Post Trade Deadline Blackhawks Update

Yes, I’m still alive and well here. I know you’ve been worried. You know who else is alive and well? The Blackhawks. They are winners of seven straight games, and have won their last eight road games, which is a new franchise record. They also sit second in the Central Division while owning the league’s third highest point total (89). In a season that I and many others viewed as a stepping stone toward competing for the Cup again in the next two years, the Hawks have, to this point, shocked me.

Coming into this 2016-17 season, it was well known that the Blackhawks were going to have to play multiple rookies each and every night thanks in large part to the salary cap. As has been the case for the last 7-8 years, the Hawks are tight up against the league’s cap due to the fact that they have to pay high annual salaries to some of the NHL’s best players. The only difference this year, however, is that rather than being able to sign some veteran players to cheap one-year deals, the Hawks were forced to build their depth from within their own organization. Enter the likes of Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero, Nick Schmaltz, Dennis Rasmussen, and Michal Kempny (signed as a free agent last summer).

You never want to have to place a lot of faith and confidence in a bunch of rookies to help guide your team to the postseason. There is simply too much of the “unknown factor” that comes into play in that scenario. There’s no telling how a rookie or other relatively inexperienced players will handle the pressure of being asked to produce right off the bat. That becomes even more true in the playoffs when the intensity on the ice and in the stands rises to levels that cannot be duplicated in the AHL or junior leagues.

However, the Blackhawks’ rookies have exceeded expectations thus far, and that’s an understatement. Ryan Hartman (15G, 11A) is making this city forget about Andrew Shaw. He’s producing offensively, he has been responsible defensively, and he brings some size and grit that can prove to be quite valuable in May and June.

Tanner Kero, while not a big generator of offense, is becoming Marcus Kruger 2.0. His value on the penalty kill has grown all season.

Nick Schmaltz got off to a slow start back in the fall and was sent down to Rockford to gain confidence and work on shooting more often, and ever since being brought back up to the NHL he has been an entirely different player and now sees time on the team’s first line alongside Jonathan Toews when everyone is healthy.

Heading into the trade deadline, it was clear that the Hawks could have used a top six winger, preferably LW, to play on Toews’ left, but again the salary cap (amongst other reasons) prevented that from happening. While Schmaltz has played well lately, I’m not sure he’s the permanent answer for that top line spot. In the playoffs, you want a guy with some experience to be playing in a role like that.

The Blackhawks did, however, reacquire Johnny Oduya prior to the trade deadline passing. This could potentially be a huge move. With Oduya now back in play for the Hawks, they can roll out the exact same top four defensemen that we saw during the 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup runs. All of a sudden, the Hawks’ defensive corps is one of the strongest in the league heading into March and April.

So overall, here are some of my key observations as we near the end of the season and the beginning of the playoffs:

  • Depth. The Hawks seem to have it. As I stated, the rookies are all playing quite well and are either meeting or exceeding expectations. Depth, and goaltending, are the single biggest factors come playoff time.
  • Speaking of goaltending…Goaltending. Once again Crawford and Darling are both playing like No. 1 netminders. It’s Crawford’s job without question, but in case of an injury or a sudden drop in his performance, it’s good knowing Darling is there waiting in the wings.
  • Defense. This might be the strongest group of defensmen that the Blackhawks have had in quite some time. Not only do they have an elite top four with the addition of Oduya, but their fifth and sixth d-men (Campbell, TVR, Kempny, Rozsival) are strong and reliable as well, especially when playing bottom-pairing minutes.
  • Richard Panik. Here’s a guy who was hardly seeing ice time with the Maple Leafs before getting dealt to the Hawks last season, and now he’s playing right wing on the first line with Jonathan Toews. He sits seventh on the team in points (17G, 19A). If he can keep up this level of play in the playoffs, that will be huge.
  • Special Teams. It’s obvious, but the Hawks need to be better here. The penalty kill is substantially better than it was at the beginning of the year (especially with Oduya now in the mix), but it can still be better. As for the powerplay, it should be a top ten powerplay with the amount of talent on the Hawks’ roster. To win in the playoffs, you need a strong PK and a powerplay that will make the opponent pay for its mistake(s).
  • And lastly, Health. The Hawks cannot afford to keep getting bit by the injury bug come playoff time. A sidelined Toews, Kane, Panarin, Keith, Hjalmarsson, or Hossa could be detrimental to this team’s Stanley Cup hopes.

I’ll say it again. I’ve been extremely surprised by the Blackhawks this season. I honestly believe that what we’re seeing is a result, to some degree, of getting an entire summer of rest last year. Just look at Marian Hossa for proof. This team is skating with energy and seemingly a full tank of gas right now, which is something we did not see at this same time of year last season. Exiting after the first round last April could very well have been a massive blessing in disguise.

Moving forward, I think this team has the potential to win the Western Conference and play for their fourth Stanley Cup since 2010. I also believe that the Blackhawks could be knocked out as early as the second round of the playoffs. It will all come down to their depth, which right now seems to be good. But, anything can happen, and that is especially true when talking about a team with multiple rookies in its lineup on a nightly basis.

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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.

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.

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.

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.