CHICAGO — Stan Bowman received a lot of kudos for getting the old Blackhawks defense together for another kick at the can.
But the way it played out, bringing back two aging veterans in Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya was a mistake by the general manager. The magic just couldn’t be recreated, and Chicago was swept in the first round by the Nashville Predators.
Then came the offseason changes. Not just on the blue line, either. Brandon Saad is back, while Artemi Panarin is gone. Marian Hossa is gone, too — a huge loss for the ‘Hawks, even if he can be put on LTIR.
So the forward group is going to look quite different next season.
The blue line could look very different, though. Oduya and Campbell are both unrestricted free agents and may not be back. Trevor van Riemsdyk was lost in the expansion draft. And last but not least, Niklas Hjalmarsson is a Coyote now, traded to Arizona for d-man Connor Murphy.
In other words, of the six defensemen who lost to the Predators, only Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are still under contract in Chicago.
“A lot of stuff going on,” Bowman said Friday at United Center. “Sometimes, change is good. You have to make some tough decisions. But at the same time, we’re really excited about our team next year.”
Much will be expected of Murphy, a 24-year-old who’s been toiling in Arizona anonymity since being drafted 20th overall in 2011.
“Connor’s a little bit of a different player (than Hjalmarsson),” said Bowman. “Obviously, he’s a bit bigger, he plays probably a more physical game. But he’s a good skater and he’s six years younger. It’s really hard to find young defensemen like that. He’s got a great contract, too. He’s a guy we’re going to have for a long time.”
Michal Kempny and Gustav Forsling will also be expected to take on bigger roles in 2017-18.
“It’s up to them to take hold of it, but I think the opportunity is going to be there for them,” said Bowman. “It’s time to give these guys a chance to grow and take on bigger responsibilities.”
Speaking of young defensemen, the Blackhawks added another to their stable Friday, drafting Henri Jokiharju with the 29th overall pick.
“Henri’s a player we’ve been high on all year,” said Bowman. “A right-shot defenseman. Those are a commodity in today’s game. It’s hard to find them. He plays a modern style of hockey. Great skill-set, good skater, can handle the puck, make plays. I guess what you would term the modern-day defenseman.”
As for Bowman, he believes his big moves have been made. He promised changes, and changes he delivered.
“I think we’re in a good spot,” he said.
Related: Blackhawks sign Czech defenseman Jan Rutta