The Chicago Blackhawks will gather at the University of Notre Dame this week to begin their training camp ahead of the 2015-16 season, and there are plenty of storylines to keep an eye on as they get ready to defend their Stanley Cup championship.
To help prepare fans for training camp and the upcoming season, we have chosen five of the most important storylines facing the Blackhawks as the new year begins.
To continue our list, we take a look at the team’s blue line corps, and evaluate whether it will be strong enough for the Blackhawks to compete for another title.
Last postseason, the Blackhawks went through a rough time with their defensive group as they dealt with injuries and a lack of depth. Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya all played extended minutes because of Michal Rozsival’s broken ankle, but the team was able to get through the tough spell and win the Stanley Cup championship.
This season, the Blackhawks will be dealing with similar challenges thanks to a tightly constrained salary cap situation. The Blackhawks had to say goodbye to Oduya in free agency, as he signed with the Dallas Stars, but in his place they acquired Trevor Daley from the Stars in the trade that sent Patrick Sharp to the Lone Star State.
The Blackhawks will also look for big things out of a couple of young defensemen, as Trevor van Riemsdyk and David Rundblad will both seek a more full-time role with the team after a season that saw the former limited by injuries and the latter limited by inconsistent play.
The Blackhawks will also look to add at least one other defenseman to the mix this season, and to that end they have invited a number of veteran blue liners to training camp this week. That group is headlined by a couple of familiar names for Hawks fans, as Rozsival and Kyle Cumiskey will both try to make the team on a full-time basis.
The Hawks also went outside of the organization to invite players in, with long-time Colorado defenseman Jan Hejda and 39-year old Lubomir Visnovsky also receiving invitations to compete for a spot in training camp.
All four of these players will have a chance to make the roster, and in all likelihood see serious time on the third defensive pairing during the regular season, but the Hawks are limited by their current cap situation. The team will, in all likelihood, only have around $1.5 to 2 million to spend on defensemen, and that likely means that without another trade or player release, they will only be able to add one player into the mix.
Outside of the group of veterans looking to grab a spot, there isn’t a whole lot of depth left after trades sent away players like Klas Dahlbeck (Arizona, in the Antoine Vermette swap) and Stephen Johns (Dallas, in the Sharp trade). Ville Pokka could potentially get a serious look as a candidate this season, as could former Capitals farmhand Cameron Schilling. Viktor Svedberg is another player with an outside chance, but none could be described as slam dunks to play regularly even if they make the Hawks’ roster.
With all of that being said, the Blackhawks are a team that is still very top-heavy in terms of their positional talent on the blue line, and while that’s not always a bad thing (it’s better to have three top-caliber defensemen than one or none), the Hawks need to prove that they can take some of the pressure off of their star players as training camp gets underway.