The Blackhawks' Blue Line Depth Could Turn Into Early Trade Action

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The Blackhawks’ Blue Line Depth Could Turn Into Early Trade Action

Chicago Blackhawks

You what problem the Blackhawks didn’t have six years ago? Too many players.

And yet that’s a very real situation right now for the organization, who hope to get veteran defenseman Jake McCabe back for the home opener on Friday. There are simply more bodies than available, active spots — or roster spots at all for that matter.

When the Blackhawks traded Riley Stillman to Vancouver near the end of training camp, it appeared that was partially a great deal bringing in a nice player (Jason Dickinson) and asset (second-round pick) but also opening the door for more ice time to a player who was ready.

Before practice on Tuesday, Alex Vlasic was sent to Rockford. He looked good in the preseason but an injury cost him the ability to skate in the first couple games of the season, making a move to Rockford inevitable. The addition of Jarred Tinordi via waivers replaced Stillman on the NHL roster, making Vlasic’s trip to Rockford necessary.

Now, with McCabe returning far sooner than originally expected, the Blackhawks have more decisions to make on the back end. Head coach Luke Richardson was asked about not only Vlasic going down, but also Alec Regula being a scratch for two of the first three games of the season. The organization has been clear about wanting prospects to get a lot of ice time, so Regula watching from the press box doesn’t seem to fit that approach.

Richardson simply acknowledged the relative embarrassment of riches the Blackhawks have available on the blue line right now. Tinordi has come in and skated better than 20 minutes per game; veteran Jack Johnson has seamlessly jumped into a top-pair spot with Seth Jones and looked comfortable skating over 20 minutes per night as well.

The Blackhawks know some of these guys won’t be able to keep playing the minutes they have to start the season. And Richardson also noted that some of the veteran guys will need a night off every once in a while, so having more than six bodies is both smart and necessary.

However, it isn’t only the Blackhawks who have too many bodies available, which is why something will likely have to give at some point soon.

McCabe coming off IR will give the Blackhawks eight defenseman on the NHL roster. Because of his contract situation and his solid play thus far, I don’t see Filip Roos going anywhere. Even though he admitted to me on Tuesday that he’s still getting used to the NHL game.

“It’s hard out there,” Roos told me. “Everyone is so skilled and it’s going pretty fast but I felt like I was getting more comfortable out there.”

And, remember, Ian Mitchell is hopefully going to be back near the end of October; he’ll need to get back up to speed, and that will undoubtedly take place in Rockford.

But Rockford also has a logjam on their blue line. When Vlasic was sent down, he joined Isaak Phillips, Jakub Galvas and Nicolas Beaudin in four guys with NHL contracts with the Blackhawks’ organization who have had a taste of the show. Rockford also has long-time NHL and AHL veteran Adam Clendening back in the fold this season.

Rockford already has nine defenseman signed to either NHL deals with the Blackhawks or AHL contracts. The guys on AHL deals could wind up in Indy (ECHL), but that doesn’t change the reality that there are only so many minutes to share with the group and there are simply too many bodies.

The point: last year, Mitchell was given the top spot on the blue line in Rockford and performed well. The assumption of many was that he would move up to the NHL after a good season with the IceHogs and be replaced on the top pair by one of Regula/Vlasic with Phillips, who spent a lot of last season with Mitchell.

A top four of Mitchell, Phillips, Regula and Vlasic is really good for an AHL team. But… what does that mean for guys like Galvas, Beaudin — a former first-round pick — or Louis Crevier?

It isn’t likely that the Blackhawks make a major splash trade early in the season. We’ve already discussed the reality that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews aren’t going anywhere for a while on multiple occasions (and their agent appeared to confirm as much earlier this week).

If we look back at general manager Kyle Davidson’s history of making moves, he very quietly cleared out some of the dead weight last year in early December when he dealt defenseman Chad Krys to Toronto for forward Kurtis Gabriel. Gabriel made a celebrity guest appearance at the United Center before bringing some grit to Rockford for the rest of the season.

I tend to think this year it could be Beaudin who moves on early. Beaudin is a left-handed shooting defenseman who is listed at 5-11 and 168 pounds (both smaller than most of the defensemen in the system now). He turned 23 on Oct. 7 and is in the final year of his entry-level contract and, with 22 NHL games on his resume, has some experience.

But it absolutely appears the rest of the prospect pool has passed him by and there are more defensemen coming with Nolan Allan, Ethan Del Mastro and Kevin Korchinski having signed deals but playing in junior this year.

Needs are going to arise (Florida just put Aaron Ekblad on LTIR again) and teams that need an affordable, young defenseman who might have some upside could come calling. Hell, the guy Florida called up with the cap space created by the Ekblad move, Lucas Carlsson, was traded to the Panthers by the Blackhawks in the same mindset in April of 2021 (in the deal that brought Stillman to Chicago).

As injuries start to mount and teams with limited cap space need help, keep an ear out for the Blackhawks to become willing participants in early season trade action. They have a surplus of bodies ready to fill any team’s needs.

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Author: Tab Bamford

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab