One of my favorite things about covering hockey, and sports in general, is the roster building. I love talking about trades, signings, promotions, and however else GMs put together the teams they hope will compete for championships. It’s the biggest part of “the game” beyond the actual players doing hockey things.
Except for the Blackhawks, the past few weeks have been remarkably quiet. The biggest rumor we got was about a possible trade from last year that never happened. Since the start of the season, Chicago hasn’t made a single change to its roster other than swapping Andrew Desjardins and Trevor van Riemsdyk on the injured reserve list.
That’s somewhat unusual for an NHL team, but especially compared to last year’s Blackhawks. From the start of the 2015-16 season until mid-November, Chicago made 20 different moves*. Part of that was caused by Duncan Keith going on long-term injured reserve, but the team also regularly shuffled in and out forwards from the AHL trying to find the right mix.
It’s been different this season. There’s been far more stability. While Joel Quenneville has moved players in and out of the lineup, the actual guys in the locker room haven’t changed. The six rookies have all stuck. The 20-plus guys in Rockford haven’t gotten a call. There have been no trades, waiver claims, or signings other than Alex DeBrincat’s entry-level contract, which won’t have an impact this season.
This tells you something about the Blackhawks and where the team believes it’s at. Chicago isn’t a team that’ll stick with something if it doesn’t believe it’s working. They had no problems trading Trevor Daley when it wasn’t jelling, for example.
But they’ve shown commitment to the young players on the roster this season. Michal Kempny, Gustav Forsling, Nick Schmaltz, and Tyler Motte have gotten consistent playing time. Vincent Hinostroza and Ryan Hartman didn’t early on, but they’ve stepped up in big ways over the past week.
All six of those players are waiver-exempt. The Blackhawks could send any of them, but they haven’t needed to. The team is off to a very strong start this season, even with some underlying indicators that some trouble may be afoot, and it’s given the coaching staff breathing room to evaluate who fits where.
We’re nearly six weeks into the season, and the Blackhawks haven’t made a transaction other than swapping minor players on IR. That’s the kind of stability a young group needs to grow, and while I expect hiccups along the way, the team is showing patience. A stable roster is a (mostly) healthy roster, after all. It’s encouraging, even if some things still need to get figured out, like how to get Jonathan Toews’ line going.
The blender may be running, but the train between Rockford and Chicago has been resting. And with games like the 4-3 comeback win over Vancouver, where Hinostroza and Hartman led the way in the third period, we may be starting to see that restraint bear fruit.
*For those wondering, here’s the list of moves:
- Recalled Viktor Svedberg from AHL Rockford
- Reassigned Ville Pokka to AHL Rockford
- Reassigned Corey Tropp to AHL Albany
- Signed Kyle Cumiskey to one-year contract
- Reassigned Kyle Cumiskey to AHL Rockford
- Reassigned Kyle Baun to AHL Rockford
- Recalled Vincent Hinostroza from AHL Rockford
- Placed Duncan Keith on LTIR
- Recalled Tanner Kero from AHL Rockford
- Reassigned Vincent Hinostroza to AHL Rockford
- Recalled Erik Gustafsson from AHL Rockford
- Recalled Ryan Hartman from AHL Rockford
- Recalled Marko Dano from AHL Rockford
- Reassigned Bryan Bickell to AHL Rockford
- Reassigned Ryan Hartman to AHL Rockford
- Recalled Brandon Mashinter from AHL Rockford
- Reassigned Erik Gustafsson to AHL Rockford
- Reassigned Viktor Svedberg to AHL Rockford
- Activated Duncan Keith from LTIR
- Activated Michal Rozsival from LTIR