Rozner: Trades just start of big Chicago Blackhawks decisions

  • Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook could be the key figure in the team's process of of continuing to improve what was a considerable weakness on the depth chart.

    Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook could be the key figure in the team's process of of continuing to improve what was a considerable weakness on the depth chart. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 6/25/2019 7:21 PM

NHL defensemen are very much like major-league pitchers.

You can never have enough of them and you can't predict how quickly they'll develop into solid contributors on the biggest stage.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Thus, the quandary every NHL GM finds himself in this time of year.

As forecast, Stan Bowman was not done after the Olli Maatta acquisition, and Monday he added Calvin de Haan.

It's already been a good off-season for Bowman, but from what we hear he is neither done shopping for players, nor is he done shopping them.

What was a considerable weakness on the depth chart has been strengthened with two men who can step into just about any spot on the back end, pending the further development of those on the roster and those on the way.

It's a good start, but there's work to be done.

As it stands, and with no other promotions, the Hawks can field a top six of Duncan Keith, Erik Gustafsson, Maatta, de Haan -- that's a nice second pair -- Connor Murphy and Brent Seabrook, with Henri Jokiharju, Carl Dahlstrom and Slater Koekkoek looking for a spot in the lineup.

All three showed signs of belonging, and also moments when they looked rather out of place.

In defense of Jokiharju, who clearly fell out of favor, he hit the rookie wall after a very strong start to the season, so strong that after three games Joel Quenneville said of the 19-year-old Jokiharju, "He's only going to get better in how he reads situations and in how he plays around his net.

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"But I like how he wants the puck. He has good play recognition and he breaks out on some tight coverage plays off their forecheck. He seems to give us relief in direct plays exiting.

"So it's been a good start for him. He's gonna be playing a lot of games back there."

Compelling words from a future Hall of Fame coach who played 800 games as an NHL defenseman.

But the sudden logjam on the back end, while a huge positive, also means Bowman has some tough calls to make both now and in the next two years.

Seabrook ($6.8 million) has five years remaining on his contract, Keith ($5.5 million) four years, and de Haan ($4.5 million) Maatta ($4 million) and Murphy ($3.8 million) three years left, through the 2021-22 season.

The big concern right now is Gustafsson is unrestricted after next season, and assuming another big offensive year with a decent improvement defensively, he's going to get paid a pile of money.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

After finally getting a chance to play under a new coach, Gustafsson has displayed a fine ability to move the puck and produce points, while having terrific chemistry with Patrick Kane.

It would be a shame to lose his offensive ability on the back end, but something has to give here.

Adam Boqvist could be less than a year away, Ian Mitchell might be ready in the spring, and Nicolas Beaudin is probably a year away.

The Seattle expansion draft is two years off and that adds protection complications, since Keith and Seabrook aren't likely to waive their no-movement clauses.

Even if they make a side deal with Seattle to protect a player who's unprotected, they are going to lose someone who plays significant minutes for them in the 2020-21 season.

Bowman won't be trying to figure it out a year from now when he'll be a year from the draft. He's trying to get his house in order now, or at least over the next week to 10 days as teams make more deals and prepare for July 1 free agency.

The key, obviously, is Seabrook. If the Hawks could somehow move that contract, it would certainly simplify matters and remove a huge cap hit.

To this point, there's been zero indication Seabrook would be willing, but maybe he could be enticed to move to South Florida, where the weather's always nice and his former coach is behind the bench, a coach who adores him.

And maybe he'd like a bigger role, rather than being reduced to a sixth or seventh defenseman on the roster.

If the Hawks were willing to toss in Jokiharju, another player Quenneville believes in, maybe the Panthers would be interested in such a reunion.

Dale Tallon did it for Brian Campbell in 2011. Perhaps, it could happen again.

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