After a second consecutive disappointing exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks are looking to regain their form from 2010 when they hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup.
Stan Bowman, the oft scrutinized general manager of the Blackhawks, tried making the big splash as free agency opened this off-season by offering significant contracts to the highly sought after F Zach Parise and D Ryan Suter. When Parise and Suter made their decisions to sign with the Minnesota Wild, Bowman came out and suggested there would only be minor tweaks to the current roster because the big moves are coming from in-house.
The Blackhawks are projecting to get full season participation from forwards Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad and defenseman Johnny Oduya, none of which played more than 37 games (Shaw) with the 'Hawks last season. While Bowman contests that having these players for a full season is similar to signing free agents, he wasn't going to stand pat with the roster as it stood.
Still looking for improvement, the Blackhawks signed defenseman Sheldon Brookbank on July 1 and Tuesday they added former Coyotes defenseman Michal Rozsival.
The Brookbank signing made sense, as the 'Hawks were looking for another right-handed D-man in case Steve Montador couldn't return from his much concussed 2011-12 campaign. However, bringing Rozsival on board creates a giant question mark.
Assuming Montador is healthy and comes back for this season, the latest signing brings the total number of defensemen on the roster to nine. That's nine guys for six starting spots. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Nick Leddy, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya figure to be locks, so how do the Blackhawks fill the final spot with four guys? Montador, Brookbank, Rozsival and youngster Dylan Olsen are all vying for that last spot. With the blue-line now so crowded, which moves need to be made?
The easy move would be to send Dylan Olsen back to the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate Rockford Icehogs because his contract is two-way. Bowman's job might be on the line this year, as is possible with Coach Joel Quenneville, so he may not be ready to go a full season developing his young defenseman. Olsen is clearly part of their future plans, but maybe not with jobs on the line.
It's good to have a healthy seventh defenseman, so it looks like there's going to be an odd-man out. It's possible that the Blackhawks are working on a trade to free up the space. While Bowman was going for Suter, Hjalmarsson's name was talked about in multiple trade circuits, so those talks may be heating up once again. Another option may be to part ways with Montador, whom they signed to fill a significant hole after the 2010-11 season; his deal is worth about $8.25M over the next three years though, so the 'Hawks might be forced to take on his salary unless another team is willing to pick him up on waivers.
All of this discussion might be moot anyway, as the NHL is just mere hours away from locking its players out for the second time in eight seasons; the current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire tonight at 11:59pm EST and it appears as though the sides are too far apart for a deal.
Regardless, whenever hockey returns, Stan Bowman will have decisions to make regarding his current roster. This may be his last chance to do so.
Steve Peters is a staff writer for nhlfanchat.com. Follow on twitter: @stevepeters_ @nhlfanchat