I wanted to wait to put together the player previews for the Blackhawks' defensemen, for good reason. The team traded one of its stalwarts, Nick Leddy, to the Islanders on Saturday, and now the group projects to look significantly different next season. Things should still be fine assuming no major injuries, but make no mistake, losing Leddy isn't a good thing.
As we discovered Sunday, Chicago plans to enter next season with eight defensemen, partially because one of them could be sidelined for opener in Dallas. It's unclear how that will work, cap-wise, but it gives us an idea of how things will look on opening night. The big question appears to be whether the team makes another move or settles on going with seven guys instead.
Based on what we're hearing, here's how the new defense might look next season:
Projected Depth Chart
|Duncan Keith||Brent Seabrook|
|Niklas Hjalmarsson||Trevor van Riemsdyk|
|Johnny Oduya||David Rundblad|
It sounds like the team also wants to carry Michal Rozsival and Kyle Cumiskey, but that probably won't fit into the cap. Rozsival might not be ready for opening day, however, and if he's on LTIR to start the season, Cumiskey is probably your seventh defensemen.
Player expectations for 2014-15
Kyle Cumiskey -- age: 27 -- cap hit: $600,000
This is less about expectations for Cumiskey and more about expectations for the roster. If the Blackhawks are getting major minutes on defense from a longtime journeyman who hasn't played in the NHL since 2010-11, obviously something went very, very wrong along the way. Cumiskey seems likely to make the opening roster, for some reason, but there aren't really any positive scenarios where he's anything but depth fodder. Let's hope it stays that way, because there's really no excuse for a guy like Cumiskey getting steady reps over, say, Adam Clendening.
Niklas Hjalmarsson -- age: 27 -- cap hit: $3.5 million
Coming off a strong year partnered with Oduya, it sounds like we could see an early pairing with van Riemsdyk for Hjalmarsson. He set a career-high with 26 points in 81 games last season, and did so while playing some of the toughest competition on the roster. It's interesting to see the coaching staff toying with the Hjalmarsson-Oduya partnership that worked so well, but he's a talented player who's still in his prime and should be capable of producing even with a different partner.
Duncan Keith -- age: 31 -- cap hit: $5.54 million
Coming off his second Norris Trophy, Keith enters the season surrounded by high expectations once again. He's going to start declining at some point as he gets into his 30s, but he's been so good for so long, that may be able to wait a few more years. In 2013-14, no defensive pair saw more minutes than Keith-Seabrook, and with some uncertainty surrounding the group entering next season, it wouldn't be surprising if the duo repeats that feat. Another year of 50-plus assists would certainly be welcomed.
Johnny Oduya -- age: 33 -- cap hit: $3.38 million
Oduya does pretty much everything the coaching staff asks of on the defensive end and just enough offensively to be a quality piece. The veteran put up slightly better numbers in 2012-13, including career-best possession numbers and a slightly higher scoring rate, but he was facing the toughest competition on the team last season as part of the pairing with Hjalmarsson. When we gawk at the numbers put up by Keith and Seabrook, it's partially because of the hard work that the other defensemen do to free up those easier minutes. The coaches love Oduya, for good reason.
Brent Seabrook -- age: 29 -- cap hit: $5.8 million
He's never quite delivered one of those monster, superstar seasons, but Seabrook remains a steady partner next to Keith. He posted the second-highest point total of his career in 2013-14, contributed to some pretty stellar possession numbers when on the ice, and committed fewer penalties than ever. Is he a true star player? Probably not, but he's undoubtedly a keeper.
Trevor van Riemsdyk -- age: 23 -- cap hit: $925,000
The undrafted rookie out of the University of New Hampshire appears likely to make his NHL debut with the Blackhawks to open the 2014-15 season. It's hard to accurately project van Riemsdyk without seeing him perform against a higher level of competition, but he consistently showed solid positioning this fall and could be a steady, affordable option. While there's reason to be concerned that he's being handed too large a role on a contender from Day 1, it's hard to know how he'll ultimately be used.
Michal Rozsival -- age: 36 -- cap hit: $2.2 million
After the training camp and preseason that Rozsival just had, I think folks would be happy to get even serviceable production from the veteran. If not for his experience and salary, I'm not sure how a guy like this ultimately makes the roster over more athletic, high-upside options. You could probably do worse for a sixth or seventh defensemen, but at this point Rozsival is a slow, conservative player who doesn't drive much offense.
David Rundblad -- age: 23 -- cap hit: $1.5 million
Rundblad doesn't seem to have a ton of fans around these parts, but I'm genuinely curious to see just what the Blackhawks have here. Still just 23 years old, Rundblad has made NHL appearances in each of the past three seasons, and while he's never broken out, Stan Bowman saw enough to justify trading a second-round pick for him last season. Rundblad isn't really equipped to replace Leddy from an offensive perspective, especially if the new Islanders d-man reaches his update, but I think he'll settle into being a solid top-6 guy this season, at least.