It’s hard to believe that given the caliber of talent that the Blackhawks unloaded last summer, one of the more missed players from the Stanley Cup-winning team of the 2009-10 season was Brent Sopel.
Sopel was sent to the Atlanta Thrashers last summer, along with Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Eager, as well as Andrew Ladd, eventually.
Now, Sopel did catch a lot of flack from Hawks fans for his tendency to make mistakes on the defensive end, but his presence was actually missed on the blue line this year. The fact is that Sopel is the type of gritty defenseman that the team lacked last year. While Stan Bowman appears to have made a solid acquisition in his trade for Chris Campoli, the Blackhawks needed a defenseman willing to do the shot blocking and that type of dirty work.
Of course, a return for Brent Sopel would depend on what the rest of the Blackhawks’ unit looks like heading into next season. Obviously, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will return without question. Nick Leddy is also a sure bet to return.
The Hawks do have a pair of possible trade candidates in Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brian Campbell. Hjalmarsson is on the high side of $3 million, and with the numbers he posted last year, he’s certainly not worth the price tag. There will certainly be teams interested in his services this summer.
Campbell’s contract has been a curious one since he signed during the Dale Tallon era. Even on a team with top level talents like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Campbell is, by far, the highest paid player on the team, making a shade over $7 million per.
Of the Blackhawks’ defenseman last year, Campbell posted the best overall numbers, finishing second among d-men in points, behind Seabrook, and a plus-28 on the season. But he’s not a top line defenseman, and given the fact that he’s being paid like one, Bowman might be tempted to try and unload his contract.
Then there’s Campoli. Despite his major gaffe at the end of Game 7 that led to an Alex Burrows goal, which ended Chicago’s season, Campoli was solid for the Hawks after being acquired from the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline. All indications are that he will be back, with a low price tag.
If Campoli is re-signed and Bowman stands pat on the trade market, the Blackhawks have a top six unit heading towards next season. This makes it more likely that they will bring back a guy like Jordan Hendry to provide depth as a seventh guy, than a guy like Sopel, who would surely prefer to be a top six member of a team.
But don’t overlook Sopel’s connections to Chicago. The fanbase certainly misses him, and the team could clearly use a defenseman in the mold of Sopel on that third unit. There’s also the fact that his family still resides in Illinois, with his wife just recently opening up her own business. There would surely be interest on both sides as far as Sopel returning to the Blackhawks, but it’s a matter of if Bowman and co. feel he would be the right fit, and would be able to see the ice time he wanted in Chicago.