Mar 29, 2015; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks defencemanMichal Rozsival
(32) stretches prior to the game against the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
This past weekend, our beloved Chicago Blackhawks got out of their mini-rut with two back-to-back wins against Western Conference opponents in the St. Louis Blues and Calgary Flames, giving them a nice morale boost before they embark on six straight away games for their annual Circus Trip.
Many in Hawks Nation have credited the return of defensemen Duncan Keith and Michal Rozsival as a major reason for the double W’s. While Duncs is an integral part of the Blackhawks’ core whose return is certainly welcomed with open arms across the board, the reception for Rozsival’s return is perhaps a bit more checkered.
While Rozy has played decently in his first two games in the 2015-2016 campaign, during last year’s regular season however, it would be fair to say Rozsival was perhaps the most polarizing player among ‘Hawks fans. While possessing true veteran grit, just a few years shy of 40, Rozsival’s age has been in many conversations questioning whether he still has what it takes to play in today’s NHL.
The abundant amount of dumb penalties and out-of-position goals against Rozsival became guilty of last season certainly lent evidence to the argument that he was more a liability than an asset to the ‘Hawks blue line. However, once the post-season rolled around, Rozsival seemed to have turned a corner and became much more of a defensive staple.
As we know all too well however, Rozy’s resurgence came to a cringing halt when he literally ran his ankle off his foot in the second round of the playoffs against the Minnesota Wild. It would have been one thing had the injury been sustained through a freak collision, but it occurred isolated on open ice as Rozsival was simply trying to maintain positioning against yet another opponent faster and more agile than himself.
Needless to say the argument that Rozsival just doesn’t have it anymore at his age has never gone away, thus the fact that he was even re-signed for an additional year has stunned many in Chi-Town.
Let’s be honest: Rozsival has been able to continue his career in Chicago due to Coach Joel Quenneville’s aggravatingly stubborn penchant for big-bodied veterans that require little coaching, and little else. However, Coach Q’s affinity for Rozsival has grown in its potential detriment by the year, to the point where it could have easily de-railed the Hawks’ quest for the Stanley Cup last year had it not been for the amazing play of the Big Four (Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Johnny Oduya).
This year is no exception. Rozsival’s presence has already created a potential pitfall for the Blackhawks from a roster standpoint. Everyone knows (except the Blackhawks’ brass apparently) that Rozsival is not the future of the blue line for the ‘Hawks. Yet this year, like the year before, Rozy being allowed to cling to what remains of his career in Chicago is denying younger, promising defensemen adequate time to gain NHL experience and develop with the ‘Hawks.
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You could argue potential defensive breakouts Adam Clendening and Klas Dahlbeck’s Chicago careers suffered from this Rozsival phenomenon last year. As for this season… well let’s just say moving Erik Gustafsson back to the Rockford IceHogs after such an extremely promising debut to make room for Rozsival on the roster did not exactly sit well in many Hawks Nation circles.
There is one differentiator between Rozsival of last year and this season however, but it’s far from a plus. In addition to the age-related liabilities that comes with Rozy, now there is the added concern of lingering side effects from his prolific ankle injury.
Yes, Rozy does bring a certain degree of consistency back to the blue line, and there has been a great deal of recovery time between when Rozsival showed the world which direction your foot is not supposed to face and his return to the ice this season. Yet, given that Rozsival’s age has already been noticeably affecting his play for several years now, and veteran bodies aren’t necessarily known for their resilience, the Blackhawks are playing a dangerous game of roulette by keeping Rozy in the lineup.
The good news is that Keith and Rozsival’s absence gave people more confidence about the ‘Hawks defensive depth in the farm system. The bad news is playing in the AHL is a different animal than the NHL, and the longer Rozsival’s presence forces these young blue-liners to languish in Rockford, the harder it will be for them to quickly acclimate when the ‘Hawks need them to in the wake of say, another Rozival injury, which given his age and IR history, is practically an inevitability if you’re the betting type.
Compounding this predicament is the Central Division. The Central Division sent an NHL-leading five teams to the playoffs last year, and thus far this season has more teams north of 20 points in the standings than any other division. Suffice it to say the ‘Hawks just don’t have the luxury or weathering another defensive hiccup this season from a standings standpoint.
Frankly, I hope Rozsival turns in a spectacular season and makes all the aforementioned look like foolish speculation. Until then however, I’m sure I won’t be the only one keeping a scrutinizing eye on the Blackhawks’ blue line.
FOR THE DAGGER!