The depth on the blue line is good, but how good is the depth on the blue line?
That question actually does make perfect sense when looking at the defensive corps for the Chicago Blackhawks. It's a deep group, there's no doubt about it. But what kind of quality do we see on this year's club?
As things stand right now, the Hawks have seven NHL-caliber blue liners. If Steve Montador's career wasn't completely up in the air, then there would be eight. The first few days of training camp have given us a bit of an idea of how these pairings could look when Opening Day rolls around this weekend.
At the top, you're obviously looking at Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. With Ryan Suter now out of the Central and away from Shea Weber, the duo has an opportunity to reclaim their label as the best defensive pairing in the National Hockey League.
Keith was better than he was in 2010-11, but he still has a long way to go to get anywhere near that '09-'10 level. No one expects him to get to that level, but some consistency would be nice. Seabrook might actually be the best defenseman on the roster now, when you consider his physical side and offensive game.
Beyond those two, things get pretty tricky. You're probably looking at Nick Leddy as the no. 3 defenseman again. Reviews are mixed on Leddy. There are some great things in his game, but there are also plenty of flaws. He has the potential to be an elite offensive defenseman, but he's very questionable in his own zone, both with his decision-making and his physicality. This season is a big one for Leddy, as he's a restricted free agent this summer.
Who will play next to Leddy, though? He and Johnny Oduya played well together. Before they met a team with a tough forecheck at least. It's unlikely we'll see them together, simply because of how badly their lack of size led to them being tossed around against a team like the Phoenix Coyotes.
Early on in camp, we've seen Leddy next to Sheldon Brookbank. That's an interesting combination, and the two could compliment each other well. You have the puck mover in Leddy, with the bigger physical presence in Brookbank. If it's not Brookbank, we could see Michal Roszival there. He's a defensive defenseman who could be a solid veteran presence next to Leddy.
Which would leave Oduya next to Niklas Hjalmarsson on a potential third pairing. That would be an interesting combination to watch. And by interesting I mean that this looks like a pairing that could get absolutely wasted by a tough opposing forecheck. But given what each of them is making this season for a salary, neither is going to end up as a seventh defenseman. They do contrast each other, so it'd be interesting to see how that pair would work out.
What we're probably looking at for a lineup on the blue line will look something like this:
- Leddy - Brookbank/Rozsival
Of course, there are still some Icehogs that we could see if this group of defensemen fails to impress, as it surely looks like it could. Ryan Stanton is in camp right now and is an intriguing option as a stay-at-home guy. We've already seen some Dylan Olsen, and Adam Clendening isn't too far off either as a puck mover. So if this current group of Hawks d-men proves underwhelming, at least there's something to look forward to.