The offseason—for many teams in the NHL—means finding players to fill holes on their roster. Although the Chicago Blackhawks were able to do that in some respect, the team now has to decide which of those players they would like patrolling the blue line.
Having an abundance of players at a specific position can be deemed a positive and a negative.
For one, more players possessing the skill to play the position means you should not have to face injury problems.
For example, when Chris Pronger went down with his concussion last season, the Philadelphia Flyers were able to handle the situation. While no one could fill the role Pronger played, the team had enough talent to fill that hole in other ways.
The Blackhawks now have that option too. If Duncan Keith was injured for an entire year, the space left behind could be filed with someone who is NHL capable. It may make the team less dependent on the top players, but nonetheless, the team could survive.
Too many NHL-ready defensemen on a team can also be a burden. It means players will either be sitting in the press box waiting for their opportunity or young players who are ready for the show have to settle for another year in the minors.
Although it seems the positives out way the negatives, for the players in the situation it is not always ideal. Not dressing, or playing in the minors, is sure to bring constant trade rumors—even if they are not true. These do not help anyone: the player, his teammates or the team as a whole.
It also means not knowing when you are going to play. NHL players want to be able to play and be able to contribute to their team. Too many defensemen mean that some players will not get the opportunities they deserve.
After this offseason—where the Blackhawks signed three players capable of making a contribution to the lineup—the team now faces a problem on their blue line.
The team has nine players who could easily be included in an opening-day roster, assuming all stay healthy.
To make things easy, it can be assumed Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will be the team's top pair. These two have as much talent as anyone and when they are on the top of their games could be considered the best tandem in the NHL.
However, it is not offense the team needs from both Keith and Seabrook. The team is offensively strong up front so playing solid defense needs to be the goal for these two players. If they can play to their defensive potential the Blackhawks will become a much better team.
Rounding out the four players with a roster spot locked up include Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya.
Hjalmarsson's play still has room for improvement—considering he has only been a regular with the Blackhawks for three seasons. Nevertheless, he plays a strong defensive game and is a big asset on the penalty kill with his skill at blocking shots. It has been rumored the Blackhawks may look to move Hjalmarsson, but right now it looks like he will be on the opening-night roster.
Oduya seemed to blossom when he came to Chicago at the trade deadline, and so too did the Blackhawks. The team decided to sign him for another three years because of his strong play. He is solid in his own end and his skating and mobility is an asset in all the zones.
After the top four, it starts to get a little tricky. Which players should stay and which should go? There are five players who could make a case for taking the final three spots. These include: Nick Leddy, Steve Montador, Sheldon Brookbank, Michal Rozsival and Dylan Olsen.
Leddy likely will have a guaranteed spot. Right now Leddy is playing for the Rockford Icehogs in the AHL. Through five games the young defenseman has three assists—good for third on the team in total points.
Leddy will be in game shape and ready to go for an NHL season. There will be a fast turnaround from negotiating to playing. That means, players who are already skating will have a leg up on the others. Leddy may be the best choice to include in an opening night roster because he will need no time to adjust.
Steve Montador and Sheldon Brookbank should be the final two that make up the Blackhawks roster.
Montador is back and healthy from his injury. If he can stay healthy he will have a spot in the Blackhawks lineup.
Montador brings some added toughness into the group—something the Blackhawks lineup desperately needs. Although there was speculation the team was looking to move Montador, his contract and injury may be too much for teams to gamble on.
He is a team first player and will thrive during the times when he does play. Whenever the Blackhawks need some toughness, Brookbank can play and keep the other teams honest.
With these seven picked, that leaves two without spots available: Michal Rozsival and Dylan Olsen.
Rozsival could have been a nice addition but the skill that he brings is not necessary what the Blackhawks need. If an offensive player like Keith or Leddy went down, maybe Rozsival could find a spot on the team.
As for making the opening-night roster, it seems like a long shot. He still has the skill and has been playing in the Czech League for HC Plezen—even though the contract with the team may only have been for one month.
As for Olsen, he will be getting the short end of the stick. The good news is he got time playing in the NHL last season and will be able to use that experience to work on his game.
Another year of grooming in the AHL will give Olsen a better shot at competing for a consistent roster spot in the next few years. The way the contracts line up for other Blackhawks defensemen, it looks like another two or three years until Olsen will have a shot to stick around permanently.
So who stays on the Chicago blue line once the season gets going, if in fact one does? Well, it has to be this combination.
LD Duncan Keith RD Brent Seabrook
LD Johnny Oduya RD Nick Leddy
LD Niklas Hjalmarsson RD Steve Montador