With all the changes in player personnel thus far this offseason, one new addition to our beloved Chicago Blackhawks that has certainly fallen into the background amidst the multitude of roster transactions is Ulf Samuelsson. Today, Blackhawk Up’s Tim Lively talks a bit more about this addition
Ulf Samuelsson was brought on board with the Chicago Blackhawks this offseason to replace assistant coach Mike Kitchen, who was surprisingly shown the door not long after the Blackhawks suffered a humiliating sweep exit at the hands of the Nashville Predators in the first round of the playoffs this past spring.
While we can hash out Samuelsson’s qualifications and experience behind the bench another day, I’d like to focus on the tall order on his hands, because his ability to fill it will likely make or break his career on the Blackhawks’ coaching staff.
What I’m talking about here is the beleaguered Blackhawks blue line. While there have been other issues up and down the roster, it’s become all but unanimous among Chi-Town denizens that the ’Hawks’ defense needs the most improvement this offseason.
One of the main complaints about the Blackhawks’ defensive corps has been its collective age; the players have simply gotten too old and slow to keep up with today’s speedy NHL forwards. Apparently, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman got the memo.
Hence, after Bowman’s wheelings and dealings thus far this offseason, with the exceptions of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Michal Rozsival, as of this post the team has a blue line collectively under the age of 28.
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Samuelsson’s role with revamped blue line
Now, while all this youth brings some much-needed vitality to the Blackhawks’ defensive ranks, it also brings a lot of inexperience. Enter Samuelsson. As a former defenseman himself, Samuelsson will be expected to mold these mostly novice defenders into a well-oiled machine capable of, at the very least, playing at playoff-qualifying caliber.
Some ‘Hawks fans may already be drawing parallels between this year’s defensive youth movement and the one the Blackhawks experienced on the offensive side of the ice this past season. While this is a fair comparison, before you take too much solace in the relative success the offensive youth movement this past year, we need to keep in mind an important factor.
While there were an atypically high number of forwards with minimal NHL exposure skating for the Blackhawks last season compared to seasons past, it could be argued that they at least had the benefit of being lined up alongside at least one, if not two teammates who had multiple years of big league experience under their belts.
Whether this helped the young Blackhawks forwards in their first complete NHL experience is a conversation for another day, but it is certainly a luxury the green defensemen of the ‘Hawks will be without this year.
Given the look of the roster right now, the ‘Hawks would be rolling at least one, if not two, defensive pairs a game without full seasons on their stat sheets.
This means the pressure is squarely on Samuelsson to provide leadership that is effective and inspiring enough to provide a type of on-ice guidance that enables his young and inexperienced defensemen to play smart and confidentially.
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This is no easy task, but unfortunately for Samuelsson, he’s not going to get any sympathy for how steep a mountain he must climb.
Blackhawks Nation is still reeling from the disappointing exit from last year’s playoffs, and its notoriously high standards for the ‘Hawks are only going to heighten given all the murmurs of their Stanley Cup window getting smaller each year.
Bowman’s irritation has been well documented, and even though they were teammates on the Hartford Whalers once upon a time, Samuelsson probably shouldn’t expect much support from coach Joel Quenneville, whose surly stubbornness has only been exacerbated by the departure of Kitchen.
However, should Samuelsson be able to assemble a successful defensive unit out of the predominantly neophyte parts he’s been given, his name will forever be hailed in Blackhawks’ lore. Should he not experience at least some level of measurable success, he very well could be shipped out of Chi-Town before the bullseye painted on his back dries.
There is good news for Samuelsson, though. Given the number of inexperienced defenders making up the blue line he is tasked to helm, he will be able to mold them as he sees fit with a high degree of autonomy. While vets like Seabrook and Keith are certainly recognized team leaders who will have their say in the team’s defensive direction, they haven’t exactly been known for going out of their way to take young defenders under their wing.
Hence, Samuelsson can exert a large amount of influence throughout the Blackhawks’ defensive ranks.
Again, Samuelsson faces a monumental task this upcoming season, but at the very least, if his long career as a player (which includes two Stanley Cup wins) is an indicator of anything, it’s that he doesn’t give up when faced with tough challenges.
FOR THE DAGGER!