It was evident after being eliminated in the first-round of last spring’s Stanley Cup tournament that the Chicago Blackhawks needed a boost on the blue line before seriously challenging for their fourth championship since 2010. The Hawks options would of course be limited by their lack of salary cap space. Fortunately veteran blue liner Brian Campbell, who spent three seasons with the Hawks earlier in his career and was part of the 2010 Stanley Cup championship roster, was willing to sign a deeply discounted deal to return to the Windy City to provide added versatility to Chicago’s defense corps. That versatility has proven to be vital given the way head coach Joel Quenneville utilizes and and assembles his defense pairs, as Chris Hine of the Chicago Tribune writes.
As Hine notes, Campbell has filled in as both a right and left side defender and has played with everyone from veterans Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith to rookie Gustav Forsling. The biggest difference between playing with experienced blue liners and younger players, according to Campbell, is communication.
“You have to be a little more assertive (with younger defensemen),” Campbell said. “Seabrook talks a lot and he expects you to talk a lot on the ice. Some guys are a little bit quieter. Young guys coming into the league are a little intimidated, but you need them to help you out as much as you’re hopefully helping them out.”
Niklas Hjalmarsson, who is also able to slide over to his off side, has spent a lot of time in his career opposite Keith, and the two have developed a rapport that enables them to keep each other on point. Hjalmarsson believes that relationship sets a standard that should apply across the blue line.
“(Keith and I) kind of know exactly what we get from each other night in and night out,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s not too often we get on each other’s case, but we rely on each other to bring our best every night.
“That’s the standard for how it should be, and if you play with a first-year guy, you want to be talking more and be more active that way and help him out on the ice.”
While Campbell isn’t the offensive force he has been in the past, his addition gives Quenneville a multitude of options when it comes to his defense pairings and it allows the coach to spread out the minutes a little bit better than in the past. The Hawks still rely heavily on Keith – sixth in the NHL averaging better than 26:00 per game – and might prefer to scale back a bit on his ice time as the season wears on. The continued development of Forsling and Trevor van Riemsdyk may allow Quenneville to do just that.
Elsewhere in the Western Conference on this quiet evening:
- Mike Chambers of The Denver Post compares the Colorado Avalanche to the Blackhawks, both in terms of how the clubs were constructed and their current salary cap situations. Chambers points out that both teams have had the advantage of multiple high lottery draft picks – Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for Chicago and Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog for Colorado – with which to build the foundation of their respective clubs. Additionally, as Chambers further argues, the two have invested heavily in keeping their core groups intact. The Hawks have more than $38MM allocated to just five players – Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook and Corey Crawford, while Colorado has more than $35MM annually tied up in their core – MacKinnon, Duchene, Landeskog, Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie and Semyon Varlamov. The large investments in their core players limits how much each team has to spend on complementary pieces while also pushing them close to the cap ceiling. However that’s where the similarities end. While Chicago has been one of the league’s top teams since 2010, Colorado has been to the playoff just once in the last six seasons and this year is last in the NHL in goals scored, goals allowed and currently sit 30th in the league in the standings. Clearly where Chicago has excelled in putting the right pieces together on the ice, the Avalanche have failed to find the right mix. At some point the Avalanche is likely going to make a move or moves to change their core.