As many issues as the Chicago Blackhawks have had with their defensive group in the past few seasons, it now appears that they’re going to have to cut some of their defensive talent loose before this new season gets underway, whenever that may be.
Coming into the summer, the Hawks were expected to cut at least one of their blue liners loose and look to add to a group that wasn’t exactly steady in 2011-2012. But whether that’s because of Stan Bowman or the CBA talks between the NHL and the players, that hasn’t happened.
As of right now, the Hawks have eight guys for their six spots on the blue line. That’s assuming Dylan Olsen makes enough of an impact in training camp to stick with the Hawks early on.
Regardless of Olsen’s status with the team, there are still seven defensemen here. That wouldn’t be a problem, if it weren’t for the salaries they were paying some of these players that could end up being either third pairing guys or spend time in the press box.
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are obviously locks on the top line. The second unit will very likely consist of Nick Leddy and Johnny Oduya, as much as they were thrown around in the postseason. That leaves Niklas Hjalmarsson, Steve Montador, Sheldon Brookbank, and Olsen for two spots.
At $3.5 million, Hjalmarsson is awfully expensive for a third pairing defenseman. The Hawks are also expecting Brookbank to log regular minutes and be a factor on defense and the penalty kill, which could mean Montador is press box bound. But like Hjalmarsson playing on the third unit, Montador making a touch under $3 million a year doesn’t make sense in the press box.
When the time comes and teams are willing to start making moves, knowing that there is going to be a season at some point, I’d expect the Hawks to be active in the market trying to shop one of their defensemen. And, as the case has been all summer, the most likely candidate to go will be Hjalmarsson.
Hjalmarsson hasn’t really lived up to his salary with the Hawks, providing shot blocking and not much else. He’s a steady guy, but hasn’t proven to be physical enough (at least consistently) or put up enough points to work his way back into the top four defensemen.
This club likes Steve Montador. That’s why they signed him for four years last summer. With Brookbank coming in and Olsen waiting in the wings, along with a new contract for Johnny Oduya, Hjalmarsson certainly seems like the odd man out.
Regardless of what the Hawks plan to do with their blue line, someone is going to have to go before the season starts. And I’d expect they will.