeck to bring their successful AHL tandem chemistry to Chicago next season. Well, so much for that. Furthermore, given Forsling’s age and the long gestation period defensemen require to effectively compete at the NHL level, we won’t be seeing this young Sweden native at the Madhouse on Madison anytime soon.
Thus, Bowman’s transaction is a bit perplexing, considering the situation with the Blackhawks’ defense. Currently the Blackhawks have the 2nd best defense in the NHL (behind the Montreal Canadiens), so it may be a bit hard to think their defensive corp. has a situation. However, as I’ve said before several times this season, the Hawks’s defensive third line has been tenuous at best this year ever since Trevor van Riemsdyk was injured. While the first two lines have been set and solid, the third line’s been a continuous mixture of personnel.
The Blackhawks defense has been outstanding this year by and large, but mid-January demonstrated how quickly things can fall apart on the blue-line, when the Blackhawks lost rather handily two straight games to the Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars. Coach Joel Quenneville’s feathers were certainly ruffled; evident by his predictable line shuffling of the defensive strings following the defeats.
Predictably, the Hawks went 3-2 post Coach Q’s rearrangement, for the obvious reason: the weak link was still present and taking his toll. I’m talking about Michal Rozsival. Rozsival’s hard-nose grittiness is certainly admirable, but it doesn’t matter how willing his spirit is because it’s been seen time and again his 36 year old body just can’t shoulder the physical demands that are expected of his position on a regular basis.
Furthermore, sans his usual blue-line partner in Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya’s play has taken a turn for the worst. On the other side of the coin however, David Rundblad has seen a tremendous uptick in his production without Rozsival’s slower play bogging him down. Once again, we see the importance of line chemistry.
Jan 18, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Tim Erixon (34) with the puck during the second period against the Dallas Stars at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Line chemistry, is also the solution to this current defensive predicament for the Blackhawks, one that has Quenneville has already flirted with, and that is putting David Rundblad and Tim Erixon on the third defensive line, for good.
This would not be foreign territory for the two young Swedish blue-liners. Erixon and Rundblad were a defensive tandem and a highly successful one at that when they were playing for Skelleftea AIK of the Swedish Elitserien before they entered NHL draft in 2009.
Erixon and Rundblad’s history with one another and their common heritage are more than enough of a platform for them to form a strong bond on the blue line. This may be a gross generalization/stereotype, but the Hawks have already witnessed the effects of a strong Swedish tandem in Oduya and Hjalmarsson, so why not copy the formula?
Unfortunately, I consider this proposed solution science fiction at this point because of Coach Q’s affinity for veterans and no doubt sheer discomfort with letting two relatively green D-men helm the third line. So unless there’s an injury to the Hawks defensive corp. (like when Patrick Sharp got injured, allowing Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa to form synergy on the first line), we’re probably not going to see Rundblad and Erixon skating together for any long period of time.
However, Coach Q has already been burned by letting an aged veteran (Michal Handzus) drag down his respective line on offense, and now it’s happening with Rozsival on defense. Quenneville needs to learn from his mistakes and make that most of what he’s got to work with and assemble a serviceable and capable third defensive string.
FOR THE DAGGER!
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