With three days left until the NHL trade deadline, the Blackhawks held out defenseman Erik Gustafsson from Friday's game against the Nashville Predators for precautionary reasons. He also did not travel with the team to Dallas on Saturday.
Head coach Jeremy Colliton said after the game that the hockey operations department made the late call to scratch Gustafsson and the coaching staff "acted accordingly." Nick Seeler drew into the lineup for Gustafsson, and Slater Koekkoek was moved to the top pairing.
"Obviously, make a quick decision as far as what we’re going to do and you never know how it’s going to work out," Colliton said following a 2-1 overtime win for the Blackhawks' first home victory since Jan. 19. "But I thought Seeler did well. A lot of guys played extra minutes and hard minutes with all the penalties in particular. Thought we did a real good job of handling it. Our group did a good job of responding to that type of thing. Obviously Gus is a very popular guy in the room, but I thought we handled it well."
Gustafsson is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and there have been no extension talks between the Blackhawks and Gustafsson's representatives, so it's not surprising the team is exploring the market for the 27-year-old blue liner with the Blackhawks six points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference going into the weekend.
And even though the Blackhawks responded nicely with a win over the Predators, Gustafsson's absence was felt inside the locker room.
"It sucks, but it’s part of the business," said Alex DeBrincat, who scored two goals, including the overtime winner. "We have to go out there and do our job and they have to do theirs. For us, we just need to go out there and play our game and not really worry about it."
Gustafsson is coming off a season in which he recorded a career-high 17 goals and 60 points. He has 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in 59 games this season, and has a plus-8 rating during 5-on-5 play.
Gustafsson carries a $1.2 million cap hit, which makes him an attractive piece to teams who are up in a financial crunch. He's a perfect third-pairing defenseman on a good team and can be a difference-maker for a playoff contender that's looking for a power play quarterback.
With Gustafsson likely to be moved before Monday's deadline, Lucas Carlsson was recalled from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League to serve as the extra defenseman on the upcoming four-game road trip. He leads all IceHogs blue liners in goals (five), assists (21) and points (26) through 48 games this season.
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