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Blackhawks, Rozsival agree to one-year contract

by Brian Hedger

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- They Chicago Blackhawks gave another glimpse into what their roster to start the season might look like when they announced Saturday they agreed to terms with defenseman Michal Rozsival.

Rozsival, 37, agreed to a one-year contract with the Blackhawks that, according to a report by ESPN Chicago, is worth $600,000 and a possible $200,000 in performance bonuses.

"I think [Rozsival] gives you another player with experience," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said following Chicago's second day of camp at the University of Notre Dame's Compton Family Ice Arena. "He gives you some safety, predictability. He doesn't have to play every game, but when he comes in, you're comfortable with him in all situations."

Rozsival played the past three seasons in Chicago and is still recovering from a fractured left ankle that knocked him out of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He hasn't participated in camp scrimmages and only resumed skating lightly recently.

The estimated date when he'll be ready to participate in team activities on the ice has yet to be determined. It has dominated his thought process since being injured in Game 4 of the Western Conference Second Round at the Minnesota Wild.

"It was a tough ending to my season last year," Rozsival said. "But it was a great ending for the organization and for the whole city of Chicago. It was definitely on my mind all summer long that I definitely wanted to be back in Chicago for this year again."

Prior to the announcement Saturday of his new contract, that didn't seem like a sure thing. Rozsival became an unrestricted free agent July 1, and initially attended Chicago's camp on a professional tryout offer. He wasn't the only one.

The Blackhawks have also brought in a handful of other NHL veterans on PTO offers to increase the competition level of camp, including 37-year old defenseman Jan Hejda and 39-year old Lubomir Visnovsky.

Each participated in scrimmages during the first two days, while Rozsival watched. The biggest reason he got the first contract among the free-agent vets was the comfort factor with Quenneville and the Blackhawks' front office.

"It's reliability, and obviously we kind of missed some important minutes without him there in some key situations in the playoffs last year," Quenneville said. [It's] nice having him back and giving us some depth."

Though he wasn't on the ice for Chicago's latest championship celebration, Rozsival has been part of two championships with the Blackhawks. He has played the role of veteran depth defenseman each time, and hopes to fill a similar role again.

Rozsival, who had 13 points in 65 games during the 2014-15 regular season and one assist in 10 playoff games, said money was not much of a factor in his contract negotiations.

"Literally, I didn't even think about how much my contract would be worth," Rozsival said. "I just wanted to be back and be here with this group and be in this organization."

His health status is still foggy at this point. Rozsival said he's close to returning to full strength, but doesn't know when he'll get to that point. Stepping back onto the ice was also a challenge mentally, considering how his injury occurred.

Rozsival was trying to transition to backward skating in the neutral zone to retrieve a loose puck when his left skate appeared to catch on the ice and twist his left leg severely.

"I did try it, so I am able to skate, but obviously it's only light skating," he said. "I'm going to need some time before I can get on the ice with the group. As always after injuries like that, I think you're always a little careful. So, I did start like that. But I feel right now the ankle is strong and the leg is getting strong. I'm feeling more confident every day right now."

The news about Rozsival's contract doesn't completely settle the Blackhawks' defense situation.

Their top four defensemen are Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor Daley, who was acquired in an off-season trade that sent left wing Patrick Sharp to the Dallas Stars. The final three spots are likely ticketed for Rozsival, Trevor van Riemsdyk and David Rundblad, but Quenneville wants more experienced depth in Chicago's system.

Last season, that came in handy when Rozsival was injured. The Blackhawks called upon Kyle Cumiskey to play sparingly on the third pairing and he wound up hoisting the Cup with them.

Chicago also have Cumiskey in camp on a PTO, even though he's currently out because of a lower-body injury. When he returns, he'll be among a group of veteran defensemen that coaches and general manager Stan Bowman will assess closely.

"Organizationally, you'd like to have 10 deep that can play on a need basis," Quenneville said. "So, I think that's what we're watching and observing. That's one area that you want to make sure you're safe, solid and deep. I still think there's competition. There's still things to be sorted out."

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