clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why can't David Rundblad find a home in the NHL?

The 25-year-old is off to Europe because this league couldn't find a spot for him.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time when everyone wanted David Rundblad. A first-round pick in 2009 by the Blues, he had the pedigree and look of a player who would make his impact on the NHL one day. For so long, the running theme was just that he just needed a chance. Then came stops through St. Louis, Ottawa, Arizona and, finally, Chicago.

Now Rundblad is being loaned out to ZSC Lions in Switzerland because all 30 NHL teams passed on him. The Blackhawks could never quite find a spot for him on the roster, then placed him on waivers Dec. 30. That's where the other 29 teams waved away the chance to acquire the 25-year-old defenseman and his contract, which has a $1.05 million cap hit through next season.

It's a disappointing development for Rundblad, who has acquired by the Hawks for a second-round pick in 2014 from the Coyotes. He played on-and-off for the team last season as it won the Stanley Cup, but never quite gained the confidence of coach Joel Quenneville and eventually began to appear to lose his own. This season, he played sparingly before management finally pulled the plug and left the "TAKE FOR FREE" sign around his neck.

Except nobody else wanted him, which seems a little surprising given the dearth of effective offensive defenseman around the league. Rundblad, to his credit, remains an impressive athlete with size and a serious slapper from the blue line. Before his downfall in the past few years, he was considered a player with a high offensive IQ and the potential to be a power play staple. Why nobody would take the shot on that kind of talent at such a low risk is a tad beyond me.

One thing that's undeniable is Rundblad's shakiness in his own end. A big part of why the Hawks largely stopped playing him was his inability to play the positional game and effectively move the puck up to the forwards. It might be great if he's able to settle in on the offensive end, cycle the puck and fire off shots, but he needs to be proficient on the other end in other to create those opportunities. It seems like the coaching staff's calculus concluded that he was giving up more than he was worth. Coach Q said as much to reporters recently.

But the Hawks play a demanding system and Quenneville is a notoriously impatient coach with some players. Rundblad was one of them and he never really had a period of time when his job wasn't in question or part of a rotation with another player like Michal Rozsival. What if a coach told Rundblad he'd get a solid 25 games of playing time, with opportunities on the power play, to show what he could do? Maybe it would backfire, but for so many teams already trotting out uninteresting options, why not try to unearth something interesting? A change of scenery has worked for others in the past. I imagine part of this is that so many teams remain in the playoff mix and don't feel yet like taking a risk when they can stick with safer options.

Rundblad isn't a particularly dangerous option other than what he'd give up on the ice, though. His contract allows almost all of his cap hit to be buried in the AHL. Right now, after clearing waivers and being reassigned to Rockford, then loaned to ZSC Lions, his current cap figure for the Hawks is $100,000. That's negligible for most teams. The upside would be potentially getting a bargain before he becomes a restricted free agent in 2017.

I'm not sure exactly what Rundblad did to scare away other teams so badly. He was still good enough to play in 49 games for the Hawks last season and record good possession numbers. He was often playing with good players and got sheltered at times by Quenneville, but defensemen with far worse numbers and pedigrees often get bigger chances. Lots of teams starving for blue line offense could've taken a flier on Rundblad and come out relatively unscathed if it went wrong.

None of them did, which is probably telling of where his stock is at in the NHL after all of this. Four different teams acquired Rundblad believing they were on the cusp of landing someone who could anchor their power play and push the puck. Instead, each one moved on with increasingly small returns, and now Chicago might end up being empty-handed for the second-rounder Stan Bowman gave up. Even if it was an understandable deal at the time, it's looking like one of the GM's rare missteps.

Now I just wonder if Rundblad will get another shot. The Hawks don't seem intent on having him around again anytime soon and the rest of the league gave a pretty strong indication as to their interest when he was waived. Maybe a big showing in Europe could put him back on the radar, not unlike we saw earlier this year with forward Viktor Tikhonov, but sometimes the flower never quite blooms. At least the Hawks still hold his rights for now.