By Jay Zawaski–
(CBS) — With the Blackhawks opening training camp this Friday at the University of Notre Dame, home of the unbeaten Fighting Irish, it’s time to put the mailbag back in mothballs and write some (gasp) actual, real on-the-ice hockey stuff.
As it stands while I type this sure to be epic camp preview, the Blackhawks are 13/2 favorites to win the Stanley Cup. When teams are as experienced, deep and talented as Chicago is, training camp is less important than it would be for lesser teams. However, there are still a number of intriguing storylines to keep your collective eyes on before Oct. 9, when the puck drops for reals in Dallas.
Someone is going to be traded. It’s inevitable. Depending on how they craft the roster, the Hawks are about $2 million over the salary cap. They must be under the salary cap by the opening of the season.
There are several candidates to move, but I’d expect one of the Hawks’ bottom pair of defensemen to go. Michal Rozsival might be the best option/least damaging. While he’s a wily, dependable veteran, he’s slowing down and becoming less and less reliable. His $2.2 million salary solves the cap problem immediately.
Nick Leddy is another candidate. While there’s little doubt that the 23 year-old defenseman has shown a ton of potential, he hasn’t shown a ton of growth. Leddy’s basically the same defenseman at 23 that he was at 19. He’s still turnover prone. He still shies away from contact. Coach Joel Quenneville hasn’t trusted him in big moments and because of that, Quenneville shares some of the blame for his lack of development. A player can’t improve if he’s never challenged. Leddy still has a ton of value and would certainly yield a bigger return than Rozsival.
If it’s anyone other than Leddy or Rozsival who are dealt, I’d be shocked. I don’t see general manager Stan Bowman trading Patrick Sharp when he doesn’t have to, and Johnny Oduya is almost always defending the opposition’s top line. Both players are too valuable and important to the Hawks’ success to be moved. Kris Versteeg would be a perfect candidate, but I’m not sure anyone wants him after his pathetic showing last season. More on him later…
With the Hawks likely to deal their fifth or sixth defenseman before the season begins, there are a few new names in the system with real chances to make the team.
If Leddy is traded, look for Adam Clendening to nab the roster spot. He has more of an offensive game than Klas Dahlbeck, just as Leddy has more of an offensive game than Rozsival. If Rozsival is the player dealt, Dahlbeck is the best candidate. He’s more of a steady, stay-at-home type than Clendening. Both guys, from all reports, are NHL ready.
The darkhorse is Stephen Johns. It will take an incredible camp and preseason performance for him to earn the spot, but since leaving Notre Dame and joining the organization last season, Johns has been blowing people away. He just might be ahead of schedule.
David Rundblad (remember him?) is still part of things. Bowman loves him. I’m not sure Quenneville is convinced. I believe he’ll make the team but stay permanently implanted in the seventh or eighth defenseman role.
Battle for the bottom of the roster
Theway I see it, there are four forwards vying for two open spots in the lineup and one reserve spot. Those players are Teuvo Teravainen, Peter Regin, Jeremy Morin and Kris Versteeg. Let’s take a look at realistic line possibilities.
1st: Sharp – Toews – Hossa
2nd: Saad – Richards – Kane
3rd: Bickell – Shaw – ???
4th: ??? – Kruger – Smith
Morin is the favorite to win the right wing job on the third line. Fans were clamoring for more ice time for the young winger, and Bowman may have finally forced Quenneville’s hand by trading away slugs like Brandon Bollig and letting Michal Handzus “test free agency.” Now, Quenneville is forced to choose a young, offensive-minded winger. Morin is the most ready. His time has come.
In my opinion, Teravainen is still a bit of a long shot to crack the opening night roster. Unless he can somehow beat Morin out of the third-line spot, I think the Hawks would rather see him log big minutes on the top couple of lines in Rockford. Remember, the North American game is still relatively new to him. Can he win the job? Absolutely, but it’s not likely at this point. Morin is more polished right now and has earned the chance to lose the job.
Regin will likely be the first guy off the bench when an injury is sustained. He can play both center and wing adequately and can play on any of the four lines. He’s a versatile player, but he doesn’t really do anything that great.
Versteeg will probably end up as the fourth-line left wing. While he was absolutely abysmal last season, there’s a small glimmer of hope, as he may have been hampered by the effects of surgery he had in the summer of 2013. Could Versteeg be poised for a bounce-back season? Well, he can’t be worse.
Lack of toughness?
I, for one, couldn’t give two craps about having a “goon” on the roster, but I’m not Quenneville. Losing Bollig isn’t going to hurt the team, but I fear that Quenneville might be worried about the lack of “grit and sandpaper” in the lineup. Keep an eye on left winger Brandon Mashinter. In 47 games with Rockford last season, he accumulated 79 penalty minutes. If Quenneville needs a tough guy, it’s going to be Mashinter.
The Hawks open camp Friday in South Bend, and they play their first exhibition game of the season Tuesday when the Detroit Red Wings visit the United Center. It’s been a long summer, but it’s finally time to drop the puck.
Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Spiegel and Mannelly Show on 670 The Score and the Blackhawks columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.