Hawks trade Bickell at the cost of Teravainen

PicMonkey CollageOn Wednesday afternoon the Blackhawks traded Bryan Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for two draft picks. It was the type of deal that had been whispered about for some time, but no one really wanted to acknowledge or accept the fact that it could actually happen. By that, I mean packaging Teravainen with Bickell.

Following the Blackhawks’ 2013 Stanley Cup victory, Stan Bowman gave Bryan Bickell a four-year contract extension that will be paying Bickell $4.5 million this season, the last of the contract. Unfortunately for Bickell and the Hawks, Bickell has only regressed in terms of his production since signing that contract, making it one of the worst in hockey. For a team with so many stars and young players needing new contracts, the Hawks could not afford to have a guy like Bickell making that much money per season. It put them about as tight against the salary cap as they could get.

Going back to last summer, it had been Stan Bowman’s number one goal to somehow find a place to trade Bickell to rid the team of his contract. The problem was that no team in their right mind was going to take on Bickell and the remainder of his contract without the Blackhawks sweetening the pot in some fashion.

Enter Teuvo Teravainen.

Teravainen, who is just 21 years of age, has an extremely high ceiling for potential and is still on his entry-level contract. He was once the Blackhawks’ top prospect (you can still technically call him a prospect due to his age) and helped the team win the 2015 Stanley Cup.

Despite his elite skill level, Teravainen was never able to take his game up to the next level in his two/two and a half years with the Blackhawks. Joel Quenneville tried him out in just about every spot in the lineup hoping to strike gold, but it never happened. Teuvo had stretches here and there where he looked like he might finally be turning the corner, but ultimately he landed as the team’s number three center this past season; a role that he is not built for.

While the Blackhawks absolutely had to get rid of Bickell’s contract, that doesn’t make losing Teravainen any easier. He is still young enough to where he could easily turn into one of the NHL’s better wingers (Carolina will almost certainly try to play him on the wing).

So with that, here are my takeaways from this trade:

  • Like I said, trading Bickell was priority number one this summer for the Hawks, and unfortunately it came at the expense of Teravainen. While it is easy to get upset with Bowman for dealing Teravainen away, he basically had to if he wanted to dump Bickell and his contract.
  • The other side to all of this is that the Blackhawks basically decided they would rather re-sign Andrew Shaw than hang onto Bickell’s contract for one more year. In other words, they chose Shaw over Teravainen. This is the most perplexing part of the whole situation. Andrew Shaw likely won’t be getting any better. He has reached his potential. Teravainen, however, could still become ten times the player he is right now. He is so young and so skilled that you can’t help but wonder why the Hawks chose to give up on him so soon. Yes, they wanted to lose Bickell’s contract, but they could have opted to let Shaw go via free agency and held onto Teravainen instead.
  • Going along with that point, Andrew Shaw is a much easier type of player to replace than Teravainen. Shaw is a gritty forward who can play wing or center, and he has some skill as well. Off the top of my head, I can name two guys in Rockford who play Shaw’s style of hockey: Ryan Hartman and Mark McNeill. There really isn’t anyone in the system who is NHL-ready that plays the game like Teravainen. Forwards like Teuvo are a hot commodity in today’s NHL.
  • When you take a step back and really look at what Stan Bowman has done with the Blackhawks’ roster over the course of the last year or so, it isn’t good. He has traded away, most notably, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Stephen Johns, Kris Versteeg, Joakim Nordstrom, Phillip Danault, Marko Dano, Trevor Daley, and Rob Scuderi. Some of those were forced by the salary cap, others were not. Of all those players traded away, do you know how many guys they got in return that are currently on the Hawks’ roster? One. Artem Anisimov. In sports you win some trades and you lose some, but that’s not an ideal track record over the last year for Stan Bowman. Despite other teams knowing that the Hawks didn’t/don’t have much leverage in trade talks, the fact that only one player who came to the Hawks in exchange for the previously mentioned names is still on the roster, is bad.

Looking ahead to next season, the Hawks are going to have numerous holes to fill in their lineup. Following the trade on Wednesday, they did re-sign Richard Panik on a one-year deal, but that still leaves them with many open roster spots. Guys like Hartman, McNeill, Vince Hinostroza, Kyle Baun, and others will likely be called upon to fill those gaps. And we haven’t even gotten into the defense of this team, which is a serious problem right now.

Needless to say, the 2016-17 season may be a long one in Chicago. The team simply doesn’t have the salary cap space to add good players via free agency. Instead, they’ll have to rely on their own homegrown products to turn into decent NHL players, which is still a big hit-or-miss situation to be in.

Keep your eyes on the Hawks as we head towards the NHL Draft and free agency. More moves, albeit relatively small ones, are surely on their way.

Blackhawks finally run out of gas in Game 7

2015-11-07 13.59.52It didn’t end the way the Blackhawks or any of us fans had hoped. Despite an incredible comeback to tie this first round series at three games apiece, the Hawks ran out of gas in Game 7 and lost to the Blues by a final score of 3-2. This year’s better team won, whether we want to accept that or not.

As much as it pains me to admit it, St. Louis turned out to be the deeper and better team in their opening round series against the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Blackhawks had the upper-hand in elite talent, but it was the depth-talent of the Blues that ultimately won them the series, and for just the second time since 2002, St. Louis will play in the second round of the playoffs.

Looking back on this incredible series that really could have gone either way, it was the Blackhawks’ lack of depth on the blue line that one could argue was the major difference between these two evenly matched teams. Joel Quenneville was forced to rely on rookies Trevor van Riemsdyk, Erik Gustafsson, and Viktor Svedberg throughout the series, which at times went just as poorly as you could imagine. And near the end of the series, David Rundblad was thrown into the fire. Here’s a guy that started the year with the Hawks, was allowed to go play in Europe due to his ineffectiveness in North American hockey, and was then brought back to the Blackhawks and relied upon to perform well in the most important games of the season. Needless to say, the Hawks badly needed another top four defenseman in this series, and they didn’t have one.

On top of that, their best players weren’t always their best players. Jonathan Toews was held off the scoresheet in all seven games, his first postseason in which he did not score. Patrick Kane only registered one goal (granted, it was a double overtime winner). Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were beaten more often than usual and turned the puck over too many times, and Corey Crawford had a few moments of mediocrity.

All of that, coupled with the team’s lack of defensive depth, was the right recipe for early elimination. Yet they still almost won out of sheer willpower.

No team in the NHL has played more playoff games since the 2009 postseason than the Blackhawks. Couple that with the fact that the Hawks are loaded with Olympians who have played in multiple Olympic games, and it’s fair to argue that these guys may be exhausted. They looked like it at times against the Blues. And in reality, this first round exit may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

For the first time since 2012, the Blackhawks will have a long summer by their standards. They will finally have time to rest and recover prior to next season. Also, losing this early should only ignite a fire within that locker room. For a team that may be the most competitive in the league, a first round exit like this should only motivate them more to reach their ultimate goal in the coming seasons.

Looking ahead, this should be a very interesting summer for the Hawks. They will once again be tight against the salary cap while trying to find a way to re-sign big pieces. Andrew Shaw, for instance, will be a restricted free agent this summer and will no doubt receive interest from multiple teams around the league. The Hawks will have to either find a way to pay him, or Shaw will be wearing different colors next season. They’ll also have to fill the spots currently occupied by Ladd, Rozsival, Weise, Fleischmann, and Panik. Panik, however, is the best bet of that bunch to return next year.

Then you have the Bryan Bickell situation. Bickell is still owed $4 million for one more year, which is a major killer in terms of the Hawks’ cap space. Stan Bowman worked really hard last summer and this season to trade Bickell and his contract, but there were no takers. Bowman will likely be tasked with the same challenge this summer, and whether or not he can execute it could play a huge role in the make-up of next season’s Blackhawks.

This first round exit hurts, a lot, but it’s not the end of the world. As maddening as it is to watch the Blues eliminate the Hawks, it’s important to look at the big picture.

Three times since 2010 we have watched massive parades fill the streets of Chicago thanks to the Blackhawks. They were one goal away from playing in three straight Stanley Cup Finals when they lost in overtime of Game 7 to the Kings in 2014. Despite some inevitable roster turnover again this summer, we are still living in the Golden Era of Blackhawks hockey. The fact that expectations in Chicago have become “Stanley Cup or bust” is a good thing, and something that not many teams or cities can compare to.

Dwelling on this loss for a few days, weeks, or even the summer is fine. The Hawks, had they won Game 7, may have gone on to do something special again. Who knows… But don’t get too down on this team. What they’ve done in recent years is nothing short of remarkable, and that cannot be overlooked.

Stan Bowman and the front office will again do what they can to make the Hawks as much of a contender as they can in the coming months. And given the core that is in place with this team, virtually anything is always possible.

Lack of depth has Hawks down 3-1; Shaw goes overboard

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-St. Louis Blues at Chicago BlackhawksTuesday night’s Game 4 between the Blackhawks and Blues at the United Center was about as close to a must-win game for the Blackhawks as a game can get without it technically being a must-win. And given the Hawks’ history in crucial games (43-14 record in games 4-7 under Joel Quenneville), there was some reason for optimism. Unfortunately for the Hawks, history meant nothing as they lost the game 4-3 and now trail St. Louis in the series 3-1.

The frustrating thing about this series is that the Blackhawks haven’t played bad. They certainly have not been playing at the elite level we’ve become used to seeing them reach in recent years, but each of the four games in this series really could have gone either way. A better bounce here or there, and the Hawks could be the ones up 3-1.

Despite all of that, it has become quite evident over the last four games that the Blackhawks’ depth is nowhere close to what we thought it might be following the trade deadline. The additions of Ladd, Fleischmann, and Weise looked like solid upgrades at the time. The Hawks badly needed to add forward depth, and they did just that. Unfortunately for them though, Fleischmann and Weise (and to an extent, Ladd) have not performed the way Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville had hoped. As a result, Dale Weise has only seen action in one playoff game thus far, while Tomas Fleischmann has played in each game but has nothing to show for it. In fact, he only got 5:13 of ice time in Game 4 and never touched the ice in the third period.

You can also credit the lack of depth on the Blackhawks’ blue line for this 3-1 series deficit. Christian Ehrhoff was acquire at the trade deadline along with the aforementioned three players, but he quickly wound up in Q’s doghouse and has yet to play in this first round series. Instead, it’s been a couple of rookies getting minutes as the team’s sixth defenseman, and that hasn’t exactly worked out too well.

And as if that wasn’t enough, maybe the biggest reason the Hawks find themselves in this hole is due to the fact that their top forwards have yet to score a goal. Kane, Toews, Hossa, and Ladd are all scoreless through the first four games. Each of them has had some golden chances to strike, but no one has yet. In a series this tight, the fact that the Hawks’ best scorers have been held scoreless is as big a reason as any as to why they are now facing elimination. The Blues on the other hand are getting goals from at least their top player.

I’m not ready to write off the Blackhawks in this series. I think anyone to do so would be a fool no matter how low your hopes may be. In the Joel Qunneville/Toews and Kane era, the Hawks have found themselves in a 3-1 series hole four separate times. Three of those times they battled back to force a seventh game, and won one of those Game 7’s. Heck even last year, the Hawks trailed Anaheim 2-1 and 3-2 only to come back and win the series. In the Stanley Cup Final they fell behind Tampa Bay 2-1 and won three straight games to clinch the Cup.

This team won’t go quietly. They are led by winners and world class competitors. I’m not saying that they’ll for sure force a seventh game or that they will even win Game 5. But don’t write them off until they are officially eliminated.

I don’t want to talk too much about the specifics of Game 4 because I’ll get too upset again, but the actions of Andrew Shaw need to be mentioned here.

First of all, with your team trailing by one goal with just over two minutes left in regulation, the absolute last thing you can do is take a penalty and put your team shorthanded. Not only did Shaw take a penalty, but it was about as dumb of a penalty as you’ll see. You can’t just level a guy after the whistle in a game in which the referees already made it clear they weren’t going to put up with anymore extracurricular stupidity. As a result, the Hawks had to play out the final two minutes shorthanded and weren’t able to get the crucial 6-on-5 advantage with the goalie pulled. I’m not saying this is what lost them the game, but it sure as heck did not help.

Secondly, there is video showing Shaw allegedly using a gay slur towards a referee while sitting in the penalty box following the previously mentioned stupid penalty. After the game, Shaw was asked if he used the slur and his response neither admitted to it nor denied it. He answered by saying “I don’t know what I said.” If he did in fact use a gay slur, which it sure looks like he did based on the video, then the Blackhawks need to send a message before Game 5. This cannot be tolerated. You can argue that Shaw said it “in the heat of the moment,” but that’s no excuse. If it’s those words coming out of your mouth in a tense moment, then odds are those “words” are a regular part of your vocabulary.

I’ve played sports my whole life and have been so angry to the point where all I wanted to do was punch or throw something. Cuss words come out here and there, but to start throwing out slurs is not common or acceptable.

The Blackhawks have already messed up a couple of times this season with regards to how they handled the Patrick Kane and Garrett Ross situations. They have yet to own up to those. Now is their chance to finally do the right thing and suspend Shaw for at least the next game. Don’t wait for the NHL to conclude its investigation as they announced Wednesday morning. Do this on your own. Send a stern message that this organization won’t tolerate such behavior. For a team that has made it a point to reach out to the local gay community by bringing the Stanley Cup to the Pride Parade in recent years, they need to show that they will not accept something like this. My gut says that the Blackhawks front office won’t do a thing to Shaw, but who knows? Maybe the third time is the charm.

Aside from that, Shaw went on to further embarrass the Blackhawks by trying to start a fight after the final horn blew. Yes he took a shot to the mid-section from Alex Steen while lined up for the faceoff, but don’t lose your mind and go crazy trying to fight anything and everything that moves.

The Hawks’ image was severely hurt in the final minutes of Game 4, and mostly due to Shaw’s actions. He is set to be a restricted free agent this summer, and it was already being widely speculated that the Blackhawks would not re-sign him. After Tuesday night’s actions, Shaw may have made the Hawks’ decision for them.

Again, this series isn’t over. It does not look good for the Blackhawks, to say the least, but you can’t rule this team out until they are officially eliminated.

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.

Another Blackhawks Stanley Cup will require a trade

NHL: JAN 03 Senators at BlackhawksTuesday night’s game between the Blackhawks and Hurricanes in Raleigh will be the last game that the Hawks play in advance of this upcoming weekend’s All Star Game. With a win, the Blackhawks would head into the break with a record of 34-15-4 (72 points), which is a lot better than I would have predicted back in October. While their record and recent 12-game winning streak indicate this is one of the NHL’s top teams, I’m here to dampen the mood just a bit.

To better understand where I am coming from, here is a look at the current line combinations for the Blackhawks:

Shaw-Toews-Hossa

Panarin-Anisimov-Kane

Desjardins-Dannault-Teravainen

Panik-Rasmussen-Sekac/Mashinter/McNeill

As things stand right now, the top two lines are good, with the second line being arguably the best in the NHL. The problem lies within the third and fourth lines.

Depth is one of the single biggest keys to winning a Stanley Cup. Look at any team in recent years who has hoisted the Cup at season’s end and you will notice that they all got quality production from all four lines. When it gets to be mid-May and the playoff matchups get tougher and tougher, teams need their bottom two lines to contribute. Relying on your top six forwards to do all or most of the scoring simply will not work. Look no further than the 2014 Blackhawks who saw their season end in overtime of Game 7 in the Western Conference Final at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings. That team had three quality lines, and that was it. Had they had a fourth line, they would have defeated L.A.

Getting back to this year’s Blackhawks, they are getting sporadic and limited production from their bottom six forwards. They traded for Richard Panik and, more recently, Jiri Sekac to try and help with this problem, but that won’t be enough.

If the Blackhawks really want to become a serious Stanley Cup contender this season, it would be in their best interest to trade for a left winger that can play on the top line with Toews and Hossa.

Andrew Shaw has done a nice job since being promoted to the “Lottery Line,” but he’s not your long-term solution. Acquiring a more skilled left winger who compliments the games of Toews and Hossa would allow Quenneville to move Shaw down to the third line with Dannault (who will likely stick as the third line center from here on out) and Teravainen, creating a much more threatening line in terms of offense.

Shifting Shaw to the third line would then move Desjardins down to the fourth line, where he belongs, alongside Panik and Marcus Kruger. Kruger should be back for the playoffs assuming he does not suffer any setbacks. Getting Kruger back under these circumstances would give the Hawks four lines that possess the potential to do damage to their opponents. Again, that is crucial come playoff time.

As for who exactly Stan Bowman should target to play with Toews and Hossa, I am not really sure due to the fact that I don’t have inside information that lets me know which players are being dangled as trade bait by which teams. But, I can say with certainty that this hypothetical player must be skilled offensively, yet responsible and trustworthy defensively. If he is not the latter two, Quenneville will not play him.

Keep in mind that any trade that takes place would require some salary cap maneuvering by Stan Bowman, which may or may not include trading away someone from the NHL roster.

So while the Blackhawks are definitely a good team, they are simply too top-heavy at the moment. Adding a left wing who can play on the top line would instantly give the Blackhawks some much needed scoring depth. And heck, while Bowman’s at it he may as well try and upgrade the defense as well. That’s a whole other conversation, however.

Blackhawks lack the forward depth to be a legitimate threat

20131211_151215The Blackhawks are showing us that their top two lines have the potential to be absolutely deadly this year, and possibly for years to come. That second line of Panarin, Anisimov, and Kane has been shredding opposing defenses as of late, while the top line of Toews, Hossa, and whoever occupies the “lottery” spot on the left wing always possesses the ability to do the same. It’s the bottom two forward lines that need some help.

Sunday night’s game against the Flames saw Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, and Teuvo Teravainen as the Hawks’ so-called “third line,” while Brandon Mashinter, Tanner Kero, and Ryan Garbutt made up the fourth line. Here’s the problem with that, if you couldn’t already figure it out on your own.

That fourth line is not good. None of those three players own any true play-making skills, with the exception of Kero who has only played in a handful of NHL games. In reality, Shaw and Kruger belong on the fourth line like they were during last year’s Stanley Cup run. Guys like Mashinter don’t really offer much in today’s NHL where skill has become far more important than physicality. And the Blackhawks know this, but can’t do much about it at the moment due to the salary cap.

Ideally, the Hawks would like Teuvo Teravainen to be the team’s third line center. They’ve tried him out there on occasion, but continue moving him back out of that role. Part of the reason for that is the fact that this roster does not have enough skilled forward depth to allow Teravainen to be successful as a bottom six center. As proven during last year’s playoffs and while he was in the top six this year, Teravainen is a guy who, whether at center or wing, needs to be on a line with skilled, play-making linemates in order to be successful. While the line of Shaw, Kruger, and Teuvo has actually been good the last two games, it’s not a permanent thing.

If you look at the three Blackhawks teams that have won the Cup over the past six years, each one has had four lines that present a legitimate threat to score. The only reason the 2014 team didn’t advance to the Cup Final is because they only had three lines that could produce. That is where this current team is headed. Until they can add a skilled guy to their bottom six, this Blackhawks team cannot win another championship. Unfortunately, the only thing preventing that from happening is the salary cap. Once that hypothetically happens, it will allow Quenneville to put his guys at their correct spots in the lineup.

There’s no question that this Hawks team has elite talent as usual. With Keith and Rozsival now back and healthy, their defense is slowly looking less and less concerning, and the goaltending doesn’t figure to be a problem either. It’s the forward depth that is holding the Hawks back from being a true Stanley Cup threat at the moment. Maybe Bowman works his magic this season and pulls off a trade to fix this problem. Maybe he doesn’t. Until he does find an upgrade for the bottom six though, expect this team to remain top-heavy.