Blackhawks bolster defense by reacquiring Johnny Oduya from Stars

Blackhawks bolster defense by reacquiring Johnny Oduya from Stars

A few days ago general manager Stan Bowman said he liked his defensive group, from what he had in Chicago to what was developing in Rockford.

But if the right move at the right price presented itself, Bowman said he’d consider it. On Tuesday the Blackhawks bolstered that defense after all, and with a familiar face.

The Blackhawks reacquired Johnny Oduya from the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night in exchange for Mark McNeill and a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun. Also, as first reported by Lebrun, the Stars will retain 50 percent of Oduya's salary. Oduya is in the final year of the two-year deal he signed with the Stars as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015.

The move brings Oduya back to Chicago, where he was part of the 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup teams. It also adds a little more depth to a defense that has been stronger this season, but will be without Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) for a few more games. The Blackhawks placed Hjalmarsson on injured reserve on Tuesday night (retroactive to Thursday). Coach Joel Quenneville said Hjalmarsson will miss the next three games, hopeful the defenseman can return when the Blackhawks come off a four-day break.

In reacquiring Oduya, Bowman didn't give up much. TSN's Bob McKenzie reported that the conditional fourth-round pick could become a third-round pick in 2018, dependent on how much Oduya plays and how far the Blackhawks go into the postseason.

As for McNeill, he never broke through with the Blackhawks. A first-round draft pick (18th overall) in the 2011 NHL draft, McNeill played in just one game with the Blackhawks (last season, against the Carolina Hurricanes).

If there's any concern with Oduya it's how he is health-wise the rest of the way. The 35-year-old just returned from an ankle injury (one that was re-aggravated) that kept him sidelined for more than a month. Oduya, who had a goal and six assists in 37 games with the Stars this season, returned to Dallas lineup on Sunday vs. the Boston Bruins. But Stars general manager Jim Nill told the Dallas media that Oduya is fine.

"Health was an issue, but we had all the medical records and he's healthy now," Nill said following the deal. "He would have played [Tuesday] night if he wasn't getting traded, so that wasn't an issue."

As for how much talk there was with the Blackhawks regarding Oduya, Nill told the media, "they had him, won a Cup with him, they know what he brings, so they’re a team that was always talking to us."

When Oduya will join the team is uncertain at this time. The Blackhawks host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.

Report: Blackhawks will head to Edmonton in NHL's Return to Play plan

Report: Blackhawks will head to Edmonton in NHL's Return to Play plan

The NHL and NHL Players' Association worked diligently into the late hours on Tuesday and reportedly made significant progress as the two sides look to come to an overall agreement on the protocols and safety measures for Phase 3 and 4, transition rules and a Collective Bargaining Agreement extension. 

Nothing is official until the entire deal is ratified — the voting could take place Friday or Saturday — but, barring any last-minute breakdowns, Edmonton and Toronto are expected to be named the two hub cities for the league's 24-team Return to Play plan, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie. Chicago was among the four finalists from a field that started with 10 candidates.

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Vegas was a clear frontrunner from the beginning because of its appealing and tight bubble environment, but the NHL and NHLPA were forced to shift its attention elsewhere after an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases.

It was originally believed that the league would put each conference in opposite regions to eliminate any sort of competitive advantage, but that no longer appears to be the case. The Western Conference is expected to play in Edmonton while the Eastern Conference will go to Toronto, which means the Blackhawks will head to Edmonton if or when hockey officially returns.

Both hub cities will host exhibition games, the qualifying round and Rounds 1 and 2 of the playoffs, but only one of them will host the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final. It's unclear which city will host the latter.

Report: Blackhawks' Ian Mitchell not expected to play in NHL's 24-team playoff

Report: Blackhawks' Ian Mitchell not expected to play in NHL's 24-team playoff

When the NHL's Return To Play plan and 24-team playoff format were originally being hashed out, there was some hope that the Blackhawks could receive some much-needed defensive depth from Ian Mitchell. But that may not be the case.

Chicago could use all the help they can get in their potential best-of-5 play-in series against the Oilers under the league's format.

Mitchell, 21, was drafted by the Hawks in the second round (No. 57 overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft. He spent the past three seasons at the University of Denver, captaining the Pioneers this past year and setting a career high in goals (10) and points (32) through 36 games.

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The promising defenseman signed a three-year entry-level contract with Chicago in April after the NHL paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11.

Wednesday morning, TSN's Bob McKenzie reported players in a similar boat to Mitchell who signed during the pause, as well as unsigned draft picks, are not expected to be eligible if and when the NHL resumes to finish the 2019-20 season.