When training camp begins tomorrow at the United Center, there are a number of questions that will need answers in a short amount of time.
Unlike the beginning of last season, when most of the questions started with “Who the heck,” this year’s team actually has too much depth for the NHL roster. So who sticks? And what happens to the guys that don’t?
One of the real enigmas heading into this year’s camp is Rostislav Olesz. Acquired from Florida in the Brian Campbell trade, it’s hard to figure how, and where, he fits into the Hawks plans.
Olesz, who turns 26 just days after the beginning of the 2011-12 season, has three years left on a contract carrying a $3.125M cap number. He has half way through a six-year deal signed with Florida back in 2008. Since signing the deal, he has missed 87 games in three years while scoring only 24 goals.
He missed the end of the 2010-11 season because of a knee injury.
Listed at 6’1 and 214 pounds, Olesz certainly brings a physical presence to the ice. In the last three years, despite injuries, Olesz has piled up 187 hits in only 159 games. The problem, however, is that he needs to stay on the ice.
Olesz has scored as many as 14 goals in a season twice, including reaching that mark in only 56 games during the 2007-08 season; the following summer, he signed the six-year deal.
Looking at the Blackhawks roster, it’s hard to figure where Olesz fits for a couple reasons.
First, because he was in the Eastern Conference and he’s missed so many games in the past, it’s hard to know how Olesz fits against a Western Conference schedule. The teams he played on in Florida weren’t very good, or disciplined.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly for the Hawks, there are enough NHL players on the roster that he isn’t guaranteed a spot.
Battling for ice time at the bottom of the roster figures to be a cluster of players, including Daniel Carcillo, Viktor Stalberg, Marcus Kruger, Jamal Mayers, Ben Smith and Olesz. And we haven’t mentioned John Scott, who figures to be the eighth defenseman (at best).
Olesz may have backed into an opportunity to see NHL ice time to begin the year. Carcillo is suspended for the first two regular season games, and there is some question regarding how soon Patrick Sharp will be back on the ice following his appendectomy. If both Carcillo and Sharp miss the first couple games of the year, that could be enough damage to the depth chart for Olesz to get decent ice time.
But beyond two games, it’s hard to figure where Olesz fits in the NHL. Coming back from knee surgery, one would have to assume the Blackhawks would want him to get regular ice time to build strength back up in the leg… which should mean Rockford is in the cards at least for a while.
There is one other reality that must be mentioned with Olesz and the Blackhawks.
If Olesz is in Rockford, and if we assume Kruger is in Chicago (which, based on comments from management, feels appropriate), the Blackhawks could have over $5.6M in cap space heading into a season with a full roster and healthy bodies on the bench. That’s a number that affords a top-end player if the Hawks want, or (heaven forbid) need, to make a deal during the season.
When the puck drops at the UC tomorrow, and over the coming three weeks, eyes will be on Olesz to see what, if anything, the Hawks got in exchange for Campbell this summer. It’s up to him to earn a spot on the roster.