Throughout the season, Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman have raved about the defensive depth the Blackhawks have this year, calling it one of the strongest blue lines they’ve had in years. That said, both have a favorite saying: You can never have enough good defensemen.
With that in mind, the Hawks went back to the future, acquiring veteran defenseman and pending unrestricted free-agent Johnny Oduya — a member of the 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup-winning teams in Chicago — from the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night, one day before the trade deadline.
The price? A mere pittance. The Hawks gave up only prospect Mark McNeill — a 2011 first-round pick who has played just one NHL game and who has been buried in Rockford for four years — and a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2018 draft, which can become as high as a third-rounder depending on how far the Hawks go in the postseason this spring. On top of that, the Stars are retaining 50 percent of Oduya’s $3.75-million salary, which allows the Hawks to fit him under the salary cap.
So even if, at 35 and just coming off an ankle injury that cost him 15 games, Oduya isn’t his old self, the risk is extremely low for the Hawks. And the reward, given Oduya’s experience and all-around ability, could be awfully high.
A year ago, the Hawks made a similar move when they brought back Andrew Ladd shortly before the deadline. That one didn’t pan out, but the price was much higher — a first-round draft pick and high-end prospect Marko Dano. So far this week, Bowman has landed both promising depth forward Tomas Jurco and Oduya without giving up any NHL players, any top prospects, or any first- or second-round picks.
Oduya only has played 37 games this season for Dallas, posting one goal and six assists. But with Niklas Hjalmarsson out for at least the rest of the week, and Michal Kempny, Brian Campbell and Trevor van Riemsdyk having up-and-down seasons, Oduya’s return bolsters the Hawks’ depth on the blue line. As a left-handed shot, Kempny and Campbell could be most at risk of losing their spots, though Campbell has played on the right side at times this season.
Bowman had said he didn’t expect to make any more trades after acquiring Jurco, but the Oduya deal came together quickly on Tuesday evening. Just four days earlier, Bowman spoke highly of his defensive corps.
“I like the way our defense has played this year,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of development from Kempny in particular. [Rookie] Gustav Forsling has played quite a bit, he’s currently in Rockford and we saw the benefits that had for someone like Nick Schmaltz. …Lately, I’ve had a chance to see Rockford play and Erik Gustafsson played very well. We still have Ville Pokka and Viktor Svedberg, even Carl Dahlstrom. We have a lot of defensemen, and we have guys that have played NHL games, in addition to the seven we have in Chicago. I like the way that group looks right now.”
But while the future is bright for some of those younger defensemen, Oduya was too good to pass up as a short-term rental. It’s actually the second time the Hawks have acquired Oduya at the trade deadline, after doing so five years and one day earlier in 2012, in a deal with the Winnipeg Jets. After that season, Oduya spent three full seasons with the Hawks, posting nine goals and 34 assists, and playing in 71 playoff games, winning two championships as Hjalmarsson’s partner on the second pairing.