Brookbank among several vying for role as 7th defenseman
BY MARK LAZERUS Staff Reporter September 18, 2013 8:58PM
Detroit Red Wings v Chicago Blackhawks
Updated: October 20, 2013 7:40AM
Don’t cry for Sheldon Brookbank, the odd man out for all but one game of the Blackhawks’ run through the playoffs last spring. After all, he’s a Stanley Cup champion.
“The way I looked at it, I was the seventh defenseman on the best team in the world,” Brookbank said. “There are worse things. You could be a top-four defenseman on the worst team in the league.”
Don’t get Brookbank wrong. He would have loved to have played every game of the playoffs, as Michal Rozsival did, or even to have continued his regular-season platoon with Rozsival. As coach Joel Quenneville repeatedly pointed out throughout the season and the playoffs, Brookbank probably deserved to be an everyday player, even though he admitted “it wasn’t my best year as a player in this league.”
But, on arguably the top defense in the league, spots are hard to come by. Brookbank was a key contributor during the regular season and a veteran presence in the locker room and practices throughout the playoffs. And while his job likely is secure for another year — he’s got a year left on his contract at $1.3 million, and he adds an enforcer element that the rest of the defensive corps does not — he knows there are several guys who would love nothing more than to leave camp as the seventh defenseman on the best team in the world.
“This is my seventh year now in the NHL, and every year there’s competition,” Brookbank said. “You don’t take anything for granted. You still have to earn your spot and make the team out of camp.”
On the other side of the equation are guys like Ryan Stanton, Theo Peckham, Mike Kostka and Adam Clendening, who all possibly could have NHL jobs next month if they were in shallower organizations.
Stanton was a black ace during the playoffs, called up after his third — and best — full season in Rockford. He had 25 points in 73 games and was a plus-16. Understandably, the Hawks are very high on Stanton, and at 24, he’s more than paid his dues. But he knows there’s simply not a lot of room for upward mobility in the Hawks organization.
“It’s obviously a bit [frustrating], but they’re all good D-men and I’ve got nothing against any of them,” Stanton said. “And you can’t be mad at management for signing back a D-corps like that, one that just won you the Stanley Cup. I just need to keep my head down and try my hardest, and try to make some decisions hard on them.”
While Stanton and Clendening try to break into the NHL for good, Peckham and Kostka are trying to stay there. Peckham — a big-hitting enforcer-type — has spent part of each of the last seven seasons with the Edmonton Oilers but played just four games last year. Kostka (injured Tuesday night when he was boarded by Detroit’s Teemu Pulkkinen, who faces an in-person hearing with the league and a likely suspension for the hit) appeared in 35 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season.
Signing with the Hawks didn’t help their chances, but the opportunity to tryout for one of the top teams in the league was hard to pass up.
“Last year was a pretty disappointing year for me, and I just want to show that I belong,” said Peckham, 25. “I think I can play at this level.”
Of course, the level isn’t the problem. It’s the team. Quenneville loves to talk about “organizational depth” and clearly believes in the old hockey axiom that you can never have too many defensemen. So Stanton and Peckham and a host of other intriguing blue-liners will spend the week auditioning for one of the most coveted understudy roles in hockey. And Brookbank will be doing everything he can to keep it.
“We like tough decisions,” Quenneville said. “It’s a good problem to have.”