If this NHL lockout costs the league an entire season, which looks more and more like a certainty each day, then the Chicago Blackhawks are going to have a decision to make surrounding their young defenseman Nick Leddy.
Contracts do not freeze during the lockout. Leddy will become a restricted free agent and be subject to another team driving up the price that it would take for the Hawks to keep him, a la Niklas Hjalmarsson. The major difference between Leddy and Hjalmarsson is that Leddy has elite potential as an offensive d-man. And teams will pay top dollar for that sort of potential.
As long as they're dealing with a general manager that they're not worried about pissing off. Which, really, who is going to be intimidated by Stan Bowman?
Those who watch and follow the Hawks seem to be pretty split on Nick Leddy. Some love his game as a puck mover, while others criticize his game on the defensive end, which includes a lack of size (due to lack of complete physical maturity) and a tendency for boneheaded plays.
Those who fall on the latter end of that debate tend to look at Adam Clendening as a defenseman who could be what the Blackhawks have hoped Leddy would be, plus a little extra. And a quick observation from down in Rockford could provide a similar prediction.
The two have been playing together on the same defensive pairing for the Icehogs, but it has been Clendening who has been the star, rather than Leddy, who has a full season and a half of NHL experience under his belt. That doesn't necessarily mean that Clendening is ready to supplant Leddy on the Chicago blue line tomorrow. But that day could be coming soon.
Clendening and Leddy are awfully similar. They are virtually identical in size and each has terrific offensive tools from the blue line. Though Clendening isn't as quick up the ice as Leddy, his vision and breakout passes are excellent. Elite potential for both of them. Each still has questions to answer in his own end. Luckily for Clendening, he still has time in the minors to answer those questions, while we've already seen a ton of Leddy at the top level.
One difference between the two is that Clendening shows a willingness to play the physical game, whereas Leddy doesn't always do so. That's not to say that Clendening is laying the lumber like Brent Seabrook, but he doesn't shy away from contact.
We're still very early in the careers of both Adam Clendening and Nick Leddy. But with the clock ticking on Leddy's impending free agency, and Clendening looking like he could step into that type of role with the Hawks as early as next season, there is certainly some validity to the question of whether or not Clendening could make Leddy expendable.
With the salary cap presumably coming down, Leddy will be tough to keep. The Hawks could look to maximize his value, trade his rights during the offseason, and improve their club in other areas, while bringing an awfully similar defenseman into the fold.
But, again, it's still very early and probably too difficult to project anything at this point. Just some food for thought.