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Defensive depth a real concern for the Blackhawks

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

They were two trades that were made with a philosophy similar to the way the Chicago Blackhawks draft. That philosophy is simple: Chicago is willing to take on risk, if it comes with significant upside. When they draft, they’re not looking for bottom-pair defensemen or forwards to fill a fourth line. They’re trying to land potential stars, like Teuvo Teravainen or Brandon Saad.

At the 2014 trade deadline, the Blackhawks acquired David Rundblad and Mathieu Brisebois from the Coyotes for a 2014 second-round pick. They saw big upside in Rundblad, who was a player extremely comfortable with the puck, an attribute that is necessary on a puck-possession team. They liked the way he saw the ice and distributed the puck too.

Rundblad was a guy who had already been traded for a first-round pick that became Vladimir Tarasenko and then later the centerpiece of a trade that sent Kyle Turris to Ottawa. So a second-round pick seemed like a reasonable price tag.

The Kimmo Timonen trade at the deadline this season was for a player at a completely different point in his career, but the philosophy was the same. In sending a package of conditional picks to the Flyers, the Blackhawks could potentially be landing a guy who could anchor a spot in the top four if he returned to the level he displayed in the 2013-14 season.

It’s a philosophy that has worked out quite well for the Blackhawks in general, but Game 1 of the Western Conference finals suggests that the risk GM Stan Bowman took on in both of those deals may not be coming with a reward.

Pressed into action because of Michal Rozsival’s season-ending ankle injury, Rundblad was on the ice for the Ducks’ first two goals and was manhandled in front of the net by Matt Beleskey on the first one.

He played just 10:47 of ice time, which isn’t much but it was double the 5:15 Timonen saw against the Ducks. Joel Quenneville appears to have just four defensemen he trusts right now and that’s an issue moving forward against a deep Ducks team.

To be fair to Rundblad, it was his postseason debut and that’s not an easy environment to jump into. He hadn’t played since April 11.

“You don’t want to be on the ice when they score,” Quenneville said when asked to assess Rundblad’s play. “We want to make sure we’re making safe plays, quick plays, easy exits. A couple of those [he] maybe could do differently. But, you know, not an easy start, first playoff game.”

So is that a weakness the Ducks can continue to expose moving forward? I posed that question to a few people around the league and there’s definitely concern there.

“He has no pace to his game and lacks strength in all situations,” said one coach.

His lack of strength was certainly highlighted in this game. He skated primarily with Duncan Keith, who has enough speed for both of them, but Rundblad puts a lot of additional burden on Keith.

“[Rundblad] can make a play but is light with not great feet,” said a Western Conference executive. “He doesn’t get back to pucks quickly. The speed of Anaheim’s forecheck eliminates his ability to get the play moving.”

Rundblad definitely has his strengths, and you saw them as the game progressed, but this matchup poses a potential problem for the Blackhawks moving forward.

Nine other takeaways from the weekend of hockey.

2. The solution may be to increase the ice time for Timonen -- one of those guys who seems to play better with more ice time, but that was before he sat out most of a season and struggled to adjust to a new team. This is a really hard time for anyone to try to find their game. Things are moving fast out there, a challenge for Timonen at this point. “[He] seems to be very slow,” said another Western Conference executive of Timonen. “Just missing that much time hurts him.”

3. There’s going to be some revisionist history about how the Nick Leddy trade is the big reason for the Blackhawks' problems on defense. Yes, it would be nice to have Leddy on defense now as an option but he wasn’t a guy Joel Quenneville seemed especially enamored with in previous playoff runs. In Game 7 of the Western Conference finals last spring, a game that went into overtime, Leddy played just 12:37. He played 11:59 in Game 6. In the 2013 Stanley Cup clincher against Boston, Leddy played a total of 3:25. So this isn’t new territory for Quenneville, and the Blackhawks have survived in the past.

4. Flyers GM Ron Hextall dropped the first coaching bomb of the offseason in hiring North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol as the replacement for Craig Berube. The Flyers have been criticized in the past for their lack of creativity in hiring only those with deep Flyers ties, and this certainly flies in the face of that tradition. Hakstol is well-respected as a college coach -- his team made the NCAA tournament every year but never won a championship.

It’s a fascinating hire and says a lot about the confidence Hextall has in his ability to pick a coach. The safe move for an inexperienced GM would have been to get a veteran coach but Hextall took a chance here, similar to the way Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has done in his coaching hires with Guy Boucher and Jon Cooper.

5. Hextall’s son Brett played under Hakstol for three seasons at North Dakota, so there must have been a positive recommendation there. If Hakstol is smart, he’ll fill his bench with experienced NHL assistants. The best move would be to bring in Terry Murray from the AHL onto the staff. Kings players still rave about Murray and the influence he had on their two Stanley Cups.

6. With the world championships wrapped up, there should be even more movement on the coaching front. For one, Team Canada coach Todd McLellan is expected to land the Edmonton Oilers job. The Mike Babcock sweepstakes will move to overtime but there will also be interest in Dan Bylsma and Pete DeBoer -- assistants for the U.S. and Canada, teams that both earned medals.

7. If there’s a hierarchy of available coaches after Babcock, Bylsma is at the top of the list. According to an NHL source, the San Jose Sharks have asked for and received permission to interview him. Colleague Pierre LeBrun reported that the Sharks are also interested in speaking with Babcock when he returns stateside. Babcock was traveling back to Detroit with Ken Holland, an eight-hour-plus flight that would give the two plenty of time to hash out a deal, if that’s what Babcock wants.

8. It shouldn’t be too surprising that both Bylsma and Babcock are on the Sharks' list, simply because GM Doug Wilson is known for being exhaustive when hiring a coach. “I imagine Doug is going to interview 20 people,” said one NHL source. Wilson is not a guy who likes a lot of turnover behind the bench and wants to get it right. Chances are, if McLellan wanted to be back in San Jose, Wilson would have been open to it. He prefers stability.

9. As of Monday morning, the New Jersey Devils had not asked for permission to interview Bylsma, which is somewhat surprising considering former Penguins GM Ray Shero is doing the hiring. But part of that may be because both Shero and Bylsma were working in the Czech Republic for Team USA. With those obligations finished, the process can move forward.

10. Now that the Blues' interest in Babcock is out there, you can’t help wondering what that means to Ken Hitchcock. If St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong doesn’t actually land Babcock, how does he explain the interest to Hitchcock? At least one GM who might have otherwise been interested in Babcock opted not to pursue the Red Wings coach because he didn’t want to mess up the relationship with his current coach in case he didn’t get Babcock. That ship has sailed in St. Louis.