It’s easy to look at the Brian Campbell trade as a no-brainer for the Chicago Blackhawks. In the grand scheme of things, it really was.
That being said, one thing that often gets lost in the critiques of Campbell’s bloated $7+ million annual salary cap hit is that “Soupy” could play. Sure, his defensive game left something to be desired, but Campbell is a great skater whose offensive skills were undermined a bit in Chicago because he wasn’t getting top power play time thanks to Duncan Keith’s undeniable brilliance.
Niklas Hjalmarsson is almost certainly the Chicago player who will miss Campbell more than anyone else. Campbell has been Hjalmarsson’s running mate for the vast majority of their even strength time during their seasons with the Blackhawks, so it’s reasonable for CSNChicago.com’s Tracey Myers to wonder which defenseman will take Campbell’s place.
The Swede was usually Brian Campbell’s blue-line partner in crime last season. But with Campbell’s trade, the Chicago Blackhawks defenseman will be back there with someone else in 2011-12.
So who will it be?
“I haven’t heard anything yet,” said Hjalmarsson as he and fellow Blackhawks Viktor Stalberg and Marcus Kruger painted the team logo at the United Center on Wednesday. “It’s going to be different without Soupy. I’ll have to find someone else to play with and I think someone on this D core will be a good fit.”
He certainly has enough potential candidates from which to choose. Regardless of whom that will be, Hjalmarsson will come in refreshed and ready.
Looking at Dobber Hockey’s line combo numbers from the last three seasons, Hjalmarsson’s second most common partner was Brent Seabrook. Seabrook should spend most of his time alongside Keith, but the two might be paired together when Chicago needs a different look. None of Hjalmarsson’s third most common partners are with the team anymore, so it’s almost certain that he’ll need to get acquainted with his most common mate during training camp.
If I had to guess, my money would be on Steve Montador or Sean O’Donnell. Montador boasts a bit more offensive prowess and comes in with a bigger contract, so he’ll probably get the first chance to be in Chicago’s second pairing. O’Donnell is a stable and steady veteran blueliner who is considerably underrated, though, so don’t count him out either.
Either way, Hjalmarsson might be expected to provide a little more offense from the blueline now that he won’t be expected to back up an offensive catalyst like Campbell. If nothing else, the Blackhawks have options, as Myers points out that the team has eight defensemen to choose from.
Knowing head coach Joel Quenneville’s line-changing ways, it wouldn’t be surprising if Hjalmarsson sees a little bit of everything before he settles on a consistent defensive partner.