It’s not you, David Rundblad. It’s them.
The Blackhawks loaned their beleaguered, perpetually scratched defenseman to a team in Switzerland on Sunday, barely leaving the door open for a possible return by the time his contract expires after next season. But the way Joel Quenneville described it, it was less about Rundblad’s defensive deficiencies than it was about the surprisingly good play of rookies Erik Gustafsson and Viktor Svedberg.
Rundblad was put on waivers last week to clear a spot for Gustafsson, whom Quenneville and the organization love.
“Erik Gustafsson came in and showed that he could play,” Quenneville said. “We were trying to [find] a way for us to get him up here to play, and that was part of it. I think it’s more a byproduct of other guys’ play.”
Of course, that doesn’t explain why Rundblad never managed to win over Quenneville the past two seasons. Rundblad played just five games after being acquired at the 2014 trade deadline, then played 49 games last season. This season, he was a healthy scratch for 28 of the Hawks’ first 37 games. He had two assists in his nine games this season, and had three goals and 13 assists in 63 total games with the Hawks. He played in two Stanley Cup Final games in the spring, getting his name on the Stanley Cup. He was a first-round pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2009, and was traded to Ottawa for the draft pick that became star forward Vladimir Tarasenko.
Hawks general manager Stan Bowman gave up a second-round pick to get Rundblad at the trade deadline in 2014, then re-signed him to a two-year contract worth an average of $1.05 million a season this past summer. Quenneville didn’t exactly rule out the possibility that Rundblad could return at some point.
“It’s one position where you can never have enough depth,” he said. “You never know what’s going to play out. Things change immediately in our business.”
At the very least, Rundblad will finally get to play. With the ZSC Lions of the Swiss National League A, he’ll be on the same team as Auston Matthews, the likely No. 1 pick in June’s draft.
“Playing more is what it’s all about,” Quenneville said. “It’s tough when you’re not getting minutes and getting in the lineup, and [you’re] doing extra skates. Over the course of the three years, there’s been a lot of times he’s been out. He just wants to play.”