By Jay Zawaski–
(CBS) If you’re one of the 13 people who listen to my hockey podcasts with NBC Chicago’s James Neveau, you’ve heard us discuss how we’re taking the Blackhawks’ roster with a grain of salt. The trade deadline is Feb. 29 (ooh, leap year!), and the Hawks’ roster continues to evolve.
This weekend, the Hawks made a couple of transactions with an eye toward the future.
First, the team announced they had loaned defenseman David Rundblad to the ZSC Lions of the Swiss National League A. That experiment finally seems to be over. General manager Stan Bowman’s pet project has finally been deemed a failure. I’d be surprised if he plays another game in Chicago.
The deeper and more important part of the Rundblad loan is what it means for the Hawks’ young defensemen in the system. Coach Joel Quenneville has shown a willingness to trust a young, raw, talented defenseman in Erik Gustaffson. Quenneville has mentioned he views the young Swede as an everyday defenseman, with Michal Rozsival and Rob Scuderi rotating in and out of the lineup. Quenneville is committing to young players, and it’s a good move, because the veterans aren’t getting it done.
I still believe the Blackhawks will look to add a defenseman before the deadline. Of course, without significant cap relief from a big contract moving or a long-term injury, they will only be able to add a bottom-three type of player, but every little upgrade could be meaningful at this point.
During Sunday evening’s 3-0 win over the Ottawa Senators, the Blackhawks announced they had traded forward Jeremy Morin to the Toronto Maple Leafs for forward Richard Panik, a left wing who has put up some impressive numbers in the AHL. He’s hardly a fix-all, but the Hawks are seeking a full-time left wing answer on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.
Andrew Shaw has done well lately but isn’t a long-term answer. Teuvo Teravainen, in my mind, should be the answer, but now he’s having success with Andrew Desjardins and Philip Danault. It remains to be see where Panik will fit, if anywhere, but these moves should confirm to even the most militant Bowman hater that the general manager is constantly looking to improve his team.
Bottom line? Today’s roster is better than it was two months ago, and the team now has some cap flexibility. Not many general managers can improve their cap situation and roster simultaneously.
Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score and the Blackhawks columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.