Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks Activate Rozsival, Demote Gustafsson

By Colin Likas

Once defenseman Michal Rozsival was deemed healthy following his postseason ankle break earlier this year, you knew the Chicago Blackhawks would add him to their roster as soon as they could. That day was apparently today, as Rozsival was activated from long-term injured reserve while youngster Erik Gustafsson is making the trip back to Rockford.

No one has come out and confirmed this, but it would seem likely Rozsival makes his season debut Saturday against the St. Louis Blues. It’s an odd time to activate him, as you know there are plenty of Blues who would love to test how Rozsival’s ankle is holding up. But with the Blackhawks defense having a rough go of it in recent weeks, it appears the Blackhawks wanted to get someone familiar with the system in to stabilize things.

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Please note, that’s not what I believe Rozsival brings to the table. I’m just trying to find a reason for Joel Quenneville wanting him around other than “he’s a veteran who will put an opponent in a headlock if necessary.” Rozsival is essentially a smaller, older version of Viktor Svedberg, in that neither can go anywhere quickly. If there’s a positive to take from Rozsival’s addition, it’s that he had started to play well prior to his injury in the 2015 postseason. Of course, how that ankle holds up in live action is an entirely different story, and it could drastically affect his already below-prime level of play.

Of course, Rozsival isn’t the whole story here. Gustafsson heads back to the IceHogs after a solid six-game stint with the big club. Gustafsson was generally effective on the blue line, not making an overabundance of mistakes defensively while contributing on offense (two assists). Hopefully, after some more time in Rockford to just become a more well-rounded as a hockey player, Gustafsson can be an effective long-term defenseman for the Blackhawks. We know they could use it, with the prospect cupboards pretty barren at this point.

This won’t be the end of the player movement, either, especially with the circus trip starting next week and Duncan Keith about ready to go. As the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus pointed out on Twitter, moving Rozsival first makes it likely (though not definite) he plays Saturday against the Blues, while a later (and inevitable) move of Keith could set him up for a softer opening against the Calgary Flames on Sunday. Not sure why Keith would really need a softer open than Rozsival, but that could be what we’re looking at. Keith could also be taken off IR later today and render that point moot, so we’ll see what happens.

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But when Keith comes up, the Blackhawks will likely need to demote a pair of players to get his contract under the salary cap. 670 The Score’s Jay Zawaski noted on Twitter that the Blackhawks are operating with $4,511,250 in cap space after sending down Gustafsson, but Keith’s hit is $5,538,462. So …

Svedberg has been with the Blackhawks since Opening Night, which was always a bit of a surprise, but he may get the heave-ho simply because moving Trevor Daley isn’t an option and David Rundblad is on a one-way contract, meaning a demotion would expose him and his two-year deal to waivers (Daley is also on a one-way deal, for what it’s worth). So Svedberg may get the short end of the stick on the blue line. And judging by his deployment as a Daniel Carcillo lookalike in last night’s loss, Brandon Mashinter probably isn’t long for the Blackhawks, either. So it would make sense for Svedberg and Mashinter to head to Rockford, leaving a spot for Keith and the Blackhawks one short of the 23-player maximum.

Do these moves (and potential moves) make the Blackhawks defense better? Having Keith back will certainly help, but there’s not a lot else to like at this point. Brent Seabrook has stepped up admirably in Keith’s absence. Trevor van Riemsdyk has also done his best to take on much tougher assignments than he was last season. Niklas Hjalmarsson … he’s always the defensive warrior, but it looks to me like the multiple Cup runs are beginning to take their toll. We really don’t need to talk about Daley and Rundblad, and Rozsival’s upside is probably very close to zero at this point.

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So to answer my own question, I honestly have no idea. If the Blackhawks weren’t so tight against the cap, they may already have made a move for a better defensive option outside the team. Stan Bowman could be looking at options as we speak. But the Blackhawks are probably going to roll with Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Daley, van Riemsdyk, Rozsival and Rundblad for the circus trip. Buckle up, folks.