The Rockford IceHogs have taken a bit of a hit from the realities of the AHL over the last week. Before the smoke clears following the NHL trade deadline, the Hogs roster could morph into any number of forms.
Trades and injuries have tested the depth in ‘Bago County. Rockford battled its way to a road victory, sandwiched between a pair of tough losses at the BMO Center this past week. The piglets are still on a course for the postseason. How that voyage concludes will depend a lot on the Blackhawks organization and how committed they really are to ensuring playoff hockey for its prospects.
Let’s lead off with…
On Thursday, the Blackhawks traded forward Josiah Slavin to Anaheim in exchange for forward Hunter Drew. Both players have struggled to repeat career-high numbers set the season before, so this is likely a change-of-scenery type of transaction. Drew (5 G, 6 A in 44 games with San Diego) skated in Rockford’s two games with Iowa this weekend.
Drew is listed as a RW/D and there was some speculation as to where he would slot in for the Hogs. Despite being decimated on the blueline, Drew skated as a forward, as he has done for the past couple of seasons. That probably indicates that he’ll remain a forward moving, uh, forward.
About that blueline…
Also on Thursday, the team announced that D Alec Regula and Jakub Galvas have been placed in the concussion protocol and that D Cliff Watson will be out “indefinitely” with a sprained right knee. The Hogs brought up D Andrew Parrott from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel that day.
On Friday, the IceHogs signed D Nolan Valleau to a PTO. Valleau, who was with Rockford for a couple of seasons a few years ago, skated on Saturday night with D Filip Roos being a scratch. Yet another Indy defenseman, Koletrane Wilson, was recalled by Rockford on Sunday.
Thursday also saw the Blackhawks sign Rockford’s leading scorer, David Gust (24 G, 26 A), to a two-year NHL contract. Gust, who had a pair of goals Wednesday night in a loss to Texas, picked up his first NHL goal on his first shift in Chicago’s win in San Jose. The IceHogs recalled F Cameron Hillis from the Fuel in response. Hillis, who was Indy’s top point-producer at the time, was in the Hogs lineup Friday and Saturday.
Rockford is down four of its top defensemen (including Issak Phillips, who was recalled to the Hawks the previous week). The Hogs are also sans their two leading scorers in Gust and Brett Seney (who also scored for the Hawks Saturday night).
Despite the depletion, the IceHogs did manage to compete.
On Tuesday, Rockford entered the third tied 2-2 with the division-leading Stars before eventually falling 5-3. Friday, the Hogs went into DesMoines and posted a 3-1 win over Iowa behind two-goals by Luke Philp (17 G, 19 A). In the rematch Saturday, Rockford couldn’t get enough pucks past a tough Wild defense, let alone find the net. Zane McIntyre shut out the IceHogs 2-0 as Rockford was out shot 38-23.
The IceHogs currently sit in the middle of the Central Division. With 60 points, they are four points behind third-place Manitoba and five points ahead of the fifth-place Wild. Rockford went 5-3-0-2 in February and are about to start a five-game road trip over the next two-and-a-half weeks.
The Canadian portion of that jaunt is this week. The Hogs visit Toronto on Wednesday, then stop in Belleville and Laval on Friday and Saturday. The Marlies are arguably the league’s top club, though the Senators and Rocket are very beatable teams. However, questions linger entering the month of March:
- How much will the Hogs roster change in the next five days?
- What are the Blackhawks going to do about it?
Yeah! What Are They Gonna Do About It?
There is no doubt that several trades are going to be completed by Friday’s trade deadline. At least two or three will involve the Blackhawks. Players may need to be recalled to Chicago to fill out the NHL roster.
In the past, the Blackhawks have included prospects in deals that left the Hogs toothless in terms of their ability to compete. They have also occasionally obtained some help for Rockford and strengthened the piglets. If the organization is serious about keeping the IceHogs a contender, the scales should be tipped in the latter category.
The Blackhawks may also choose to keep some players eligible for the Calder Cup Playoffs even if they figure to remain in Chicago for a while. In order to be playoff eligible for the AHL postseason, a player has to be on that team’s roster at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, March 3. There are exceptions, like signed draft choices, amateur tryouts, etc.., but player on Chicago’s NHL roster won’t qualify.
However, the Hawks could (and absolutely should) assign players to Rockford Friday morning, then recalled them after the trade deadline. This “paper” move would allow the players involved to play in any postseason games Rockford has whenever they are finished with Chicago this season.
The way things stand right now, if I was Kyle Davidson (which I’m not) and I was putting my money where my mouth was, I would temporarily assign the following players to Rockford by Friday morning:
David Gust, Brett Seney, Cole Guttman, Issak Phillips, Ian Mitchell, Jaxson Stauber (One down-Chicago assigned Stauber to Rockford Sunday night)
Anything less than four of those names (provided none are involved in a trade) and talk of wanting to go on a deep playoff run with Rockford is just that-talk.
Back in 2017-18, when the IceHogs reached the Western Conference Final, Rockford was bolstered in both trades and paper assignments. A lot of talent came down to the BMO in time for the playoffs. Is it possible that Davidson equips the IceHogs to go on a similar run this spring? For sure.
Is it also possible that he weakens the roster in the name of draft stock? Not if you believe the organizational rhetoric over the past season.
The 64,000-dollar question, of course, is…do you believe that rhetoric?
The answer to that question hinges upon the course Davidson takes in the next few days.