Is This Rockford Promotion an Indication the Blackhawks Are Getting Busy on the Trade Market?

There are little things I pay attention to at this time of year that can seem insignificant, but could also be a tip that something is brewing. Monday morning provided one of those seemingly minor moments:

You’re asking “Who the heck is Cliff Watson?” and “Why do I care about Cliff Watson?” Both very valid questions.

The answers come from the depth charts in Chicago and Rockford, and make me ask “Why the heck is Cliff Watson going to Rockford?”

As I wrote last week, the Blackhawks are already carrying seven defensemen at the NHL level before Seth Jones returns from injury (which still has a TBD timeline). They were also carrying six defensemen with NHL contracts (plus Adam Clendening on an AHL deal) in Rockford, meaning the Blackhawks had 14 defensemen for 12 spots without their highest-paid player being available.

So the IceHogs recalling an eighth defenseman in noteworthy. Especially when you consider how many teams are looking for help on their blue line right now.

One of the six defensemen in Rockford with an NHL contract is Cooper Zech, who was acquired from Philadelphia for Evan Barratt on Oct. 26. He has only appeared in two AHL games since the trade and figures to be the bottom guy on the organizational depth chart with a contract.

Zech and Watson are two of the now five left-handed shooting defensemen in Rockford with Jakub Galvas, Isaak Phillips and Alex Vlasic. They are also the only two who do not have NHL experience with the Blackhawks on their resumes.

Phillips was specifically mentioned by Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson last week when he was asked about seeing how the young defensemen perform (in light of having Ian Mitchell ready to go with the NHL club). He impressed in limited action with the Blackhawks last year and has eight points in 14 games with the IceHogs to start this season. More importantly, his size (6-3, 204) is more in line with the bigger defensemen we’ve seen the new front office prefers (based on their drafting and signing to date).

Maybe this is just giving a guy a look. Maybe it’s just having an extra body just in case. But the IceHogs play Wednesday, Friday and Saturday this week and then have five days off before playing next Friday. So the schedule isn’t necessarily pressing them to have an eighth defenseman available. And there were no injuries of note from the games against the Wolves this weekend.

written by

Tab Bamford has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks for almost two decades. He joined Bleacher Nation as the lead Blackhawks writer in May 2022. Tab is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and is the author of two books about the Blackhawks: "100 Things Blackhawks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" (Triumph Books) and "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter/X/Instagram/Threads at @The1Tab

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