Unlike so many others, Erik Gustafsson is hoping that — yes — you can go home again.
Because while more than a dozen players have been reacquired by Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman over the years, not many have found success on their second tour of duty.
Gustafsson, who was released from his professional tryout agreement with the Islanders last week, signed a one-year, $800,000 deal with the Hawks on Monday. Bowman traded the 29-year-old defenseman to Calgary at the deadline in 2020 and has brought him back because of injuries to Wyatt Kalynuk and Caleb Jones.
“When we traded him, it’s not because we didn’t like him,” said coach Jeremy Colliton, who wouldn’t say if Gustafsson will be in the lineup when the Hawks open the season Wednesday at Colorado. “We had a chance to get a (draft) pick and didn’t look like we were going to be in (the playoffs) at the time. …
“We’re not playing exactly the same way, but we’re playing similarly so that there’s not going to be a big adjustment. He’s very well-liked in the room and we think he can provide an element for us.”
When Gustafsson does play, he figures to be on the third pairing while also quarterbacking the second power-play unit.
Gustafsson played with the Flyers and Canadiens last season, scoring 1 goal and adding 11 assists in 29 games. He also played in 16 postseason contests for Montreal during a run to the Stanley Cup Final.
It was just three years ago that Gustafsson poured in 17 goals, dished out 43 assists and averaged 22½ minutes in 79 games for the Hawks.
Asked what the key was to that season, Gustafsson smiled and quipped: “I played with Kaner.”
While true that Gustafsson had fantastic chemistry with Patrick Kane, he was also on a team that was playing catch up quite often.
“He’s a guy who, when you are behind, you play him a lot because he can get you back in it because he can make a play out of nothing,” Colliton said. “But our team is built differently now. … It’s about understanding when’s the time to try and change the game and when’s the time to just take what they give you.”
That was a lesson Colliton hammered into Gustafsson while coaching the offensively talented defenseman in Rockford. When it sunk in, Gustafsson’s career took off.
“He’s seen my worst games, my best games and he’s talking to me a lot,” Gustafsson said. “He probably talked to me four or five times today. We know each other (well), so that’s one (reason) I wanted to come back.
“You know all the guys, you know the whole facility, you know the United Center, you know the city. (I can) just focus on hockey right away and not think about other stuff.”
Of the players reacquired by Bowman, the best second stints were turned in by Kris Versteeg, Brandon Saad and Brian Campbell. (We’ll give Vinnie Hinostroza an honorable mention for an impressive 17-game run at the end of last season).
Gustafsson would love to add his name to that list and not the one that includes Andrew Ladd, Johnny Oduya, Patrick Sharp, Andrew Shaw and others.
“I’ve been better without the puck and (am) stronger,” Gustafsson said. “I learned a lot from every team I’ve played (with) and every coach has helped me play (better) defensively. … I think if I can just bring it to this (team) it’s gonna be a fun year.”
Not going anywhere:
No team put a waiver claim in for goalies Collin Delia or Malcolm Subban, and they were assigned to the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs on Monday.
“We’re happy we still have them because both … have proven they can play,” said coach Jeremy Colliton.
Subban has appeared in 82 NHL games, going 36-31-8, while Delia has appeared in 24 (8-8-4).
The Hawks placed defenseman Caleb Jones (sprained wrist) on long-term injured reserve. They also put defensemen Wyatt Kalynuk (ankle) and Alec Regula (back) on injured reserve.
MacKenzie Entwistle and Philipp Kurashev were assigned to Rockford, but both will be recalled Wednesday and be on the opening-night roster. This move was made so the Hawks would be cap compliant on the first day of the season.