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Chicago Blackhawks: What About Michael Paliotta?

By Tim Lively
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Feb 15, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) is checked by Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival (32) during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

As yet more evidence our beloved Chicago Blackhawks thrive in adversity, last night the Hawks gave all their doubters in the world of hockey that said Minnesota Wild would finally beat them in the post season the proverbial middle finger by dispensing the Wild 4-0 in the second round; their best dismissal of their Central Division rival in three straight years.

Going into the game last night, there were many reasons Hawks Nation wanted their boys in red, white, and black, to sweep the Wild, one at the forefront being grabbing some extra time for the more “seasoned” veterans in the Hawks defensive corp. to rest. Well, no one ever said the Stanley Cup playoffs are not without a sense of irony.

All season long, throngs of Chicago denizens were harping on the pitfalls of Michal Rozsival. While an able defensemen, at 36, Rosy has proven time and again he just doesn’t have the legs to keep up with the pace of the game anymore. All these concerns fell on deaf ears. While other Hawks players were thrown in Coach Joel Quenneville’s infamous doghouse for far less failings during the regular season, Rozsival continued to get ice time despite frequently getting caught out of position and committing dumb penalties to compensate. Both of which ended up in opposing team goals all too often.

Thus, it is cruelly ironic that it’s taken Rozsival doing his best Joe Theisman impression as he was yet again caught flat footed by a speedy opposing forward (this time it was Thomas Vanek) for Quenneville to perhaps finally understand what the better part of Chi-Town has been ranting about all year long.

Say what you will about Rozsival, for better or worse, he’s played his part in deep playoff runs and a Stanley Cup victory for the Hawks, so he’ll always have a place in our hearts, more or less. However, now the question is with Rozsival out for the rest of the season with a broken ankle, who will fill his spot during the Western Conference?

The two most obvious candidates are David Rundblad and Kyle Cumiskey. As you know both are defensemen with relatively limited NHL playing experience that both have their own sets of pros and cons. However, their other commonality is their failure to win over Q-stache during the regular season despite ample opportunities.

So who will get the call? Based on recent playing time alone, it would appear Rundblad has the slight edge, but it might not be so simple.

There are another factors that could affect who will take over Rozsival’s shift, one of them being who the Hawks end up facing in the Western Conference Finals: the Calgary Flames or the Anaheim Ducks.

If the Hawks end up playing the Flames, they’d have home-ice advantage and thus probably cause Coach Q to play it safe and go with Rundblad, or Cumiskey, depending on how they do in practice. However, if the Hawks end up facing the Ducks, things may get interesting.

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If the Hawks go against the Ducks in the Western Conference Finals, they’ll not only lose home ice advantage, but also be playing a far bigger and physical team than the Flames.

Rozsival’s one redeeming quality was his willingness to throw his 6’ 1” 210 lbs. frame around, albeit not always in the most intelligent way. Still, having a physical presence to help clear out the crease on the lower lines is probably why Coach Q has stubbornly stuck with Rosy for so long. Thus, with Rundblad and Cumiskey both hovering around 6’ 180 lbs. Rozsival’s physicality would be sorely missed against Anaheim.

Therefore Coach Q may be looking in other places to fill the physical void left by Rosy, and one of those places may be Michael Paliotta. This 6’ 3” 207 lbs. defenseman was recently signed by the Hawks, and has only one games-worth of NHL experience (though he did notch an assist in that contest), but is eligible to play in the post season. However, we all know how little Quenneville cares for developing young talent, so why would Paliotta even be in this conversation?

There are several recent developments on the Hawks that may sway Coach Q take a longer look at Paliotta. One of them is the outstanding play of NHL novice goaltender Scott Darling. Darling came in and delivered BIG when needed this post season, which may warm up Q-Stache to the possibility of other novice players following suit.

The other factor is the acquisition of veteran blue-liner Kimmo Timonen. Timonen may not have made any additions to the score sheet thus far since coming to Chicago, but he’s proven to be a willing and capable mentor to young players, namely fellow Fin Teuvo Teravainen. Timonen has already made clear his intention to go into coaching after he retires this year, so theoretically he could serve as a second coach for Paliotta on the ice and help give him the developmental guidance Quenneville is so unwilling to impart.

The bottom line is, if the Hawks play the Ducks, given how underwhelming the default Rozsival replacements Rundblad and Cumiskey have been this year, Q-Stache might as well roll the dice on Paliotta. If he pans out, great! If not, it’ll be on Rundblad or Cumiskey anyway.

FOR THE DAGGER!

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