Hawks get defensive with Kane out

Calling up Jassen Cullimore will help Joel Quenneville decrease Duncan Keith's minutes. Warren Wimmer/Icon SMI

If you were surprised the Chicago Blackhawks replaced a 30 goal-scorer of a year ago with a guy who has tallied 26 in his career, you're probably not alone.

The Hawks will give Jassen Cullimore his first chance since 2008-09 to play in the NHL on Friday against Columbus while Patrick Kane recovers at home with an illness. Joel Quenneville said he's hopeful Kane can play on Saturday against Buffalo.

So why a defensive defenseman to replace an offensive playmaker?

Quenneville didn't elaborate too much on the decision, but he intimated that having seven defensemen on the ice could help reduce some minutes for Duncan Keith.

"We'd like to get his minutes down," Quenneville was quoted saying on the Blackhawks' website. "That's all part of it as well. [We're] down two of our top four [defensemen]. Everyone has to assume a little bit more, but I think he's been assuming a little more. If we can get it down to a more manageable number, it would be better for everybody."

Cullimore was a Hawk from 2005-07. He was one of Dale Tallon's first free-agent signings along with Nikolai Khabibulin. He returned to the organization last season but never made it in a game with the Hawks.

"[He give us] some experience back there," Quenneville said. "Some size and presence. [He] had a chance in camp there and did pretty good. Hope he does the same thing today."

Nothing against Cullimore, but his recall and Quenneville's need for seven defensemen are further proof this is the area of the organization lacking NHL-ready depth. They have already moved up Nick Leddy's timetable, and now the Hawks bring in a player who hasn't been in the league in quite some time.

Having said that, could there be more to the recall of Cullimore than a one-game thing?

Niklas Hjalmarsson returns from his suspension on Saturday and Quenneville would not commit to any future for Cullimore past Friday night. If you believe the eye test, as well as what Quenneville has said recently about Jordan Hendry and John Scott, than you know they are struggling a little out of the gate. Though Cullimore may be slow of foot, that experience Quenneville talked about could come in handy if others aren't following the script. It's something to keep an eye on.

In any case, Kane must really be sick. He's played in 244 of 246 regular-season games, and knowing his love of the game, it's hard to imagine Kane being out a second consecutive game on Saturday. Then again, Quenneville declared him doubtful for Friday night about 30 hours before game time, giving little chance for an overnight recovery, so it must be bad.

Down three major names, Kane (sick), Hjalmarsson (suspension) and Brian Campbell (knee), the Hawks will need all hands on deck to prevent a fourth loss in five games to open the season.

Maybe Cullimore can give them a surprise lift.