The Blackhawks Blue Line Conundrum

In the wake of the Nick Leddy trade, many fans are concerned about the condition of the Blackhawks’ blue line. Coach Joel Quenneville has indicated the team plans to open the regular season with eight defensemen on the roster, but who will play? And with whom?

Leddy NYI

One note that we must acknowledge is that the Blackhawks blue line has gone through an expected transformation over the last five years; the only constants in Chicago on Opening Night over the last five years have been Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. What many of us forget is that Hjalmarsson was a 22-year-old with 34 NHL games on his resume when he stepped on the ice to open the 2009-10 season.

Let’s quickly look back at the groups of defensemen used by the Blackhawks on Opening Night since the start of the 2009-10 season, their ice time(s) on Opening Night, and what moves (if any) Stan Bowman made during the season to address his blue line:

2009-10: 4-3 OT loss vs Florida

  • Duncan Keith – 28:57
  • Brent Seabrook – 28:46
  • Brian Campbell – 25:25
  • Niklas Hjalmarsson – 21:34
  • Cam Barker – 13:20
  • Brent Sopel – 11:03

In-Season Trades: Aaron Johnson to Calgary (Oct. 7), Barker to Minnesota (Feb. 10), future consideration to Anaheim for Nick Boynton (March 10).

2010-11: 4-3 OT loss vs Colorado

  • Duncan Keith – 33:39
  • Brent Seabrook – 28:22
  • Niklas Hjalmarsson – 22:55
  • Nick Leddy – 19:21
  • John Scott – 6:58
  • Jordan Hendry – 5:33

In-Season Trades: Ryan Potulny and a 2nd round pick to Ottawa for Chris Campoli (Feb. 28).

2011-12: 2-1 loss vs Dallas

  • Duncan Keith – 27:13
  • Brent Seabrook – 20:48
  • Niklas Hjalmarsson – 16:41
  • Nick Leddy – 19:36
  • Sami Lepisto – 9:35
  • Sean O’Donnell – 13:42
  • Steve Montador – 9:34

In-Season Trades: 2nd & 3rd round picks to Winnipeg for Johnny Oduya (Feb. 27).

oduya

2012-13: 5-2 win vs Los Angeles

  • Duncan Keith – 22:44
  • Brent Seabrook – 23:01
  • Niklas Hjalmarsson – 21:03
  • Johnny Oduya – 21:26
  • Nick Leddy – 15:37
  • Sheldon Brookbank – 12:53

In-Season Trades: none involving defensemen.

2013-14: 6-4 win vs Washington

  • Duncan Keith – 24:51
  • Brent Seabrook – 20:42
  • Niklas Hjalmarsson – 20:57
  • Johnny Oduya – 18:40
  • Nick Leddy – 17:28
  • Michal Rozsival – 14:42

In-Season Trades: Dylan Olsen and Jimmy Hayes to Florida for Kris Versteeg (Nov. 14), 2nd round pick to Phoenix for David Rundblad (March 4). 

Let’s also keep in mind that Leddy’s NHL debut in 2010 came only because Brian Campbell was out hurt, and he spent only 46 games in what would have been his sophomore year at the University of Minnesota with the NHL club.

duncankeith510

The turnover on the bottom pair has been significant, with perhaps the worst looking blue line of the bunch coming in 2011’s opener where the Hawks skated seven defensemen of which only four should have been anywhere near the roster.

Trades have happened, some as early as the first week of October; tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the Aaron Johnson trade. In four of the last five seasons, Bowman has done something to tweak his blue line during the season, and the expectation heading into the 2014-15 season should be more of the same.

With eight defensemen (not including Stephen Johns, Klas Dahlbeck or Adam Clendening) on the NHL roster, Leddy’s departure is likely only the beginning. And considering Rozsival and Oduya are unrestricted free agent veterans in 2015, getting a good look at the next generation of Blackhawks is certainly in the organization’s best interests.

Is the Hawks’ blue line ideal less? Probably not. But keeping in mind that this is probably not a finished product should give fans a moment of pause before grabbing the torches and pitch forks.

32 thoughts on “The Blackhawks Blue Line Conundrum

  1. Good article Tab and a great reminder for all of us quick to panic Chicago sports fans. It is to the point that I am not concerned with the roster until February. I think this team is no doubt a playoff team and as the season plays out we will see where we need tweaks. Hopefully we are able to make the necessary ones when that time comes. Until then I will just enjoy the ride.

  2. I think whatever kids they give the minutes to there needs to be some leeway. Like Keith and Hammer as a shutdown pair. Oh well.

    I hate that carcillo means Hossa skating closer to 19 than 16 minutes per night.

    Should be interesting to see how this shakes out and the leash length on some players.

    Richards between Hossa and Sharp with Kane Saad Toews also makes more sense to me than Shaw there but what do I know.

  3. I think Leddy probably got either too much love or too much angst from Blackhawks fans in the past few years. He only became clearly the fifth best D-Man last year…a year in which he had to overcome the revolving door of partners. I feel he helped the Hawks a lot last year with his puck control to the O-Zone and 2nd PP Unit QB skills…however as a D-Man…I don’t know if he ever would get better than the 5th player on the roster. Losing him will hurt this year, but even with him being a restricted free agent next year, would the Hawks have been able to afford him? I tend to believe the turnover will come pretty quick on the blue line and we will get to see the next wave of players soon.

    Oduya will either walk or be traded, if possible at the trade deadline. This trade depends on standings and how ready the youngsters are to assume control.

    Perhaps the biggest crime in the past couple of years was the 2 year deal to Rozy (as pointed out by others). The travesty was not offering him a contract, because he was a vital contributor to the Cup team in 2013. It was the second year. No one could have predicted the precipitous drop in his play last year…I mean it is almost unimaginable. We will be told that 2 years is what the AAV to be so low…but I feel he would have taken 2 million for 1 year just to stay in Chicago…we will have to see if he regains any of his previous form.

    Anyway change is coming and it will have to be done on the fly.

  4. Hawks are about 50k over the cap with their 23 men roster (incl. TVR) according to Capgeek. I expect something to happen before tomorrow afternoon, most probably Rozy going to LTIR. Hawks would buy some time to evaluate their defensive prospects in the meaningful games, before they will need to make a decision on Rozy. Cumiskey is OK for the 7th Dman I think, can be replaced by Brennan if not good enough with the same low cap hit…

  5. Thanks Tab, I am stepping back from the ledge. Wonder if the locker room in Rockford will be tense with competition amongst their own defensemen. It should be almost as much fun watching Rockford as it will the big club.

  6. Tab: What/ how do you think the roster will pan out into April based on preseason play and the vibe from Q(I know it is a long ways off but your gut feeling)? It seemed like he was pretty high on TVR as that 6th D man…do you think they want him to get a little time in Rockford and see how he plays before making that move?

    Cap geek has the Hawks at $877k under cap with the 22 man roster, are they required to carry a 23 man roster or can they enter the season with 22. I was looking at the rules and it appears as though they have the minimum requirement of 21. How does that play out?

  7. With the system that our management team has set up, we have the resources in the pipe line to make a trade. Or, if someone gets injured, we have the players to step right into the big club and help out. Think about it, there are teams in the NHL with NOTHING in the minors but “hopefuls”. We have 5-6 players in Rockford that could be in the top 6-8 players on any team in the NHL.

  8. It’s interesting how many guys are going to be in Rockford on one-way contracts.
    Brennan, Regin and LeBlanc.

    Some have talked about Brennan getting a chance on the 3rd pairing in Chicago but I don’t see that happening. I’m wondering if Garth Snow told Stan he would have to take Brennan’s contract, $600,000 if he wanted to make the Leddy deal.

  9. Spot on Reg.

    Straight up Leddy for Brennan and Pokka was, IMO, was a great move given the cap problem. The leading D scorer in the A and a top Liiga/WJC 20 year old D for Leds was an excellent long term move. Is there a possibility, at some point, we may see Brennan with Hammer and Oduya anchoring the 4th to “break in” the rooks, while Rozy lives out his remaining days in the LTIR rocking chair? Who knows, we’ve seen stranger things w/ Q. Regardless of who starts the season, these were safe moves and helps Stan and Q with flexibility over the next few weeks/months for call ups and trades.

    And don’t forget that if Carcillo doesn’t work out they can always put him on waivers. If he clears, he’ll just make his $550K in Rockford, so no big deal as far as Morin’s opportunities.

  10. My compliments on a very nice article. The year to year comparison was a nice reflection on the defense changes over the years. The interesting thing noted was the decline in the minutes for Keith and Seabrook. I expressed my frustration with some of the d-man demotions to RFD after the other articles, but this article puts things in perspective. I will sit back and enjoy the journey.

  11. Agree with Booman, great article and puts things into good perspective. I think it was Lazarus this weekend who said – in Chicago we have first world hockey problems – debating about your 5/6 Dman, 4th line and prospects are debates many other teams wish they had the luxury of having. Looking forward to the season getting under way and the many insightful articles and posts coming from this site.

  12. Great article Tab.

    I have always stuck up for Leddy but I understand that with the cap crunch next summer, he would have signed elsewhere.

    On a related note, Saad is the primary focus next summer, if not before then. What do you guys all think will happen with his contract? short bridge deal? Long term deal? How expensive will he be to join the core (10 or 7 gone???!) How would you let it unfold?

  13. yes a conundrum . . . but to me like the BULLS the entire team focuses so much on playing D and getting back and covering that to ME, Hawks defense is average after Keith and Seabrook, Hammer as it’s been told leads the world in turnovers for a defensemen but he is the only True 110% defensemen they got. Hawks need a big body, stay home type player sort think PRONGER need to be more physical the WEST will wear them down but HAWKS are still top favorites to win it all, I hope so. I would have let OH-DO-YA go and Versteeeeeg too.

  14. I understand we are stuck with Rozy because of that awful contract SB gave him, but it seems we have better options in Rockford than Cumiskey, TVR, and Rundblad. What do the guys who had a great training camp think when they look at these roster decisions? How long can you tell a guy, we want you to work on some things when he knows he is better than the guy that made the roster ahead of him? Heck, when you are better than 4 guys ahead of you. It’s hard to wrap your head around some of these decisions.

  15. Hahaha. Yes Mike The Mook, the Hawks need someone that is similar to one of the greatest defensemen of all times. You nailed it there. Also, if Keith and Seabrook are the “shut down pairing”, why do they take on softer competition than Hammer and Oduya?

    Anyway, Leddy is going to shine with the Islanders, especially if he doesn’t have the restrictions that were placed on him here. If they allow him to use his full skill set? Look out for NYI.

    I’m expecting a LTIR for Rozy by midseason, Cuminskey getting cut within a few weeks (because he’s not good at hockey), and TVR getting sent back to the minors for more “work”. I’m hoping Johns and Dahlbeck are here for the playoffs and my gut tells me they will be.

  16. I thought the whole point of not trading Oduya was to keep that shut down pairing together? So why break them up, except to compensate for the new guys.

    Keeping TvR on the roster gives some limitations. I don’t think the Hawks keep 8 defenseman. At least not the current 8. If Cumiskey doesn’t play I think he gets put on waivers. Or something happens with Rozsival. I could honestly foresee a scenario where Cumiskey gets put on waivers and heads back to Europe (like he did last year with the Ducks), Rozsival put on LTIR, and Rundblad being sent to Rockford and someone picking him up on waivers. Then Clendening and any of the other right handed rookie defenseman being your 3rd pair. At least that’s my hope.

  17. At the end of the day Dalbeck and Clendening are probably the most skilled 2 players to fill the position. I think everything will work out. Its a long season.

  18. Cumiskey will end up in the 5th hole. Rozy will be traded or end up on the LTIR. Brennan will get a look at sometime , but will end up playing in Rockford

  19. Good trade overall, value for value – and actually Brennan is going to develop just fine. Tough call on Nick Leddy because I think he was seen as a economically priced replacement for Brian Campbell, and when he didn’t develop out that way discussions started and questions ensued starting with the Playoffs last year, specifically when Leddy was noticeably absent during much of the series. The hand writing was on the wall, …

  20. “Nick Leddy because I think he was seen as a economically priced replacement for Brian Campbell”

    Campbell when he was Leddy’s age:
    1999–00 Rochester Americans AHL 67 2 24 26
    1999–00 Buffalo Sabres NHL 12 1 4
    2000–01 Rochester Americans AHL 65 7 25 32
    2000–01 Buffalo Sabres NHL 8 0 0 0

    Leddy:
    2012–13 Chicago Blackhawks NHL 48 6 12 18
    2013–14 Chicago Blackhawks NHL 82 7 24 31

    62 points (most of which were in the AHL) vs 49 NHL points…

    Leddy IS EXACTLY a cheaper Soupy… which is what made him a perfect fit for the 2nd line. I will take it to my grave that i’d give oduya for NOTHING before trading leddy… but i guess thats just me…

  21. Thinking about this further, we have a glut of dmen and we have many desires on the player that does fill Leddy’s position. The urgency of getting under the cap is now over. Bowman will now take his time before making his next move increasing his negotiating leverage. I believe we see his next move in the next 30-60 days. With Cumiskey, we have waiver issues. I also believe that is an issue with Rundbland. TVR could be sent down. I believe the trade would include Cumiskey, Rundblad, Rosey (if a miracle happens), and Versteeg. The latter two would shed some salary without diminishing our ability to compete for the cap. Bowman is not under the gun right now and will shop these guys. If their play impresses, Bowman will have more leverage than he had prior to the Leddy trade. I don’t think SB wants to let Cumiskey or Rundblad go on waivers and lose them without getting any assets in return. I believe everything we are seeing in personnel moves is SB’s shrewd posturing for negotiation leverage. Except for Rosy, I believe all the players mentioned will increase in value over the next 30-60 days.

    Carcillo will do something stupid and end up suspended yet again.

  22. Tim – I appreciate that you (and many others) would have dumped Oduya before Leddy. But

    1) no guarantee of a market for Oduya
    2) Oduya has a NTC
    3) Leddy brings back better value
    4) no guarantee that either of them was in the long-term plans of the organIzation.

    As long as Clendening & vanRiemsdyk (and now Koppa) are around, the Hawks feel like they can/will replace an offensive defenseman. They HAD to move someone, and the easiest to move now AND get some decent value back was Leddy. I have been on the Leddy bandwagon since he arrived, but Chicago wasn’t a good fit for him. He’s going to do VERY well w/ the Islanders.

  23. It should have read: I believe the trade would include Cumiskey, Rundblad, Rosey (if a miracle happens), or Versteeg.

  24. All are VERY valid points Tab. As for #3, Pokka is really the only talent i think is a improvent to the franchise. I think we have guys who are equal to Brennan. Then, my one arguement with #4, while i do agree with it, is that if these prospects dont progess, leddy has a future in the NHL. Oduya is on the decline, and once his cap hit comes off the books, you could use that money to fund Leddy’s inevitable raise if you need him.. If the prospects come through and Johns, Clendening, and TVR all take to the NHL game swimmingly, then awesome… you let Leddy walk in FA next year.

    Now, if the prospects dont progess enough… we are stuck with an even older Oduya (possibly as a re-sign) or putting in guys that aren’t ready (not Q’s or Stan’s usual MO).

    Just a thought.

    On the bottom line for this year… I still think we are fine. The hawks have a top roster vs any team in the league. Sure we have flaws; so does every other team. Its going to be a fun season fellas… Lets drop the puck already… is it Thursday?

  25. I guess 23 is out … lower body… (I am speculating ACL-again???)

    does that mean Regin, TT, or other???

  26. Is anybody else as stunned as I am that Van Riemsdyk leap frogged fellow righty Clendening and made the team having not even played professional hockey yet ? And to a lesser degree Dahlbeck, who by all accounts is NHL ready ?

    That just seems totally off the charts for the way the Hawks have been developing players and letting them marinate in the minors until they are more than ready. In fact, Clendening said in an interview that when the asks sent him to Rockford, they told him it was simply a numbers game and to just keep working hard on his game.

  27. With all the movement clauses, having to place players on waivers before demoting etc…..who knows.

  28. Well at least we will see what our prospects have. With Clendening, Johns, Dahlback, Pokka and Brennan on D, Darling and Leighton in goal and a solid crop of forwards, Rockford should and really needs to do well.

  29. If you rewind to the end of the 2012-13 college season, there were 2 names everyone in the NHL wanted: Danny Dekeyser & Trevor vanRiemsdyk. Dekeyser signed w/ DET and has been a nice addition for them. Everyone else wanted TvR, but he opted to go back for another college season. If he’s anywhere close to the player in Chicago that Dekeyser has been in Detroit, the Hawks landed a gem. That said, Clendening will have his day… don’t forget Rozi & Oduya are gone next season.

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