Blackhawks lose Keith and the game in Minnesota

130107_gq_trout_aTuesday night’s Blackhawks – Wild game in St. Paul saw things quickly turn from ugly to really ugly for the Hawks. Not long before the game was set to begin, we learned that Brent Seabrook would be a scratch due to an illness. This was a decent blow to a defensive unit that had already been struggling. Then about halfway through the opening period, Duncan Keith was assessed a five minute major and game misconduct for an “intent to injure” Charlie Coyle of the Wild.

Keith’s ejection left Niklas Hjalmarsson as the only reliable defenseman in the lineup. At the time, the overwhelming thought was that the Hawks were absolutely screwed moving forward in that game given Seabrook and Keith would be out. Turns out, it wasn’t as bad as anticipated. The Blackhawks did lose the game, but it’s not like Minnesota torched the Hawks’ defensive corps the whole night. It could have been a lot worse than it actually was.

All of that is just the short-term effect of Keith’s penalty though. The long-term effect could be a lengthy suspension for the two-time Norris Trophy winner.

I’ll be the first one to try and defend a Hawks player when a questionable situation arises. In this instance, however, I cannot defend Keith’s actions against Coyle. You can’t, under any circumstances, intentionally slash a guy in the face with your stick. It does not matter how heated you might be in “the moment.” Doing what Keith did is just stupid, plain and simple, and he deserves a suspension.

The big question now is how many games Keith will have to miss.

If I had to make my best guess as to what kind of punishment the Department of Player Safety will hand down to Keith, I’d say he will probably be looking at a suspension of anywhere from 3-5 games. The possibility exists that he could get even more.

On the one hand, yes it was a bad move by Keith to do what he did, but there have been a lot worse actions by other players that have only warranted suspensions of 5 games or less. On the other hand, however, Keith was suspended during the 2013 Western Conference Final for a very similar reason when he slashed Jeff Carter in the face at center ice. Seeing as how he has done this more than once now, the NHL may look to send a stern message to the Hawks’ d-man and suspend him for 5 games or more. Any suspension of more than 5 games would mean Keith will miss at least one playoff game, seeing as how there are just 5 games left on the Blackhawks’ schedule.

Obviously, this is not an ideal situation for the Blackhawks. They are already all but eliminated from possibly ending up second in the Central Division, and they also have Nashville sitting just 4 points behind them in the top wild card spot. Losing Keith now is not what this team needs if they’re looking to lock up third place in the Central.

Guys like TVR, Rozsival, and maybe Ehrhoff are going to have to pick up more minutes now, which isn’t exactly a great thing. Luckily for the Blackhawks, 3 of their remaining 5 games are against non-playoff teams.

And as if this Keith stuff is not bad enough news, here’s some more for you.

It was reported on Tuesday by Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times that Corey Crawford’s “upper body” injury is in fact a head injury, and it could be that he’s dealing with vertigo symptoms much like Bryan Bickell was last spring and summer. The problem with vertigo is that there really isn’t a timetable for recovery. One person may see their symptoms disappear a lot quicker than others.

In Crawford’s case, no news is bad news, meaning that no updates to his condition likely mean he’s not improving. He has yet to skate since leaving the lineup, and Quenneville is still calling him day-to-day while hoping that he will be ready for Game 1 of the first round.

I, personally, am growing more and more concerned about this. The Blackhawks have, for the most part, been relatively quiet about the Crawford situation. Quenneville has repeatedly given the same quick answer when asked about Crawford’s condition (“he’s day-to-day, hopefully ready for Game 1”), and having listened to Q over the years, his quick answers usually mean he’s a little worried.

I guess time will tell with Crawford.

As for the Blackhawks as a team, their recent play is a bit bothersome, but I still can’t get overly concerned about them. Anyone who has watched the Hawks play over the last 8 years or so knows just how quickly this team can turn things around and go on to win multiple playoff series’ and even the Cup.

With just 5 games left in the regular season and Keith likely to miss at least a couple of those, winning 3 of those 5 would be big for the Hawks. They cannot afford to end up in a wild card spot.

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Time to flip the switch: How the Blackhawks can get going again

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Winnipeg JetsTuesday night the Blackhawks will welcome the Central Division-leading Stars back to Chicago. Dallas currently leads the division with 95 points, while the Hawks sit in third with 91. Both teams have just 9 games remaining on their regular season schedules this year, so tonight will go a long way in determining whether or not the Blackhawks will have a legitimate chance of still winning the division. If they wish to achieve that goal, then tonight’s game becomes a must-win.

Lately the Hawks have been in a funk, to say the least. And in all honesty, it’s nothing that should come as much of a surprise. They have become a perennial mediocre team in the month of March over the past few years. Only when the “real” games begin in April do they dial it up a few notches. That being said, however, now might be the right time to begin that dialing-up process.

Following Tuesday night’s game against Dallas, the Hawks will take off on a four-game road trip out west to Calgary, Vancouver, Minnesota, and Winnipeg. None of those games will be easy, and given how the Hawks have performed on the road this year (18-14-4), it would be nice if they began flipping that switch to playoff-mode beginning with Tuesday’s tilt against the Stars. If they play the way they have for the majority of the last month on the upcoming road trip, the Blackhawks could be staring at another four-game losing streak.

To get a win tonight and to begin working their way towards that “playoff mode,” here’s what the Hawks need to do:

  • First off, the offense needs to start clicking again. The Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line was arguably the league’s best for the first four months of the season, but has since quieted down a bit. For this reason, among a few others, Joel Quenneville has begun mixing up his lines on a pretty regular basis whether in the middle of a game or heading into a game. We’ve seen Kane with Toews and Ladd while Hossa takes the second line RW spot, we’ve seen Ladd flanking Teravainen on the team’s third line, and we’ve seen a number of different combinations on the bottom two lines in recent games. All of this has been an effort to generate some offense, but it hasn’t consistently worked. At this point, I see two possible solutions moving forward. The first one is if Ladd just can’t seem to connect with 19 and 81 on the first line, move him to the third line and bump Fleischmann up to the top line. He has shown some really good skill and energy since coming to Chicago, and it may be a nice fit for everyone involved. Ladd, meanwhile, would add some really solid depth on the third line. The second option, and the one I hope prevails, is for the Blackhawks to simply wake up and “flip their switch.” We say this same thing every year, but only because it’s true every year. They are playing on auto-pilot right now, and until they begin to actually try and go all out each and every night, we’ll continue to see more mediocre performances. This team now has the depth and talent required to win a Stanley Cup thanks to the trade deadline, but until they start playing like they really want it, the losses will keep coming.
  • Secondly, Quenneville needs to figure out his defensive pairings. Right now we’re seeing guys like Ehrhoff and Gustafsson rotate in and out of the lineup while only getting around ten minutes or less of ice-time per game. Meanwhile, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Michal Rozsival are seeing their minutes increase to the high twenties despite them being arguably the two worst defensemen on the team. The bottom line is that while Q has been “resting” his top d-men as of late, he needs to start giving the appropriate minutes to the appropriate guys while at the same time figuring out who his 4-6 defensemen will be come mid-April. If it were up to me, the d-pairings would be Keith-Seabrook, Ehrhoff-Hjalmarsson, TVR-Rozsival with Gustafsson possibly taking TVR’s spot. Brent Seabrook cannot support a sub-par d-man on his pairing anymore like he maybe could have at one time. Instead, he needs a rock solid partner like Keith or Hjalmarsson. Speaking of Hjalmarsson, I like him with Ehrhoff for the fact that Ehrhoff can be a responsible defenseman, but he can also move the puck offensively better than any other d-man on the Hawks not named Keith. This pairing provides you with solid defense in Hammer, and good (not great) defense and above average offense in Ehrhoff. As for the third pairing, I say start with TVR and go to Gustafsson as soon as van Riemsdyk runs into trouble.
  • The penalty kill for the Blackhawks has been awful for most of the season in case you haven’t noticed. This is partially due to Marcus Kruger’s injury, and matters only got worse when Hossa went down. Hossa is now back, and Kruger could be coming back as soon as this weekend. Their PK was 3 for 3 against Minnesota Sunday night, but the Stars will be a much stiffer test despite Seguin not being in their lineup. Now is the time to figure this thing out and start building some positive momentum heading into April. I’m not saying the penalty kill has to be perfect every single game, but allowing a powerplay goal or more each night cannot continue. Kruger’s imminent return to the lineup should go a long way in helping solve this issue.
  • Surprisingly, the third period has become the Hawks’ enemy in recent weeks as opposed to years past. Take Sunday night for example when the Wild outshot the Hawks 16-7. Allowing 16 shots against in a period, let alone the third period, is not a good habit to fall into. Then when you consider that the Blackhawks are not generating many shots, it becomes a terrible scenario. There needs to be more urgency on offense and more reliability on defense shown by this team in the third period moving forward. If the Hawks are trailing entering the third period against Dallas or if they fall behind in the third, look for them to try and play with more urgency.

The Blackhawks are by no means a bad team or a team with huge concerns heading into the playoffs. There are, however, some concerns and weaknesses that need to be shored up starting now. The Hawks could really use home ice advantage in the playoffs this year as they have been very average on the road this season. The only way to earn home ice in the playoffs at this point is to start winning hockey games.

Expect the Stars to come out flying tonight as they look to unofficially eliminate the Hawks’ chances of winning the division. On the flip side, the Blackhawks know how big this game is with regards to their hopes of winning the Central, and it would be disappointing to see them come out as anything other than energized and ready to go.

*Update: Scott Darling will be in net again tonight as Crawford continues to recover from an upper-body injury.

Blackhawks’ biggest threats in the West

2015-11-07 13.59.52Now that the NHL trade deadline has passed, we have ourselves a better idea of how each team’s roster should (for the most part) look come playoff time. Minor changes could be made here and there and players could get injured between now and April, but we can’t predict any of that. So we’re left with the present rosters.

Many people are naming the Blackhawks as this year’s big winners of the trade deadline, and I’m not sure anyone can thoroughly argue that. But aside from what the Hawks did, there were some other big moves by other teams as well.

Given the current rosters of each team in the West, let’s look at which teams may pose the biggest threat to the Blackhawks’ hopes of returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight season.

  1. Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are always scary in my mind. They aren’t as deep as they have been in the past when they won their two Cups, although they did just trade for Kris Versteeg, and their defense isn’t as much of a sure thing as it once was. That said, they’re still the Kings and they still possess more playoff experience than just about any other team in the league outside of the Blackhawks. Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar are world-class players at their respective positions, and those two alone can carry this team to another Cup if all goes well. Also, if they can get a healthy Marian Gaborik back for the playoffs, they’ll be that much better. So while L.A. may not be as good as the next team on this list, the fact that they’ve climbed to the mountain top and back twice is reason enough for me to be more afraid of them than any other team in the Western Conference.
  2. Anaheim Ducks: Despite their rocky start to the season, the Ducks find themselves in a position where they could win the Pacific Division. They didn’t make any big moves at the trade deadline, but I’m not completely sure that they needed to. They’re a deep team at forward and on defense, but their defense can also be torched at times. Come playoff-time, Anaheim will likely have to get by L.A. at some point if they are to end up facing the Blackhawks (again), and the same goes for the Kings having to face the Ducks. I bring that up because I don’t think Anaheim beats Los Angeles in a seven game series, thus eliminating their threat to the Hawks. The bottom line with the Ducks, however, is that unless they get great goaltending from Gibson, which can be a toss-up, and unless Getzlaf and Perry perform like all-stars, this team won’t beat the Kings or Blackhawks in a playoff series.
  3. St. Louis Blues: I’m still scratching my head over the fact that Doug Armstrong made zero moves to help his team at the trade deadline. They could really use another goalie given the injuries to Allen and Elliott, and James Reimer was available, but Armstrong did nothing. They could also have used a scoring winger and a defenseman, but again, they did nothing. As currently constructed, the Blues lack the forward and defensive depth to knock off a Chicago, L.A., or Anaheim in a playoff series. They’re a tough, bruising team, but like always they lack that offensive firepower that is necessary to make a deep playoff run.
  4. San Jose Sharks: This team has performed much better than expectations this year, and they lead the NHL with 22 road victories. It is imperative that you be a good road team if you want any success in the playoffs. Aside from that, they have decent depth at forward and own a very good top two lines led by Thornton, Pavelski, Marleau, and Couture. Defensively they’re not bad either, but they’re not great. Brent Burns is arguably the league’s best offensive d-man and adds a big scoring threat when on the ice, but overall their defense can be beaten. I really like their addition of James Reimer at the trade deadline, as they now have a very good goaltending tandem of him and Martin Jones. That said, Jones, their number one, has no playoff experience and Reimer has little. This is a team that has the talent to pull off an upset over a someone like Anaheim, L.A, or St. Louis, but not Chicago (I say that as unbiased as I can).
  5. Dallas Stars: Some may ask why they’re number five on this list, and I suppose that is somewhat justifiable. Here’s the thing, though: Dallas got WORSE at the trade deadline. I cannot fathom why Kris Russell drew so much attention when all he was in Calgary was a terrible defenseman on a bad defensive team. Sure, he may have some offensive numbers, but his defensive stats are horrible. Yet the Stars went out and got him with the hopes of deepening their d-corps. That d-corps, by the way, has some recognizable names to it, but they’re almost all offensive-defensemen with the exception of Oduya. Then you factor in their goaltending, which is probably the worst of any team near the top of the standings in either conference, and you begin to see why they really don’t have a strong chance of knocking off a team like the Blackhawks in a playoff series. Sure their offense is elite, but if you can’t keep the puck out of your net in the postseason, you have no chance. Oh, and I like to make note of the “experience factor” come playoff-time, of which the Stars have minimal with all things considered.

Given the additions made by the Blackhawks over the last week, I firmly believe they are the best team in the West, and quite possibly the NHL. They definitely have the deepest set of forwards in the league, which is absolutely crucial in the playoffs. Their defense could have really used a guy like Dan Hamhuis, but the hope is that Christian Erhoff will find success in the Hawks’ system and turn into a reliable number four, puck-moving defenseman by the end of the regular season.

I like the Blackhawks’ chances in a playoff series against any team in the Western Conference due to their forward depth and experience (keep in mind that they are still without Hossa and Kruger), but ultimately they’ll have to go out and prove they’re the best team yet again.

This is still too early to be making any solid playoff predictions, so we’ll hold off on that until the playoff matchups are set, but as of right now the Blackhawks are my Stanley Cup favorite for many reasons.

Ladd is coming home; Hawks may not be done dealing

130107_gq_trout_aThursday evening the Blackhawks and Jets executed a rather sizable trade that will send Marko Dano, the Hawks’ 2016 first round pick, and a conditional 2018 draft pick to Winnipeg in exchange for Andrew Ladd, Matt Fraser, and Jay Harrison. The trade comes after days, even weeks, of speculation that the Hawks were looking to acquire Ladd. Needless to say, Stan Bowman hit a home run here.

Arguably the biggest need for the Hawks coming into this year’s trade deadline (February 29th) was that of a left-winger who can play on the first line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Andrew Ladd was the most notable left-winger on the trade block who also happened to have won a Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010 and is very familiar with the team and the system in place. All the stars had aligned in this instance, and the trade seemed somewhat inevitable from day one. It was simply a perfect fit for the Blackhawks.

Before we get into what Ladd brings to the Hawks, we need to mention what Stan Bowman gave up to get his man, as well as what else Blackhawks got along with Ladd.

Marko Dano was actually the main piece that came back to the Blackhawks in the Brandon Saad trade last summer. He’s a former first round draft pick with a high ceiling, and only has a few games of NHL experience under his belt. Dano’s future looks promising, and the Jets weren’t going to trade away their captain without getting someone like Dano in return. It’s a deal that could definitely pay-off for Winnipeg a few years down the road.

Also going to the Jets is the Hawks’ first round pick in this year’s upcoming draft, as well as a conditional 2018 draft pick that will be determined by how the Blackhawks finish their playoff run.

Now, coming with Ladd to Chicago are forward Matt Fraser and defenseman Jay Harrison. Both will report to the Rockford Icehogs, and it is doubtful either will play a game with the Hawks this year. At best, Harrison just gives the Blackhawks one more defensive option in their system in case of injury to an NHL d-man. You can never have enough defensemen while entering the playoffs.

Okay, back to Ladd. Anyone who has watched the Hawks since at least the 2009-10 season knows what kind of player Andrew Ladd is. He’s a leader, he’s physcial, he can play on the penalty kill, and he has some offensive skill. Placing him on a line with Toews and Hossa should, in theory, boost his offensive stats.

When Brandon Saad was still with the Hawks and playing left-wing alongside Toews and Hossa, he was usually the first of the three in on the forecheck in the offensive zone. Saad was, and still is, fast and strong along the boards. He’s also got some size. When Saad was dealt to Columbus, those attributes left with him and Joel Quenneville has been trying to find a replacement ever since. Not having a guy like Saad on the first line forced Toews and Hossa to alter their styles just a bit due to the fact that they no longer had a left-wing who was as good on the forecheck as Saad. And with the exception of the last month or so, it has been a revolving door on the left side of the Hawks’ first line.

Enter Ladd. Ladd can bring what Saad brought in terms of board play and forechecking. He’s a guy that won’t hesitate to go to the rough areas and out-muscle opposing players. Winning board battles and gaining possession of 50/50 pucks is an overlooked part of the game, and also a very important one. Ladd’s ability to do such things should lead to more puck possession and hopefully better offensive production from the first line.

What bringing Andrew Ladd in also does is it allows Quenneville to move Andrew Shaw back down to the third or fourth line where he is much more effective. Shaw now moving to the bottom six gives the Hawks much more depth, which is absolutely crucial come playoff time. Here’s how the lines may look when Hossa is healthy:

Ladd-Toews-Hossa

Panarin-Anisimov-Kane

Shaw-Dannault-Teravainen

Desjardins-Rasmussen-Panik

Keep in mind that Marcus Kruger should be back for the playoffs, and he would go right back to centering the fourth line. That move in itself will big when the time comes as Kruger is incredibly important to this team due to his effectiveness on the penalty kill and his chemistry with Desjardins.

So, as you can see, Ladd brings more to the team than just a new left-winger to play on the first line. He allows guys like Shaw to move into a better role while adding depth at the same time.

Another area of need for the Blackhawks right now is defense. This was discussed in my my last article here. One name that continues to come up in this regard is Dan Hamhuis of the Vancouver Canucks. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and with the Canucks all but surely missing the postseason this year, he’s a prime trade candidate. The Blackhawks could desperately use another top four defenseman, and Hamhuis would fill that roll quite nicely.

An interesting note to mention here is that this morning the Blackhawks placed Jiri Sekac on waivers. It is entirely possible that this move was made to make room for Marian Hossa when he returns, and it’s also very possible that it is a corresponding move after acquiring Ladd without trading a player from the NHL roster. However, it could also be that Bowman is gearing up for another trade sometime soon.

One scenario that has my interest only because it has already been mentioned is this:

The Blackhawks find a way to trade Bryan Bickell and some or all of his contract, opening up somewhere between hopefully $2.5 and $4 million in cap space depending on how much, if any, of Bickell’s contract the Hawks retain. If, and that’s a big “if”, Stan Bowman can pull off such a trade, that would open up some more trade possibilities for the Blackhawks. One of which that sounds very intriguing is a situation in which the Hawks acquire Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata from the Canucks. Like Hamhuis, Vrbata is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, but he also carries a heftier contact ($5 million).

Realistically, that trade is unlikely to take place. But if it somehow did, it would provide the Blackhawks with incredible forward depth and an upgrade on the blue line. Just something to think about…

To recap everything above, Ladd coming to Hawks is huge and gives them some much needed depth, but the job isn’t done yet. If Stan Bowman can figure out a way to get a guy like Hamhuis to add to a thin defensive unit, the Hawks would be even better off heading into the playoffs. Hopefully he can pull that trade off between now and Monday afternoon.

How the Blackhawks should approach the trade deadline

130107_gq_trout_aWell it’s now just six days until the NHL trade deadline, and the Blackhawks have yet to make any trades. There is no doubt that Stan Bowman is weighing his options and gauging the fluid trade market while waiting for the right scenario to evolve. And there is nothing wrong with that, just so long as he doesn’t wait too long.

If there was any hesitation from the front office to attempt making a sizeable trade before the deadline, the Blackhawks’ performance against the Wild in the Stadium Series game this past Sunday should have eliminated it. The Hawks looked flat out bad and mostly because of their defense.

This team really only has three reliable defensemen at the moment, and one of them, Brent Seabrook, isn’t even always reliable. Because of their situation at the defense position, the Wild exploited their weaknesses from start to finish and made the Hawks look bad. They looked so bad, in fact, that their performance should have left Stan Bowman with no other choice than to look for an upgrade on the blue line.

In a perfect world, the Hawks would trade for a top-four defenseman between now and February 29th. In our realistic world, just about every other team in the playoff race is looking to do the exact same thing, making Bowman’s job that much tougher. The more teams there are looking for a specific type of player, the higher that player’s price will be. It’s the law of supply and demand, and in this instance, there’s very short supply and lots of demand.

Along with their need for a d-man, the Blackhawks could badly use a left-winger who can play on the team’s top line with Toews and Hossa. We’ve talked about this a bunch already, so I’ll leave it at that.

The question now becomes, which position should Stan Bowman make as his number one priority as the trade deadline draws closer and closer?

There isn’t an easy answer. The Hawks really do need both a left-winger and another defenseman. So really, it all comes down to which one would increase their chances of making another Stanley Cup run.

The old saying goes “defense wins championships,” and it’s hard to argue that. If you can’t keep the puck out of your own net, you have virtually no chance of winning. Therefore, right now the Blackhawks’ biggest need is a top-four defenseman. Someone who can block shots and play big minutes in an important role.

One trend that the Blackhawks have been following is that of allowing too many shots on goal. They are currently averaging the eighth most shots against per game league-wide, at 30.9. Granted, last year’s team finished the season ranked ninth in that same department, but they had four really good defensemen who were able to clamp down come playoff time. This year’s team has three at best.

Limiting the number of shots that you face each night, and keeping them to low quality, especially in the postseason, is hugely important. You could have the best goalie in the world, but if you’re allowing tons and tons of shots against each game, and quality ones, you’re going to get beat. It’s not difficult math.

As of this moment, the Hawks are allowing too many shots against and too many quality chances against. That can’t happen in the playoffs, and therefore this team needs to add a top-four defenseman between now and the 29th.

Now none of that is to say they don’t still need a left-winger, because they most definitely do. I’ve always said that one of the single biggest keys to winning the Stanley Cup is forward depth. You can’t win it all if you are only going to assemble two or three effective lines. Look no further than last year’s Cup-winning team. Their third line was Sharp-Vermette-Teravainen. That’s pretty damn good. Their fourth line was Shaw-Kruger-Desjardins, and they looked like the best fourth line in the league.

Adding a left-wing that can play on the first line would allow Joel Quenneville to move Shaw back down to the third or fourth line, where he belongs, making this team a lot deeper. People want to solely focus on getting an Andrew Ladd, or Mikkel Boedker, or Eric Staal, but they don’t realize the full importance that such a trade would have on the whole team. It’s not just about adding to the top line, but also about adding to the bottom lines from within thanks in part to a trade.

Rumors regarding the Hawks have not really gained any steam over the past couple of days, but there are still plenty floating around out there. The same names we’ve been hearing are still being linked to the Blackhawks, but no solid evidence of them pursuing any one specific guy has emerged. What we are hearing is that Stan Bowman is without question looking to upgrade his roster. The only question is in what capacity…

If I were in Stan Bowman’s position, I’d go hard after a top-four defenseman. Give up your first-round draft pick and a higher prospect if needed. If that’s still not enough, then I’d turn my focus to someone like Ladd, Boedker, Staal, or Loui Eriksson. Ideally, Bowman will be able to acquire a d-man and a left-wing that can both assume big roles from here on out. Do not, however, expect a top-four defenseman AND a left-winger of the same caliber as the names above. They can only afford to go in big on one position.

A lot can and probably will take place regarding the Blackhawks over the next five and a half days. Anything can happen at any time.

Blackhawks gearing up for a trade?

174Tuesday afternoon, the Blackhawks placed aging defenseman Rob Scuderi on waivers with the intention of sending him down to Rockford of the AHL. The move cleared roughly $950,000 from the Blackhawks’ salary cap, which is quite important as we near the NHL’s trade deadline.

Many view this move as a precursor to another move that Stan Bowman may have in the works, and by that I mean a trade. As we’ve discussed on here a couple of times already, the Blackhawks would really like to add a left winger who can play on the team’s first line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. They would also like to, if possible, add a top four defenseman to the roster. None of that can happen without first opening up some cap space.

Byan Bickell and his $4 million cap hit were demoted to Rockford a while back, saving the Hawks $950,000 in cap space. Add in Scuderi, and that’s over $1.5 million that has already been cleared from the team’s salary cap. According to capfriendly.com, the Hawks should have about $3.4 million in cap space on February 29th, the day of the trade deadline.

Something else to watch out for is the possibility of the Blackhawks placing Marcus Kruger on long term injured reserve (LTIR). Kruger inured his wrist back in early December and had to have surgery to repair the injury. He was expected to miss four months at the time of the surgery, and it looks like he is still looking at the same timeline.

If the Hawks feel Kruger will be out until April, which is possible, they may elect to place him on LTIR. This would essentially remove his cap hit from the team’s salary cap (just like they did with Kane last year around this time), opening up another $1.5 million. If that happens, the Hawks would then have approximately $4.9 million in cap space that they could then turn around and use on a player, or players, in a trade.

While no one wants to see Kruger remain out of the lineup, this is probably the smartest thing that the Hawks could do right now assuming Kruger is back and healthy for the playoffs. Placing him on LTIR would greatly improve the team’s ability to land a top left winger and/or defenseman at the trade deadline.

I won’t get into too much detail again about specific names the Blackhawks may/should target (you can read that [here]), but guys like Andrew Ladd, Mikkel Boedker, and a couple others are likely going to be shopped by their current teams, and the Hawks would be wise to inquire about them.

We’re just twelve days away from February 29th, but that doesn’t mean nothing will happen between now and then. All eyes are on Stan Bowman.

Andrew Ladd back to the Blackhawks?

130107_gq_trout_aThe NHL’s trade deadline is fast approaching (February 29), and with that inevitably comes an endless amount of trade rumors. Some are legitimate while most others are not. With regards to the Blackhawks, their name has begun surfacing more and more in recent days as their need for another defenseman and left winger grows.

Before we get to talking about the Blackhawks, here is a bit of a better understanding of what is taking place around the league right now.

With Dustin Byfuglien having signed a five-year contract extension on Monday with the Winnipeg Jets, he is officially off the trade market after having been discussed as one of the top candidates to get dealt at or before this year’s trading deadline. Because the Jets have chosen to heavily invest in their top d-man, it likely means that more dominos will begin to fall around the league. Most teams were holding out on making any deals until it became clear whether or not the Jets would be willing to deal away Byfuglien or their captain, Andrew Ladd. With Byfuglien set for a nice pay raise next year, odds are that we’re looking at an Andrew Ladd trade somewhere between now and February 29th. Ladd is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, making him a perfect “rental” piece for a contending team.

Possibly as a result of Byfuglien’s new deal, the Maple Leafs and Senators completed a trade Tuesday morning that most notably will send Toronto defenseman, and captain, Dion Phaneuf to Ottawa. So there goes another possible defenseman off the market.

Now back to the Hawks.

I’ve said it on here multiple times, and it’s really no secret at all, but the Blackhawks would love to add a true left winger who can play on the team’s top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. The team could also really use one more solid defenseman to avoid having to rely on the likes of Michal Rozsival and/or Rob Scuderi on the third d-pairing come playoff time.

I had personally been wondering about the possibility of this move happening, but Monday it was brought up by Jay Zawaski of 670 The Score in Chicago: Andrew Ladd to the Hawks.

Ladd played about two and a half seasons with the Hawks from 2008-2010 before becoming a salary cap casualty after winning the 2010 Stanley Cup. He is familiar with the Hawks’ system and Joel Quenneville, and would have virtually zero trouble fitting in with the team. He’d also be a near perfect fit on the Blackhawks’ top line with 19 and 81.

Ladd can score, he’s relatively quick, he brings size, and he can play a very physical game. His ability to combine size, speed, skill, and physicality is rare and would tremendously improve the Blackhawks’ forward depth from top to bottom.

The big question is how exactly could the Hawks pull this off?

Well for starters, it may not be as hard as it seems from a cap perspective. See Jay Zawaski’s article for more details on that here. According to Zawaski and capfriendly.com, Ladd’s remaining salary for this season would come out to a salary cap hit of about $956,000. This means the Hawks would have to shed about $100,000 in cap space to accommodate Ladd, which wouldn’t be hard to do at all.

The bigger problem is coming up with a return that would satisfy the Jets. Ideally, Winnipeg might end up being intrigued by the possibility of Bryan Bickell simply needing a new home to find his game again. If so, the Hawks could send Bickell and maybe half of his remaining contract to the Jets along with a high draft pick. If you recall, it was Klas Dahlbeck and the Hawks’ 2015 first-round pick that got them Antoine Vermette at last year’s trade deadline.

If Bickell is a no-go for the Jets, the next best scenario would be Winnipeg asking for a top prospect like Mark McNeill, Ryan Hartman, etc., along with a first round draft pick. However, I still wouldn’t count out the possibility of the Jets wanting someone like Andrew Shaw and a draft pick instead. Personally, I wouldn’t include Shaw in a deal if I was Bowman. Doing so would help the Hawks’ first line, but it wouldn’t add any depth to the bottom six.

The other area of need for the Blackhawks is defense, and some would argue that they should target a d-man before another forward.

Edmonton Oilers v Vancouver CanucksGoing off the logic used by Jay Zawaski while discussing a Ladd trade to the Hawks, a guy like Dan Hamhuis of the Vancouver Canucks could be a great fit on the Blackhawks’ blue line. Like Ladd, Hamhuis is an unrestricted free agent after this season, which is about all the Hawks can trade for, and his remaining salary for this season is nearly identical to that of Ladd’s. If the Hawks were to pursue a trade like this prior to one for Ladd, hypothetically, they would again only need to shed a little over $100,000 from their salary cap.

Could both trades take place? Theoretically yes, but it would be difficult and I’ll leave Stan Bowman up to figuring out how to make that all work.

I will reiterate that this is all speculation. None of this has been reported by any NHL analysts. I’m simply trying to figure out a trade or two that would really help the Hawks.

Other names to keep an eye on as possible targets of the Hawks should be Mikkel Boedker (AZ), Kris Versteeg (CAR), and reliable defensemen with expiring or inexpensive contracts.

Keep in mind that Stan Bowman has had a habit of dealing with other teams/GM’s that he is familiar with or has dealt with before. He has completed multiple trades with Florida and Toronto in recent years, and has dealt with Vancouver (enter Dan Hamhuis…) and Arizona (Boedker) within the last couple of seasons. Also, Kevin Cheveldayoff, the current GM of the Winnipeg Jets, used to be the Assistant General Manager under Stan Bowman with the Blackhawks. There is great familiarity between both parties there, which may or may not make an Andrew Ladd trade easier to execute.

Keep an eye on the Blackhawks from now until February 29th. It should be an exciting few weeks.