Chicago Blackhawks hurt by lack of third defensive pair

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Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival

The Chicago Blackhawks are blessed with some of the better, if not the best, defensemen comprised on one team…until you get to the third pairing.

Duncan Keith is the defending two-time Norris Trophy winner. Brent Seabrook is a gold medalist. Niklas Hjalmarsson is the best value on any blueline in the NHL, and up until this season Johnny Oduya has been tremendous as a fourth defenseman. Most teams would use Oduya as a top-three choice.

Chicago’s defensive selections beyond those four are question marks, at best.

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Michal Rozsival is past his prime. He served the team well, earning a championship ring as a member of the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks. It is obvious that Roszival has the burst of a snail and is a prime target of the opponent’s best players. Why he continues to get ice time is a question that needs answering.

David Rundblad was acquired for a 2nd-round draft pick prior to last season’s trade deadline. The Swedish blueliner has good skating ability and a cannon of a shot, but makes poor decisions at times. Rundblad is on his fourth team since being drafted 17th overall in 2009.

The talent is there, but much like Jay Cutler we may never see it in full.

Tim Erixon was acquired by Chicago in the trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets that sent young forward Jeremy Morin out of coach Joel Qunneville’s doghouse and into an immediate role with #Lumbus. The 23rd pick of the 2009 draft has been as much of a miss as Rundblad. Erixon was considered the prized-piece in the trade that sent Rick Nash to New York.

Erixon, also Swedish, has zero points in five contests with the Chicago Blackhawks.

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Those are the options for the Hawks, unless they were to dip into the minors and bring up any combination of Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck, Kyle Cumiskey or T.J. Brennan. Those scenarios are unlikely; unless Chicago loses an incumbent or two due to long-term injuries.

Trevor van Riemsdyk carved out a permanent spot with the bottom pairing. Then he suffered a knee injury that will keep him out until at least March. There is a very high chance that TVR’s rehab will force him to miss the season.

Chicago has two pairings, Keith-Seabrook (28.42%) and Hjalmarsson-Oduya (29.62) combining for over 59% of the total pairings this season at even strength. The next highest percentage is Rundblad and Rozsival at 6.17%, according to Left Wing Lock. That does not include the power play or penalty kill. Rozsival is the only defenseman outside of the top four that has seen at 1% of the time on the penalty kill.

That is a staggering drop-off.

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The lack of trust from Quenneville in a third pairing has drained his top pairings. It will continue to do so as the season drags on. The Chicago Blackhawks cannot advance and win another Stanley Cup without being able to roll out a full lineup every night.

Lack of depth cost the Chicago Blackhawks the Cup last season.

The time is now to commit to what you have or move on. There are few, if any, teams that are as deep as Chicago at the blueline. Find two that work and stick with them.

Jeff is a production assistant @120Sports and contributor to hockey, football, and baseball for The Sports Bank. Follow him on Twitter @skcih_ffej.

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