In an all too predictable turn of events, the Chicago Blackhawks find themselves with too many depth defensemen. Scott Powers of The Athletic (subscription required) is reporting that the team is now shopping Brandon Manning and Jan Rutta, while colleague Mark Lazerus notes that Chicago sent out a league-wide email trying to “undo a couple mistakes.”
Given Connor Murphy’s imminent return, the team is set to have eight healthy defensemen on the roster while only Henri Jokiharju and Gustav Forsling are waiver exempt. Neither of those two young players have done anything to justify sending them back down, but the Blackhawks might be forced to if they can’t find a taker for Manning or Rutta. Unfortunately, both of those 28-year old defensemen come with a $2.25MM cap hit this season—and in Manning’s case for 2019-20 as well—meaning they might not be too appealing for teams to take on at the moment.
There was plenty of speculation in the offseason that the Blackhawks would go after a bigger name to help their defense corps, but after signing Manning on July 1st and Brandon Davidson after a professional tryout, the group looked far from dominant. Behind Murphy, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, who are both now in their mid-thirties and beginning (or continuing perhaps) their decline, the team had a patchwork of short-term deals meant to hold the line until their prospects were ready. Forsling’s emergence this season isn’t entirely surprising, but few suspected Jokiharju to demand so much ice time so quickly. The 19-year old has arguably been the team’s best defenseman this season, though his minutes have been cut recently.
By keeping Jokiharju past the 10-game mark, the Blackhawks have already burned a year of his entry-level contract. Interestingly though the team could still potentially send him back to the junior ranks prior to his 40th game of the season, which would stop him from getting a year closer to unrestricted free agency. In recent years managers have become even more cognizant of that threshold, and given the team’s six-game losing streak and position near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, perhaps it is time to start looking towards the future. NHL seasoning is important, but Jokiharju looks like a player that will be a building block going forward and his contract status has to be a consideration.
Still, the most likely outcome here seems as though one of Manning or Rutta will be moved soon. GM Stan Bowman has already made a huge coaching change to try and fix his squad, and doesn’t seem in the mood to give up on a season just 30 games in.
The Anaheim Ducks were recently mentioned as looking for some defensive help on the left side, and Manning’s physical style and willingness to drop the gloves would likely be welcomed under head coach Randy Carlyle. There’s no evidence to suggest the two teams have been in touch, but shows that there are always teams looking to add some help on the blue line.