Veterans Hejda, Visnovsky attempting to continue careers with Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Jan Hejda and Lubomir Visnovsky celebrated birthdays this summer that moved them closer to 40.

Hejda, who turned 37 in June, and Visnovsky, who turned 39 in August, realize their careers are winding down, but they still possess the desire to play and feel they’re capable of helping an NHL team. Right now, both are focused on making the Chicago Blackhawks that team.

Both defensemen ended up in Chicago under similar circumstances. Hejda’s contract expired with the Colorado Avalanche after last season, and Visnovsky’s deal ended with the New York Islanders. Both were hopeful for new contracts come July, but they were among a number of NHL veterans who found the free-agency market to be unreliable.

With nothing permanent in front of them, their agents approached them with the opportunity to attend the Blackhawks’ training camp on professional tryout agreement. Hejda and Visnovsky agreed.

“Obviously it’s different especially at my age,” Hejda said. “I was hoping to get a contract before camp starts, but that didn’t happen. The market was a little weird this year. Then the Blackhawks contact my agent, I feel like, wow, this is a three-time Stanley Cup champion in the last six years, so this is something which is great.”

Visnovsky approached camp with a similar mindset.

“My last 15 years I’ve had a contract,” Visnovsky said. “It’s the first time I got a tryout. I enjoy it. It’s no pressure. Just play hockey and I show I’m ready for the NHL and try to help the team.”

The Blackhawks had a defenseman opening prior to training camp, but it's not exactly clear they have a spot any longer. The Blackhawks entered camp with Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Trevor Daley, David Rundblad and Trevor van Riemsdyk slotted into NHL defenseman spots. The assumption was Hejda, Visnovsky and Michal Rozsival were among the front-runners for a seventh defenseman spot.

The Blackhawks re-signed Rozsival to a one-year, $600,000 contract on Saturday, and that left some uncertainty for Hejda and Visnovsky. The two players and their agents still believe they have an opportunity to make the Blackhawks’ roster.

“You know what, I’m trying to control what I can control,” Hejda said. “The rest is on my agent and this organization. We’ll see. I signed a tryout contract here because this is a chance which happening only once in a life. I feel like I was pretty lucky to be here for a tryout. Right now I’m just focusing on my part of the job and the rest will happen.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he’s also continuing to assess Hejda and Visnovsky as potential roster players. Both players are expected to be put into a handful of preseason games. Both played against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.

“I think you give them a chance to play,” Quenneville said. “You let them sort it out for you. They’ll make the decision for us as well. If it gets to the stage of let’s go, then you see if you can work things out. It’s an opportunity. I don’t think they’ve ever been in this situation. It’s probably interesting for either way they’re looking at it as well. We’ll give them a chance and then we’ll see.”

If the Blackhawks or another NHL team don’t offer Hejda and Visnovsky contracts, both players would likely have options in Europe. Hejda said he has no intentions of playing in Europe and only wants to play in the NHL. Visnovsky said he would be willing to continue his career in Europe.

The Blackhawks have been a vehicle for some veterans to win a Stanley Cup in recent years. It’s something Hejda wouldn’t mind either.

“This is the best team in the league right now,” Hejda said. “This is a great chance for anybody coming here for with contract or without contract just to have a chance to be here to have a little bit experience and feeling what this time is about.”