With news on Thursday (broken by the agent and player) that the Blackhawks have signed forward Brandon Segal, Chicago has plenty of depth up front heading into the 2011-12 season.
Frankly, they did before signing Segal.
And now they have too many players.
So who emerges from the mess of players fighting for the fourth line and wins a roster spot? Let’s examine who’s on the bubble, and who’s looking for a nice place to rent in Rockford.
Here are the players that figure to be fighting for minutes on the fourth line this year:
- Jamal Mayers
- Rostislav Olesz
- Daniel Carcillo
- John Scott*
- Marcus Kruger
- Ben Smith
- Brett McLean
- Brandon Segal
I’m not a math expert, but the last time I checked eight is more than three. The Blackhawks appear to have at least seven forward (eight if we include Scott) fighting for that final line, and they already have one extra body signed on the blue line.
Which means more than a couple of these guys won’t be in Chicago.
The safest bet to be on the Blackhawks roster on Opening Night is Mayers. He’s a solid veteran who’s smart and physical and who, most importantly, can play center or wing. We all know that Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville love versatility, and Mayers brings that. Pencil him in.
Most folks, including me, thought Smith was a lock after his gritty performance in the playoffs last year. What is interesting about his scenario heading into the coming season is that he, like five of the other seven names on this list, is in the final year of his contract. Because of his work last spring and ability to take faceoffs, I believe he makes the roster. With Carcillo suspended for the first two games of the season and no news of how Bryan Bickell’s recovery from wrist surgery is coming, Smith has to be in the mix.
Kruger is the intriguing name on this list. The organization and most scouts love his game, which would appear to make him a lock for the final roster. But he also has less than a month of experience playing in North America. He might be better served getting ice time in Rockford, but could wind up in Chicago because of his upside.
Carcillo is the fourth name that needs extra attention on this list because he’s the powderkeg the roster lacked last year. He probably isn’t a guarantee of playing in the 80 games he’s eligible for (or even 60 for that matter), but he has shown good hands around the net in the past and plays with an edge the size of the Grand Canyon. He should be expected to be in the mix on the fourth line once his suspension ends.
So what happens with the other guys?
The organization clearly made a mistake when they gave Scott a two-year deal. He spent more time in the box – either press or penalty – than he did on the ice last year, and showed very little ice hockey ability. If the organization is truly expecting him to see regular ice time, even Rockford might not be the appropriate place at this point; there are too many talented bodies ahead of him there, too. Whether he’s a defenseman or forward, it’s hard to see how and where he fits in the Chicago Blackhawks organization anywhere above the ECHL.
McLean is an easy call because he signed a two-way deal. He can play center, but was overseas for the last two years playing for Bern in the NLA (Switzerland). Because of Carcillo’s suspension, he might be in the mix for a spot in the first couple games of the season but expectations are for him to spend this year in Rockford.
However, something to keep in the back of your mind is McLean’s experience overseas. If Kruger shows any signs of struggling to adjust to the game on this side of the pond, spending time working with a 33-year-0ld NHL veteran that also played in Europe last year might present an opportunity for McLean to help mentor Kruger in Rockford at the start of the season.
The player that’s hardest to figure out is Olesz. He has three years remaining on his contract, and is coming off a knee injury. Rocky Wirtz is already paying Cristobal Huet to play in Europe, so expecting him to have almost $9M committed to two players not in the NHL is a lot to expect from any owner.
The terms of the agreement with Segal haven’t been formally announced yet, other than its length being one season. One would have to assume that it’s a two-way deal, and that he’ll find himself in a similar situation to McLean to begin the season.
But the number of players available could/should raise some questions.
- Is Carcillo considered a top-12 forward on this roster? Or is he #13?
- With Carcillo out the first two games, and if he’s a top-12 guy, who gets his ice time?
- Where is Bryan Bickell? He had major wrist surgery (see: Modano, Mike) in April. Will he be ready for October?
- Who’s the first veteran traded out of town? And how soon does it happen (my over/under is Nov. 25)?