Chicago, IL — I can’t think of a single position that is more important this offseason for Stan Bowman to get right. All of the talk about second line centers is fine but I think the primary need of this team is having the right defensive core. Last year we saw what having spotty defense is and how costly it is. It is no coincidence that the teams to make the conference finals were all solid defensively. It also doesn’t hurt to have a stand out goalie. The Blackhawks goalie situation is a question mark which makes having a solid D unit all the more important.
This week Sami Lepisto signed with the KHL and will be playing in Russia next year. Sean O’Donnell all but said goodbye to Chicago & and the Hawks stating he did not foresee a return to the Windy City. Johnny Oduya was resigned for what I think is a little too much money. I am however happy with the signing. I think Oduya was signed for the most part to steady young Nick Leddy.
That leaves a D core of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, Nik Hjalmarsson, Steve Montador, Dylan Olsen. I believe the Hawks still need more size and physicality on the back-end, they have too many of the same type of defencemen. I think everyone would agree that Keith/Seabrook are going nowhere. This is the Hawks top duo and in fact last year Seabrook was probably better than Keith at least he was on the stats sheets. He led all the D-men with +21 rating and was 9thin the NHL with 198 hits and with only 22 PIM Wow that getting bang for your buck. On top of that Seabs led the D with 165 block shots. Can we get a carbon copy of this guy? The Hawks need a reliable D-man that can spot Seabs & Duncs some playing minutes to keep them fresh.
Dylan Olsen is in a great position to crack the Hawks lineup with his size being desperately needed. Last year he gained valuable playing time with the Hawks. He partnered well with Keith. If he can be more physical and learn to use his size the Hawks may already have their Seabrook type defenseman. He has to be given the time and right environment to develop and not be pushed to quickly like Leddy. He needs to improve foot speed but he is wise beyond his years with the puck and has a booming shot too.
Steve Montador we are still not sure of his injury status or where he will be come September. This could keep Hjalmarsson in a Hawks uniform. Montador will be difficult to move so he will in most likelihood stay with the Hawks for now. Hjalmarsson has a cap hit in the 3.5 range that is a hefty price tag for a 5th 6th D man. Still he is young and coachable at 25 yrs old. Hammer’s biggest problem is his lack of physicality and sometimes he has problems getting the puck out of his own end when pressured. Still he had +9 rating and 142 block shots. The question for Stan is that worth 3.5mil next year? & is there anyone out there who is better for less?
This year is not the best for UFA/RFA D-men. There are big names like Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Mike Green and Dennis Wideman who are probably all too rich for the Hawks blood. Ryan Suter would be great in a Hawks uni but I doubt now with Detroit’s Nik Lidstrom retiring that the Red Wings will not make a serious push for Suter. I doubt the Hawks want to enter into a bidding war with the Wings as they have more money to spend than the Hawks. This also could explain the timing of the Oduya signing.
There are a couple of UFA’s that are intriguing for the Hawks. Jason Garrison of the Florida Panthers and Shane O’Brien of the Colorado Avalanche both have higher hit totals than Hjalmarsson and Garrison also didn’t have a significantly lower number in block shots either. Garrison is a much more offensive defenseman and had a monster year on with 33 points 16G/17A.Then again he was paired with All Star defenseman Brian Campbell remember him? He also made Hjalmarsson look good too when he was paired with him. I doubt Dale Tallon will be letting Garrison go but if he did this one would be worth looking into. He right now only has a salary cap hit of 700K and is due a payday but if it is reasonable this one could be a steal.
Shane O”Brien I think would be a nice addition for the Hawks and while he does not have the block shots Hammer does he does bring size and physicality that they need. He was 38th in the NHL with 138 hits & at 6’3” 230 lbs won’t be being pushed around and can clear bodies from in front of the net. The Avs have practically their whole roster as either UFA’s or RFA’s so they will not be in position to sign them all. Why not take a run at O’Brien? The Avs need more fire power up front so possibly a forward prospect could be dangled here.
While I think the Hawks have too many rookies on their backend with Leddy and Olsen still learning and developing I would not be surprised if they bring another one or two up for salary cap reasons. If they did who are the most likely candidates?
The Hawks have in their system Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck Stephen Johns, Ryan Stanton & Shawn LaLonde. Adam Clendening was just recently signed a rookie contract by the Hawks. He is much more of an offensive defensemen ala Brian Campbell. He has the skills to be a QB on the powerplay and that is his greatest asset. I think he is on the small side and still needs time to develop at BU.
Shawn LaLonde is another offensive defenseman who maybe on his last leg with the Blackhawks. His decision making skills are not the best and turnovers have killed LaLonde in the AHL. It is hard to imagine that would improve in the NHL. This is probably LaLonde’s last chance to impress the Hawks other wise he will be used as trade bait. He is entering his final year of his contract. The Hawks will take a long hard look at this one in camp.
Klas Dahlbeck, Stephen Johns and Ryan Stanton are all of the stay at home or defensive defensemen types which is more what the Hawks need right now. Johns plays a brutal physical game but I think he needs time in Rockford before making the jump to the Hawks. He is only 19 years old and could use more experience. Still look for this one in the future if Olsen does not work out on the blueline for the Hawks.
Ryan Stanton was called up by the Hawks during the playoffs and again he is a physical D-man that could help them clearing bodies out in front of their net. He plays a solid steady game and could make the jump to the big club if he shows steady consistent play on the blue line. Look for Stanton to possibly make the team.
If I were the GM, unless Garrison or O’Brien could be gotten I would hold Hammer for now pending the health status of Montador. There is no question Leddy needs more coaching and development which is why I would be hesitant to bring in another rookie unless they showed poise in their end and consistency which Dylan Olsen has so far but I think to bring in another rookie is asking too much for such an important position.
In my next segment I will look at the Goalie position and where the Hawks stand and the direction they are headed in. I’ll look at their prospects and the UFA’s/RFA’s that would fit here best. Til then Happy Puck Drops!