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Chicago Blackhawks: 3 Duncan Keith Replacements In Free Agency

By Matt Barbato

The Chicago Blackhawks are in a dire situation. The ’Hawks will be without star defenseman and last year’s Conn Smythe trophy winner, Duncan Keith, for four-to-six weeks after he had surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee.

The loss of Keith is practically indescribable. Keith is one of Chicago’s best defenders and he showed it while logging an average of 31 minutes of ice time per game last postseason. Keith is a premier defender and was often paired with one of Chicago’s younger, less-talented prospects and served the role of babysitter. Keith is also one of Chicago’s best facilitators offensively and has an instrumental role on the powerplay.

Keith is irreplaceable, but the Blackhawks must try to get by without him. Unfortunately, Chicago’s defensive corps wasn’t very deep to begin with. Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson will likely take enhanced roles, and the ’Hawks will pray Trevor van Riemsdyk, David Rundblad and Viktor Svedberg can improve rapidly.

If there was any good news to come from this, it would be that the Blackhawks save $5.4 million in cap space if (more likely when) they put Keith on long-term injured reserve. That would give them some room to make a minor acquisition or a major trade. The Blackhawks dealt with a similar situation when Patrick Kane broke his collarbone last season. Kane’s salary relief allowed Chicago to acquire Antoine Vermette and Kimmo Timonen in trades.

This post will focus on some free agents the Blackhawks could bring in for a cheap, short-term replacement of Keith. Here are some players the Blackhawks could call in off the street:

Sep 22, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman

Lubomir Visnovsky

(76) and Detroit Red Wings defenseman

Brendan Smith

(2) chase the puck during the third period at the United Center. Chicago won 5-4 in OT. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Lubomir Visnovsky

Visnovsky was a training-camp tryout who didn’t make the final roster. The ’Hawks may come knocking quite soon. Visnovsky wasn’t bad during training camp and has plenty of experience to step in and be competent. Visnovsky is 39 and scored five goals with 15 assists in 53 games with the New York Islanders last season.

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The issue with Visnovsky is obviously age, along with injuries that tend to accompany age. Visnovsky played 112 games over the last three seasons with the Isles. He may not have much better legs than Timonen had last season. Timonen looked like he was skating in mud at times, and the Blackhawks may not want to risk having another aging player in a prominent role on defense. The ’Hawks do have familiarity with Visnovsky, however, and that matters.

Apr 22, 2015; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild defenseman

Jordan Leopold

(33) shoots during the second period in game three of the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the St. Louis Blues at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Leopold

Leopold has considered retiring after spending last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild. Leopold played in only 36 games last season. Perhaps getting a shot to contribute for a contender would reinvigorate the 35-year-old defender.

Leopold has not played much the past few years, having not played more than 39 games since the 2011-12 campaign.

Apr 11, 2015; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres defenseman

Andrej Meszaros

(41) looks to block a pass by Pittsburgh Penguins left wing

David Perron

(39) during the second period at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Andrej Meszaros

Meszaros’ last gig in the NHL was with the Colorado Avalanche during training camp. Meszaros was ultimately cut by the Avs, but he could be a serviceable option for the desperate Blackhawks. Meszaros is only 30 and played 60 games for the Buffalo Sabres last season. He scored seven goals and added seven assists while posting a minus-13 rating for the abysmal Sabres.

Meszaros isn’t too old and has enough experience to impress Joel Quenneville, who tends to favor veterans over youth. There might be a fit with the Blackhawks and Meszaros.

Next: Blackhawks' Week Ahead: Stanley Cup Final Rematch

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