Blackhawks Blue Line: Answers Creating Questions?

Now that Jordan Hendry and Nick Boynton are signed, the Blackhawks will be able to dress six defenseman on Opening Night that played in the Stanley Cup Finals. So even with all the movement on the roster this summer, the team still has it’s strong blue line largely intact (with, of course, the exception of Brent Sopel).

But with Hendry and Boynton in the fold, there could be a logjam on the blue line that could create more questions in training camp and into the beginning of the season.

The Blackhawks have a group of incredibly strong young prospects that are expected to be ready at some point in the 2010-11 season to play a significant role on the ice. Whether it’s Ivan Vishnevskiy or Shawn Lalonde, there will undoubtedly be strong competition for roster spots this season.

And Hendry and Boynton are certainly not full-time fixes.

Hendry’s new deal, with a cap number of $600k, and Boynton’s new paper, with a cap value of only $500k, give GM Stan Bowman lots of options at the beginning of the season. Both veterans signed one-year deals, clearly making both temporary role players for the team.

The 26-year-old Hendry is coming off his best NHL season, but that’s a relative statement. He skated in only 43 games, scoring two goals and adding six assists while averaging just 11:51 on the ice. He has now played in just 92 games, with only three goals and eight assists for a career.

Meanwhile, the 31-year-old Boynton was a late-season acquisition for the Hawks who only played in seven regular season games for the Hawks after spending most of last year with Anaheim. He ended up being a key member of the Blackhawks championship roster, though, and was on the ice when Patrick Kane scored the Cup-winning goal.

The Blackhawks have also signed John Scott this summer to a two-year deal. He has played both defense and forward in his brief career, with a resume more noted for fights than production.

Considering these three veterans and the youngsters that have been added to the mix either via trade (Vishnevskiy) or by matriculating through the Hawks system (Lalonde, Ryan Stanton), the Blackhawks could have an exciting preseason despite having their top-four defensemen locked in.

These depth moves are consistent with what Bowman (and Dale Tallon) have done in the past.

Entering last year, the Blackhawks wanted to have veterans in place so they didn’t have to rush Niklas Hjalmarsson into the lineup. On Opening Night last year, Hjalmarsson was only 22 and had played in only 34 NHL games. So the Blackhawks kept veteran Aaron Johnson around through training camp as a safeguard, giving the team options if Hjalmarsson looked like he needed more time to get used to the NHL grind.

Obviously Hjalmarsson showed the team that he was ready, and for him the rest is now four-year, $14M history.

So on Oct. 7, just hours into the 2009-10 season, the Blackhawks traded Johnson to the Calgary Flames for a prospect. The move was as much a salary dump as it was clearing room for Hjalmarsson a place on the crowded blue line that, at that time, still included Sopel and Cam Barker.

As the Blackhawks season progressed, they were able to explore more deals because of Hjalmarsson’s continued development. Because they had options and depth, the team was able to move Barker to Minnesota in February in a deal that now contributes to the bright future of the Hawks defensive core; top prospect Nick Leddy was acquired with Kim Johnsson in that trade.

Because the Hawks again have good depth with inexpensive veterans, Hendry, Boynton and even Scott could be seen as potential in-season trade candidates if one of the prospects steps up and, as Hjalmarsson did last year, shows they’re ready for prime time on the defending Cup champions.

Bowman has effectively added to a deep organization during the season last year, in his many trades this summer, and through the draft this year. The Blackhawks have many talented options in place now, and are afforded the luxury of moving forward making decisions because of quality, not necessity. As Lalonde, Vishnevskiy, Leddy, Stanton, Dylan Olsen and others prove they are ready for the NHL, the Blackhawks can slowly add them to the mix because they have options.

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