Photos: Bridget Samuels; Getty Images

Despite the lingering question mark about a second line center, and the wisdom of putting a completely unproven goaltender as Corey Crawford’s backup, the one place where there is little left to discuss is on defense.

To start with, there is universal agreement that John Scott’s best position is, in fact, in the press box. Or Rockford. Or Europe. Or the UFC. Or as a Walmart greeter. Anywhere but in a Blackhawks uniform between buzzers.

So, to the rest of the blueline corps. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook man the top two spots. Niklas Hjalmarsson is third on the depth chart. Sami Lepisto and Sean O’Donnell will rotate through the 5-6-7 slots. The only question marks that remain are in the 4th slot and 5th-6th-7th rotation. The remaining names are recently-signed veteran Steve Montador, and last year’s rookie surprise Nick Leddy.

The Blackhawks official-unofficial-official depth chart puts Montador in at #4. There is little reason to believe this will not be the case on opening night, and for the entire year. There are still some, however, who are putting Leddy in opposite Hjalmarsson. That’s just not going to happen unless there is an injury among the top four.

Lepisto and O’Donnell were signed to 1-year contracts. They’re essentially throw-aways at the end of this season. Similarly, I think management has finally realized what a waste of time John Scott was, and he will meet a similar fate come June.

But whereas these players will not likely be part of the Blackhawks’ long-term plans, Montador was just signed to a 4-year, $11 million dollar contract. In the age of one-year contracts dominating the free agent marketplace, Montador’s deal is considered “long-term.” From looking at the contract alone, it’s obvious that Montador is part of the long-term plan for the Blackhawks.

So: why sign somebody for four years at a $2.75 million cap hit, then play him 6 – 8 minutes a night? They just got rid of Chris Campoli for exactly that reason. There were (and still are) plenty of Lepistos and O’Donnells out there that can fill a bottom-two role for under $1 million. Signing Montador and then not using him to the degree his salary would require is not something GM Stan Bowman or Head Coach Joel Quenneville are going to do. That by itself pretty much guarantees Montador the spot on the second pairing.

But there’s another reason that Montador will be our #4. Nick Leddy is definitely part of the Blackhawks’ long-term plans. He, and as long as he keeps developing, Shawn Lalonde will be groomed to fill the third & fourth slots on the Blackhawks blue line. In three to five years, that’s where they’ll be.

Go back and look at Duncan Keith’s development, or Brent Seabrook’s. It takes time for young defensemen to become top-four blueliners. That’s what Leddy needs: time. Not time playing 30 minutes a night against guys of lesser ability in Rockford. That’s a waste of his talent, and he’s far more likely to get injured in a league where the idiots on every team are trying to get called up by pounding the snot out of anyone who comes within reach.

Leddy is past that. He’s done with the AHL, he’s completed that step. He needs 6 – 10 minutes a night against world-class players in the NHL, surrounded by veterans, coaches and a support staff who can mentor him. He also needs to practice with an NHL team, get an NHL conditioning plan, work with NHL video coaches, and have a night off to watch every few games or so. Moving Leddy to the stage where he can put in 20 minutes a night can’t be rushed, or we’d be tossing a well-rounded talent out the window. The Blackhawks’ brass knows this, which is exactly why they brought in Montador to replace Brian Campbell.

Defensemen take longer to mature as players. They can’t be thrown into the league straight out of Juniors, and very rarely are. Give a young defenseman too much responsibility too soon, and they get gun-shy. They start second-guessing themselves, their confidence goes in the toilet, and they start making dumb plays. Breaking them of those habits becomes more trouble and consumes more time than it’s worth, and they’re off the team before you know it.

That’s why the 5th-6th-7th rotation is perfect for Leddy, and that’s why he’ll be used in that capacity this upcoming season. This will move his development along at the right pace, and allow him another year to get used to the system and the pace of the NHL.

Nick Leddy’s time will come. Just not this season, and perhaps not next year either. That’s the way it should be, and it’s a good thing for the Blackhawks down the road.