We won’t see the same Chicago Blackhawks team Saturday against Edmonton that we did prior to the squad’s bye week
The Chicago Blackhawks today conducted their first morning skate since the bye week. Everyone who is on the active roster was in attendance, but the active roster is a bit different than it was prior to the bye week.
We documented earlier this week the sending down of four Blackhawks, partly so they could play more in the AHL and partly as a salary cap circumvention device for general manager Stan Bowman. Nick Schmaltz, Tanner Kero, Vince Hinostroza and Gustav Forsling were sent to the IceHogs early in the week.
However, only two of those guys are back with the team today in Schmaltz and Kero. Hinostroza and Forsling will remain at Rockford for the time being. Meanwhile, Michal Rozsival is off injured reserve, bringing Chicago’s roster to 22 players.
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These are interesting moves, more so in the case of Hinostroza. While he’s had his bumps in the road and seen a couple healthy scratches, I thought he was coming into form on the bottom six working alongside Ryan Hartman. The Blackhawks seem to be going the Schmaltz-Forsling-Tyler Motte route of getting him a little more fine-tuning in the minors.
Forsling being left in Rockford surprises me less. If Rozsival hadn’t been brought off IR, I would be very surprised if Forsling wasn’t back with the club now, as the Blackhawks would be carrying six defensemen — one of them the can-never-do-right Michal Kempny.
While it may be frustrating for some fans to see Hinostroza and Forsling in the AHL while Rozsival and Andrew Desjardins occupy roster spots, I’m here to say these are good moves for the Blackhawks.
Blackhawks being wise with their roster
I’m not going to sit here and say having Desjardins, Rozsival and/or Jordin Tootoo in the lineup makes the Blackhawks better, as that would be a lie. That’s not why I think these moves make sense.
And while Hinostroza and Forsling could just as easily be back with the Blackhawks by the beginning of next week (though an additional move would have to be made to fit both on the roster), I think it’s entirely OK they’re fine-tuning in the AHL.
First of all, the Blackhawks are hard-pressed to catch the Minnesota Wild in the Central Division standings. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues are hard-pressed to catch the Blackhawks for second place, unless they go all Washington Capitals on the rest of the season.
This is a perfect time for the Blackhawks to let some guys work out their kinks and gain more confidence playing against AHL competition, then come back ready to roll against NHL foes.
Pairing with that, the Blackhawks have an extremely busy March coming up. They’ll need all hands on deck for a month in which they play 16 times in 31 days. Guys like Hinostroza, Forsling and maybe even Motte won’t play nearly as many games in the AHL leading up to that stretch, and their legs might have a little more spring for a critical run of games.
Additionally, Chicago doesn’t know what it’s doing at the trade deadline. While Bowman has said the Blackhawks are standing pat, their constant cap-circumvention moves through this season suggest otherwise. They’re shifting money around and seeing what different groups of guys can do while no doubt talking with other NHL teams about potential pieces.
When will we see these guys again?
I really wouldn’t be surprised if Hinostroza is back with the team sooner rather than later. He could bear to work on his puck possession and defensive game, but he was doing more to help the team than Desjardins and Tootoo have this season.
However, Hinostroza benefits much more from getting a confidence boost at the AHL level and fine-tuning those areas of concern than he does getting eight minutes of play a night at the NHL level, as he had been.
Da Windy City
Same goes for Forsling, although in that case coach Joel Quenneville likely has even less trust invested in Forsling than Hinostroza. The youngster Forsling had his rough moments on the blue line, and there’s still plenty for him to learn in the North American game. He can do so more easily at the AHL level.
Still, I think both of these guys will be back with the Blackhawks by March, at least shortly after the trade deadline. I think the Blackhawks are working through a lot of potential trade scenarios right now and doing the best they can to keep different guys prepared to take on bigger roles with the main team.
You don’t know how important a Hinostroza, Forsling or Motte might become down the stretch. It really depends on what the Blackhawks do at the deadline and what Coach Q and Bowman decide is the best lineup to roll onto the ice.
That’s the most critical reason why storing these guys in Rockford for the time being makes sense. Get their confidence up, get their play running more smoothly and unleash them on NHL competition feeling more comfortable and prepared.
The Blackhawks are in a good position to do this based on where they sit in the standings. While an opponent going on a hot or cold streak could change matters, this is where the Blackhawks are now. They’re playing their cards correctly.