The Chicago Blackhawks are back home celebrating their 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, but the win came at a price as defenseman Michal Rozsival suffered a lower body injury in the second period of the game.
In an update provided by the team Friday, Team Physician Dr. Michael Terry gave news that everyone in the organization had feared, ruling Rozsival out for the remainder of the season:
"Michal Rozsival suffered a fractured left ankle during the second period of last night's game. He will require surgery to repair it. He is not expected to return to full hockey activity until next season."
With a week or so to rest before the Western Conference Final begins against either the Ducks or the Flames, the big question on everyone’s mind at the moment is this: who replaces Rozsival in the lineup?
Before answering that question however, there has to be another point raised. Rozsival was the only player outside of the Blackhawks’ top four blue liners that was really seeing much ice time in the postseason, and he was making progress as things went on. He looked really bad early in the Nashville series, but had really begun to turn his game around in later games, so his loss really stings from both of those perspectives.
Kimmo Timonen could theoretically see his ice time increase with the Rozsival injury, but considering how Quenneville handled things on Thursday, that isn’t likely to happen. Timonen has averaged less than 10 minutes per game of ice time in the postseason, and even with Rozsival hurt in Game 4 he still only played 8:25. While that was an increase from his Game 3 stat line, it still indicates that Quenneville doesn’t have a ton of faith in putting extra miles on his tires.
With that in mind, it wouldn’t seem likely that the Hawks would go with an untested rookie in the lineup, so Michael Paliotta and Stephen Johns are both eliminated in all likelihood. Paliotta only suited up in one game for the Hawks during the regular season, and Johns has yet to make his NHL debut, so they’ll more than likely be left out of the decision-making process.
That leaves only two candidates for the job of replacing Rozsival, and they are David Rundblad and Kyle Cumiskey. Rundblad spent most of the season with the Hawks, playing in 49 games and notching 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in those contests. Cumiskey meanwhile was an integral part of the Rockford IceHogs’ success this season, notching 20 points (two goals, 18 assists) in 54 games with them.
Both players lend something to the proceedings, with Rundblad’s familiarity with the Hawks’ defensive system and Cumiskey’s speed and ability to erase mistakes using his skating both standing out. Even with those qualities, there are still flaws to consider.
Rundblad was a turnover machine late in the season for the Blackhawks, with his careless puck play leading to his dismissal as a potential candidate to crack the starting six for the postseason as Quenneville opted to continue playing Timonen.
As for Cumiskey, his scant playing time with the Hawks this season could work against him, as could the fact that he’s a left-handed shot. If the Blackhawks were to insert him into the lineup, they would be heavily left-handed throughout their lineup, with only Brent Seabrook serving as a right-handed shot. That can have negative consequences in terms of setting up the offense, with a left-handed shot having difficulty in generating quality scoring chances from the right point during possessions.
Even with that being the case though, Cumiskey is still arguably the better option between the two. Sure his inexperience in the Hawks’ system is an issue, but the team is going to have least a week, if not more, to get him acclimated to things. What’s more, unlike Rozsival and Timonen, Cumiskey is going to be able to use his speed to his advantage, and that’s not something the Hawks can take lightly when coming from a third-pairing defenseman.