The Chicago Blackhawks have to take a lot of risky moves in the salary cap era. Signing defenseman Jan Hejda to a professional tryout contract, on the other hand, isn't one of them. For a team in need of a seventh defenseman with less than $1 million in available cap space, it's an entirely reasonable move to get a look at whether a useful veteran's still got it.
It's important to know what Hejda isn't. At age 37, he's not going to crack the top-four on a winning team. He's years removed from his prime, coming off a season with one goal in 81 games and has a career Corsi relative of minus-4.9 percent. He's never been a big scorer. He's played in fewer postseason games in his career than the Hawks played last May. Hejda was never a game-changer in his 20s -- he made his NHL debut at age 28 -- and he's not in his late 30s, either.
The Blackhawks don't need that from Hejda, however. What they need is a veteran to take on the Michal Rozsival role, someone who can help stabilize the third pairing if the young guys can't settle in. They need a big body who can play smart, stick to the system and be a positive presence in the locker room. The 6'4, 230-pound Hejda, by all indications, could be an option to fill that kind of role.
And hey, if he can't, the team won't add him. It's really that simple. If the Hawks want Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson or someone else instead, they'll cut ties with Hejda at no cost and move on. And with Hejda in the fold, it's easier to send the young guys back to Rockford if the team prefers they get a bit more seasoning. This doesn't prevent Pokka from being able to earn a role, it just eases the urgency to push him in order to fill immediate needs. There's little doubt about his place in the organization as the top-rated defenseman prospect.
What adding Hejda does, at the most simple level, is give the Blackhawks options. It gives the team another player to evaluate and consider as they try to find the seven best defensemen for the upcoming season. We know Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Trevor Daley, David Rundblad and Trevor van Riemsdyk will cover six spots. When you only have roughly $919,000 to fill that final spot, you can only be so picky.
Hejda might play younger than his age, too. Because he didn't crack into the NHL until he was 28 and hasn't played in any deep playoff runs, Hejda's seen a lot less wear and tear than most players his age. In his NHL career, he's played a total of 13,446 minutes, regular season and postseason combined. Keith has played more minutes in the past six years than Hejda's played in his entire NHL career. This isn't to say that Hejda isn't breaking down at his age. He just might not be as far along in that decline as others who've played into their late 30s.
Hejda had options, according to ESPN's Scott Powers, and chose the Blackhawks over the others. There were a number of teams that wanted to see what the veteran has left in the tank after a healthy season with the Avalanche in 2014-15.
So I ultimately got zero problem with the move. There's no need to rush Pokka onto the roster unless there's a guarantee of steady playing time. There's little risk in seeing what Hejda's got to offer in training camp. Depth is never a bad thing, and the Blackhawks, quite frankly, don't have it on defense. So they gotta take some fliers. Hejda is an entirely acceptable one.