Blackhawks

Eight-defensemen rotation tricky, but Blackhawks understand juggling act

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USA TODAY

Eight-defensemen rotation tricky, but Blackhawks understand juggling act

For Jordan Oesterle, the wait really wasn’t a terrible thing.

Sure, he was used to playing more consistently in the past. But he knew with the Blackhawks carrying eight defensemen that several players, including him, would need to practice patience and understanding.

“It hasn’t been too long. It’s only been a week and a half so it’s not terrible,” said Oesterle on Thursday morning, a few hours before he made his Blackhawks debut against his former team, the Edmonton Oilers.

For the second consecutive season the Blackhawks are going with eight defensemen to start the season. In one way, it’s good: if anything goes awry, be it someone’s game or someone’s health, the depth is readily there.

But so are the challenges. It’s a juggling act, a delicate balance between making the right decisions and making sure a player understands that a scratch may be more about the rotation and not his individual game.

Communication, above all, is key.

“It’s not easy being the guys who are in or out, right on that bubble situation where you come in not knowing if you’re going to play. But as a staff we want to keep everyone involved,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We know the depth of your defense is going to get challenged at some point during the year. We feel the eight guys who are here can play but that’s how we’ve always done it: We’ve always let guys know whether you’re in or out. Sometimes you have to be more patient than you’d like but handling it the right way, whether you’re a good pro or teammate, that can be healthy around the environment of your team.”

Based on all outward appearances, everyone has handled it well. Connor Murphy has been a healthy scratch twice – “I mean I just want to see the team win really...if we're winning and guys are playing well that's all that matter,” Murphy said after his first scratch.

Oesterle was a healthy scratch the first seven games. Michal Kempny, who Oesterle replaced, has been scratched the last two games. Cody Franson has also sat seven games. Franson, whose patience has been in place while awaiting contracts in his career, is practicing it again. But he’s appreciated the Blackhawks’ communication on it.

“This situation gets tough when they don’t say anything to you; you don’t know if it’s because of the way you’re playing, you don’t know if it’s something you did or what the situation is. The coaching staff has done a great job of being in our ear, letting us leave our work at the rink and not take it home with us,” Franson said. “That goes a long way in being able to stay positive and in the right mindset through it.”

After starting with eight defensemen last season the Blackhawks eventually went back to seven. Will they do that again this season? Maybe, but whoever gets sent down would most likely have to go through waivers. The Blackhawks reassigned Gustav Forsling last season to get back to seven defensemen and get Forsling more playing time. But this season Forsling and Jan Rutta have been dependable and have pretty much become the Blackhawks’ second pairing.

So for now, eight defensemen it shall be. Being part of the rotation isn’t always easy but so far players seem to get that it’s for the greater good.

“It’s one of those things where we’ve got eight quality guys. I think no matter who’s sitting on any given night, it might not necessary be due to how they’re playing or how they’re doing individually,” Franson said. “I think Q’s done a great job of managing that situation. That’s one of those things where it’s a great problem to have but it’s not an easy one to handle. So we’re all aware of what’s taking place right now and you just try to be as professional about it as you can.”

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

Former Blackhawks goaltender Ray Emery was identified as the victim in an early morning drowning on Sunday at the Hamilton Harbour, Hamilton Police confirmed. He was 35.

According to the Hamilton Spectator, Emery and his friends jumped in the water around 6:30 a.m., but Emery never resurfaced. His body was recovered later in the afternoon.

Emery played in the NHL for 11 seasons, two of which came with the Blackhawks from 2011-13, where he served as a backup goaltender to Corey Crawford.

In 2013, he teammated up with Crawford to win the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goaltender(s) with the fewest goals against in a single season, before going on to capture his first Stanley Cup. During that season, Emery went 17-1-0 with a 1.94 goals against average, .922 save percentage and three shutouts.

The Blackhawks issued this statement following the confirmation:

The Chicago Blackhawks organization was deeply saddened to hear of Ray Emery’s passing. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. The Blackhawks will fondly remember Ray as a fierce competitor, a good teammate and a Stanley Cup champion.

The hockey community took to Twitter to offer their condolences when news began to spread:

Thank you, Marian Hossa: An ode to one of the best Blackhawks ever

Thank you, Marian Hossa: An ode to one of the best Blackhawks ever

When the Blackhawks drafted Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006 and Patrick Kane with the No. 1 pick the following year, it was a sign that the dark skies were clearing in Chicago. Things really started to change when Rocky Wirtz took over as chairman following the death of his father Bill in September of 2007, and one of the first decisions he made was to televise all 82 games.

The fans were coming back.

For only the second time in 11 years, the Blackhawks finished above .500 in 2007-08 but missed the playoffs by three points, a season in which Kane won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.

The following year Joel Quenneville took over as head coach after only three games to provide some coaching experience behind the bench for a young team on the rise. It resulted in a 104-point season and ended in a Conference Finals berth at the hands of the arch-rival Detroit Red Wings in five games.

The Blackhawks were ready to make that step into championship contenders. They just needed someone to put them over the edge.

Enter Marian Hossa.

On July 1 of 2009, he committed to the Blackhawks for 12 years worth $62.8 million. He bought into the long-term vision and wanted to be a part of something special for many years to come.

Was he ever.

In his first game as a member of the Blackhawks, Hossa scored two goals in a 7-2 road victory against San Jose after missing the first month and a half of the season with a shoulder injury. It was at that moment where you saw what kind of powerhouse the Blackhawks could be and would become with a full lineup and future Hall of Fame winger added to a mixture of franchise-changing players scratching the surface.

Fast forward to Game 5 of the 2010 quarterfinals. You know how it goes. Series is tied 2-2. The Blackhawks trail 4-3 late in the third period. Extra attacker is on. How many times have we seen this? The Blackhawks were surely going to find a way to tie it up ... and then Hossa is sent to the box with 1:03 to play in regulation. A five-minute major boarding penalty.

Dagger...

Not so fast. 

Patrick Kane went on to score arguably the biggest goal in Blackhawks history, a shorthanded one that evened it up with 13.6 seconds to go. United Center is up for grabs. But there are still four minutes left to kill off on the penalty once overtime starts, which Hossa once called "the longest four minutes of my life." 

In a span of nine seconds following the penalty kill, Hossa jumped on the ice from the box, darted straight for the net and buried home what was the second-biggest goal in franchise history to put the Blackhawks up 3-2 in the series. Two nights later Hossa assisted on three goals and the Blackhawks eliminated the Nashville Predators in their barn.

The rest is history.

Who knows if the Blackhawks rally to win that series if they don't tie it up or win it in overtime. Who knows if they break through the next year. Who knows if that core group even remains together. The course of the franchise could've changed that night.

Instead, Hossa was handed the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career on June 9, 2010 from Jonathan Toews, who couldn't give it to him fast enough after he came up on the losing end in consecutive appearances with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings in 2008 and 2009.

Hossa would add two more titles to his résumé with the Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015, which almost certainly locked up his legacy as one of the all-time greats and his eventual next stop: The Hockey Hall of Fame. The wait was worth it.

"I was hoping to get one coming to Chicago and now I’ve got three," Hossa said following the 2015 Stanley Cup win. "What a feeling." 

The Blackhawks don't win three Stanley Cups without Hossa, who will go down as arguably the greatest free-agent signing in Chicago sports history.

On behalf of the city of Chicago: Thank you, 81.