Viktor Svedberg tried to shrug it off, to act confident and spout clichés about how he’s not sweating his job with Duncan Keith and Michal Rozsival due to return to the active roster as soon as this weekend. It’s not his decision, Svedberg said. Can’t control it, he said. Can’t worry about it, he said.
Sorry, Viktor. Erik Gustafsson says otherwise.
“We drive to the rink together for training every day,” Gustafsson said. “And we talk a lot about that. Some trash-talking, but it’s a lot of joking, too. Of course, it’s something we’re thinking about.”
Svedberg has played all but one game this season, and the 6-9 rookie has been getting better as the season’s gone on. He’s formed a nice partnership with Brent Seabrook, and has been more effective lately in taking advantage of his comically long reach, and his oversized stick, to make up for his lack of footspeed.
Gustafsson, meanwhile, has looked very good in his first five games — a smooth-skating, hard-passing, quick-thinking defenseman who looks tailor-made for the Blackhawks system.
“They’ve obviously played awesome hockey, Vik and Erik,” said Trevor van Riemsdyk, who’s taken up most of Keith’s minutes in his absence. “They’ve proven themselves as really valuable guys that can definitely step in and play some minutes.”
And both might be back in Rockford in two days.
In theory, this is one of those “good problems” Joel Quenneville frequently talks about — an embarrassment of riches. But the problem is, the Hawks’ rookies on two-way contracts (Svedberg and Gustafsson) have played better than the Hawks’ veterans on pricey one-way deals (David Rundblad and Trevor Daley). Quenneville said the pending moves will be as much business decisions as they are hockey decisions. Asked specifically if he wanted Svedberg to stay with the team, Quenneville was terse.
“I could say that, yeah,” he said. “But will that happen? I’m not sure.”
Rundblad could be the sticking point. The 25-year-old — who is a favorite of general manager Stan Bowman but has never won over Quenneville —signed a two-year contract over the summer, worth $1.05 million a season. But he’s played just five games this season, and hasn’t fared well. Like Bryan Bickell before him, his contract is affecting Quenneville’s lineup. Unlike Bickell, however, there’s a good chance another team would claim Rundblad if the Hawks put him on waivers for the purposes of demoting him, which makes such a move less likely.
Rundblad’s in something of a Catch-22 — he was at his best last season when he was playing regularly. But his play in limited action doesn’t warrant an extended look.
“I haven’t played good enough in those games when I’ve been playing, so it’s kind of my fault, too, that it’s come to this,” said Rundblad, who added that this isn’t what he had in mind when he re-signed. “Of course, not. But here I am right now. The only thing I can do is keep working hard every practice, and when I get a game, I’ve got to play my best game of the season and try to stay in the lineup.”
For Svedberg and Gustafsson, however, even that might not be good enough.
“We have nine defensemen out in training now,” Gustafsson said. “And that’s two great defensemen coming back, so of course, I’m nervous. It’s going to be hard to stay up here, but I’m trying to show that I’m the guy who can.”
At the very least, the Hawks now know that they have depth at a position that had been decimated by trades over the past two seasons. No matter what happens this weekend, in the long run, the Hawks are in good shape on the back end.
“I like our defense,” Quenneville said. “I thought the guys who were playing in this stretch of games, I thought they did pretty well. I thought they showed they can get better, [and they can] play against good players. That was a good process for us and gives us some depth as we go along here. It was a learning curve, and I was very happy with how they handled it.”