Though the Chicago Blackhawks have continued to be a perennial Stanley Cup contender, their 2014-15 season, particularly since the calendars turned on New Years Day, has been…. weird.
The Blackhawks went into their usual January slumber during the midst of their ice show road trip, and with two shutout losses to close it out, it seemed like offense was the problem.
Flash forward to present day, and the ‘Hawks have points in their last five games since returning home, including three wins. Marian Hossa has awakened, and has been a force driving the Blackhawks’ offense, and those worries have since evaporated.
With solid goaltending all the way through the system, the Blackhawks are left with one ‘if’: the defense.
It seems almost absurd to think that the Blackhawks need an upgrade on the blue-line: one of their own, Duncan Keith, took home the Norris Trophy as the best in the league at that position just last season.
True, Keith and Brent Seabrook have been stalwarts on the Blackhawks’ defense for years, and they will continue to do so for several more seasons. Add Niklas Hjalmarsson, (who chipped in offensively in the Blackhawks’ win on Sunday), and you have three premier NHL defensemen, each playing slightly different roles.
David Rundblad closes out the Blackhawks’ top-four. Though his start in Chicago was a shaky one, his pairing with Keith, and more recently, the move back to his native right side, have bolstered Rundblad’s confidence, as the young Swedish defenseman has chipped in both offensively and defensively as of late.
So what exactly, is the problem?
Look down the Blackhawks’ depth charts a little further, and the club’s big issue will present itself. On paper, Johnny Oduya sounds like a solid player to have in a teams’ third-pairing. Oduya played with Team Sweden a year ago in the Olympics, and if you look at the Blackhawks’ record since they acquired him from Winnipeg, it is out-standing. However, 2014-15 hasn’t been his year, and ever since he was split from his fellow Swede, Hjalmarsson, Oduya has struggled mightily.
Then comes Michal Roszival.
Like the Michal Handzus of last season, Roszival seems to slow down the Blackhawks’ defense, and though his errors are not terribly frequent, they are so glaring that usually the puck ends up in the back of the Blackhawks’ net. At 36, Roszival is the odd man out on the Blackhawks’ blue-line, and fans’ patience with #32 has certainly worn thin.
In the press box sits Tim Erixon, who the Blackhawks acquired when they shipped Jeremy Morin off to Columbus earlier in the season. Though Erixon has shown flashes of a solid defensive mind, he, like Roszival, has made too many mistakes so far to consider himself ‘reliable’. Add in his injuries, and the Blackhawks’ depth at defense is certainly lacking.
Stan Bowman’s options to upgrade at defense are not limited as the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline approaches. The Carolina Hurricanes offer a reliable depth defenseman in Andrej Sekera, who is also the most affordable, with a cap hit of $2.75 million. Jeff Petry of the Edmonton Oilers isn’t far behind, with a cap hit of $3.1 million, and would be a good fit alongside Oduya as a two-way defenseman.
However, the Blackhawks’ most likely move would come from within. The ‘Hawks have no shortage of quality defensive prospects; they had so many they traded one away, Adam Clendening, to the Vancouver Canucks just weeks ago. With Klas Dahlbeck, Stephen Johns, and Viktor Svedberg all in the minors with the Rockford IceHogs, calling up a young defenseman during crunch time is a low-risk option that could usher in a new era on the Blackhawks’ blue-line for the next several years.
The question remains to be answered if Bowman will even address the Blackhawks’ issue; as long as Head Coach Joel Quenneville continues to put Roszival on the ice during critical situations, you can expect the Blackhawks’ defense to stay exactly how it is today.
Bowman hasn’t been a big news-maker at the Trade Deadline over the past few seasons, and not many expect that to change in 2015. As long as the Blackhawks keep winning games, the defensive depth will stay exactly how it is, or at most, see an injection of youth from inside the system.
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