CHICAGO -- If you’re wondering why Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad was sent back to his juniors’ team, it’s pretty simple: when healthy, the Hawks are in a number’s crunch and it’s just not Saad’s time yet.
The 18 year-old from Pittsburgh made quite an impression, and he certainly could be a major contributor for the Hawks as soon as next year. But the Hawks are trying to win something now and have more than enough talent to fill the roles they need filled. Saad being sent out was always a foregone conclusion -- unless he really forced the Hawks to re-consider with his play. That didn’t happen in the two games he saw in action in. He played OK but not well enough to supplant others. More than likely the only reason he lasted this long was due to injuries, and Dan Carcillo’s two-game suspension, which is over.
Make no mistake, it’s a good problem to have, but the Hawks will have one too many bodies when the two forwards return -- assuming Alexander Salak is sent back to the minors shortly.
So who goes and who stays?
The easy answer would be to send Marcus Kruger back to the minors, but he might be best suited to continue in a fourth-line role as he develops his game in the NHL. Plus, something felt right, down the middle for the Hawks, in their home opener on Saturday against Dallas.
Joel Quenneville agreed.
“[There was] a little uncertainty when you’re going into Dallas [Friday] and you have three or four guys that you’re a little hesitant about or not sure about but I thought Kane, he’s been fine there and you got Kruger back and [Dave] Bolland back so it gives you all the lines with more of a role and more of a predictability,” he said Wednesday after practice.
In other words, Quenneville felt better with his center position coming out of Saturday’s game then going into Friday’s.
Ben Smith could be sent down just to get some games under his belt considering the time he’s missed with a concussion, but he deserves a chance to pick up where he left off last season. There could be another surprise move, like a trade or sending one of the eight defensemen down to the minors.
But the smartest move remains sending Rostislav Olesz to Rockford, or at least trying to. He is a man without a role right now. A healthy scratch last Saturday, he’s been running drills with the injured forwards and extra defensemen this week at practice. He would need to clear waivers, and while valuable insurance, if he’s claimed, it could benefit the Hawks. It would wipe $3.1 million off their salary cap and give them a huge amount of money to spend on an in-season trade, if needed. If he clears waivers, he’ll get valuable playing time, something he could use coming off a major knee injury. If the Hawks want to bring him back, he’ll go through re-entry waivers and a team could claim him for half his salary -- the Hawks would be on the hook for the other half. Even then, they save about $1.5 million. There’s no downside, unless they are in desperate need of Olesz, a scenario that doesn’t seem plausible. And if they are in desperate need of Olesz or anything else, they’ll have the money and wherewithal to make a trade.
Even if Kruger falters, Brandon Pirri is waiting in the wings for a return so it keeps a healthy competition among the young forwards while not taking away from the core of the team or depth on defense. And if Olesz clears waivers he gets to find his game with a chance to return as well -- whether it be for the Hawks or another team.
Of course, this is the NHL and an injury is always around the corner so it be a moot point. In this case, the Hawks would like the tough decision.