The Chicago Blackhawks benefited greatly from the veteran presence of defenseman Michal Rozsival and center Michal Handzus. Now they’ll bring both back.
The Blackhawks signed Rozsival to a two-year deal and Handzus to a one-year contract, the team announced Friday afternoon. Handzus’ salary is $1 million; Rozsival’s compensation is not known.
It was a relatively quiet day for the Blackhawks on the free agent front, other than signing veteran goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin for a second tour of duty with them. The Blackhawks will continue to work on signing others, including forward Marcus Kruger. Bowman said they’re “not quite to the finish line yet, but getting close” on a Kruger deal. They’ll also work on a deal for Drew LeBlanc, a restricted free agent who the Blackhawks qualified.
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As for Handzus and Rozsival, general manager Stan Bowman talked of the “continuity” that keeping the two brought to the Blackhawks’ roster. Both brought a needed veteran presence and both had their share of success in 2012-13 with the Blackhawks.
“(Handzus’) experience level and just the fact that our coaches are really comfortable with his ability to play in different roles: that was a big reason (for re-signing him). He brought a lot of good things to the table and we had success with him,” Bowman said. “The way (Rozsival) played this year was really in excess of our expectations. He can log minutes and play in defensive situations. He’s very versatile player, and we wanted to bring that back.”
The 36-year-old Handzus, who started his second stint with the Blackhawks when he was traded here from San Jose in April, wasn’t expected to become the team’s No. 2 center when he was acquired. But as the playoffs rolled around he found chemistry on that line with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, his former teammate when both were in Philadelphia. Handzus played through several injuries in the postseason, yet collected three goals and eight assists during it.
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The 34-year-old Rozsival shared time with Sheldon Brookbank as part of the Blackhawks’ third defensive pair during the regular season. He became full time at that spot during the postseason and gave the Blackhawks great depth along the blue line. He had 12 assists in 27 regular-season games for the Blackhawks and added four assists in the postseason. Bowman has long talked about having depth on defense, and Rozsival continues to provide that.
Rozsival’s calm on the ice impressed the Blackhawks immediately, including some of his fellow defensemen.
“I noticed during the first practice with him this year, just the small passes he makes make it so much easier for everyone. He’s just a really smart player that I, personally, can try to learn things from,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said during the postseason. “It’s just the way he makes situations out there look really easy.”
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The Blackhawks are looking for Brandon Pirri to take a solid role with the team this season, possibly even at second-line center. Considering that, Handzus should be a good mentor to him.
“Brandon has had some good seasons, and he’s ready for the next step. We have depth at center, but they’re all young players," Bowman said. "Brandon’s the furthest along, Drew LeBlanc is promising, (Phillip) Danault, (Mark) McNeill, they’ll get a chance in camp. We know what Michal can do. We’ll probably have a nice mix of players and we have veteran presence with Michal. It gives us ability to utilize different players throughout the season.”
The Blackhawks’ success came from a great mix of youthful talent and veteran presence. They’ve got plenty of the former and just re-signed some of the latter.