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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Blackhawks update

10-171460575-smallOver the last few days, we’ve seen the Blackhawks trade Brandon Saad, extend Artem Anisimov, re-sign David Rundblad, and sign Viktor Tikhonov. Today, they re-signed winger Andrew Desjardins to a two-year, $1.6 million deal with an AAV of $800,000. Extremely club-friendly contract to say the least, as Desjardins could have received more elsewhere, but chose to take a discount to stay in Chicago.

The focus now shifts to giving Marcus Kruger a new contract and trading either or both Bryan Bickell and Patrick Sharp.

A trade may come before we see Kruger get signed, as the Hawks are already over the salary cap without a new contract for Kruger. Trading Bickell or Sharp will open up between $4-$6 million in cap space allowing room for Kruger’s new deal, and maybe more.

As it stands on the Hawks’ blue line right now, they’ve got Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Rundblad, and TVR all set to return next season. They then have Stephen Johns sitting in Rockford poised to make a strong push to crack the NHL roster to begin the season. What the Hawks lack is veteran presence on the bottom four. If they can deal away Bickell or Sharp, or even both, this will allow them to try and re-sign Oduya, which would be a big bonus for Stan Bowman and the Hawks.

If Oduya is not brought back, I would fully expect the Blackhawks to try and sign a cheap veteran defensemen, or two, to help bolster the bottom end of their defensive corps.

My guess is that we’ll start to see these moves get made sometime very soon. If I’m Stan Bowman, I’m trying to trade away a big contract as soon as possible to that I can re-sign Kruger and Oduya without forcing them to wait too long for a new deal. The longer a guy like Oduya sits unsigned, the better chance of another team swooping in and grabbing him.

Keep an eye on the Hawks over the next 48 hours.

Blackhawks’ trade rumors

130107_gq_trout_aOver the last week or so, a bunch of different names have been mentioned throughout the NHL as possible candidates for being traded. A good handful of those names are big name, superstar players, which makes the trade rumors this summer all that more intriguing. A couple of those names are current Blackhawks. It is not often that Stan Bowman looks to trade away any of his top players, and while this offseason may be no different, one cannot help but speculate as to what could potentially happen in Chicago this summer.

The past few days have been very interesting. For the first time since I can remember, I have heard the names Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook mentioned as possible players the Blackhawks may look to deal this offseason. Keep in mind that these are just rumors, meaning that there really isn’t any way to know whether or not the Hawks are actually looking to trade either of those guys. If those rumors are in fact accurate, then some conclusions can be drawn from them.

Patrick Sharp is due to make $5.9 million a year through the 2016-17 season. Brent Seabrook’s contract is for $5.8 million through the 2015-16 season. Trading away one of those players opens up a TON of cap space for the Blackhawks, allowing them to acquire a big name player to fill some gap on the team. The only way either Sharp or Seabrook is traded is if the Blackhawks know they will be getting a star player in return or via a separate trade.

So, who might the Blackhawks look to acquire this summer?

The names Joe Thornton and Ryan Kesler are popping up left and right in regards to the Blackhawks. Both players are supposedly being shopped by their current team, and both the Sharks and Canucks are going to want something of significance in return.

Thornton is due to make $6.75 million per year through the 2016-17 season, and Kesler is set to make $5 million for two more years. If the Hawks were to in fact go after one of these two, we would likely see Patrick Sharp going the other way, or to some other team to free up the cap space.

Will a massive trade like this actually go down for the Blackhawks? Probably not. I don’t see the Hawks parting ways with Sharp, and the only way Seabrook goes is if a big time defensemen is coming to the Hawks. As of right now, I’m unaware of any rumors involving big time d-men other than Seabrook…

A story surfaced shortly after the Olympics that Patrick Kane went to the Hawks’ management and basically said “If you can get Kesler, get him.” Again, who know’s if that actually happened. However, it is no secret that Kane and Kesler have developed some chemistry together via international play, and I would guess that Kane would welcome him with open arms to the second line on the Blackhawks, seeing as how they currently don’t have a true number two center. The bottom line is that I do believe there is some validity to the “Kesler to Chicago” rumors, but I’m not sure that the Blackhawks would be willing to part ways with what it would take to get him. AKA Patrick Sharp.

As for Joe Thornton, I don’t see the Hawks making a move at him. Obviously, he would be a huge boost to the team and would probably elevate Kane’s statistics to ridiculous numbers, but his salary and the amount it would take to get him seem to both be too high for the Hawks. That’s not to say the Blackhawks won’t inquire about him, but I don’t see them making a serious push.

Someone I haven’t mentioned yet, Johnny Oduya, could very well be dealt in the next month, however. He is entering the final season of his contract and is set to make $3.375 million this year. Trading him opens up the cap space to sign a defensemen or two, or to acquire some depth forwards via trades or free agency. I’d say the chances of Oduya being a Hawk next year are 50/50 at this point.

What will most likely happen is this: The Blackhawks will kick the tires on a couple of big names who are being shopped, but will refuse to give up what it will take to acquire such a player. They will fall back on the fact that they have Teuvo Teravainen waiting in the wings down in Rockford, and he will most likely get the best chance of anyone to occupy the Hawks’ second line center position come opening night. Johnny Oduya will be traded for a prospect or two and a draft pick, and the Blackhawks will fill his roster spot with a guy like Adam Clendening, Stephen Johns, or Klas Dahlbeck, all of whom are in Rockford and NHL-ready. The Blackhawks will also sign a depth defensemen or two, as well as a depth forward. The lack of talent on the Hawks’ fourth line was a huge reason as to why they were eliminated by the Kings. Rolling just three lines in the late stages of the NHL playoffs is not a good thing, and I am hopeful the Blackhawks will address that problem this summer.

Really, anything could theoretically happen between now and opening night of next season. Someone like me can only speculate as to what that may be.

So now what for the Blackhawks?

940-toews-jonathan-8colNow that the Blackhawks have come up just short of defending their Stanley Cup championship in this year’s playoffs, we can look ahead at what might take place on West Madison Street as the summer progresses. Last year, we were all talking about a Stanley Cup victory and how the team would remain mostly intact heading into the 2013-14 season. Unfortunately, this summer has a much different tune to it, even though you can’t really view this season as a failure.

The Hawks finished up this season with 107 points, which in the past had usually guaranteed you one of the top three spots in the conference heading into the playoffs. However, with many teams improving around the league and the parity growing, 107 points was good for third place in the Central Division this year. Third place in your own division doesn’t sound so good, but 107 points is nothing to cry about.

In the playoffs, the Hawks knocked off a Stanley Cup-favorite in the St. Louis Blues in the first round, and they eliminated the Wild for the second year in a row in the second round. Defeating the Blues was big, and beating the Wild to advance to the Conference Final for the fourth time in six years was even bigger. Then came the Kings, who beat the Hawks in overtime of Game 7 to put an end to hockey in Chicago, for now. Think about it, the Blackhawks were one lucky bounce, one shot away from winning the Western Conference again. That isn’t anything to get too upset over.

While the feeling around Chicago regarding the Blackhawks has turned into “Stanley Cup or bust” each year, that doesn’t mean the Hawks need to rebuild every time they don’t win the Cup. With that said, let’s look at what may happen this summer.

It is unlikely that you will see the following players wearing Blackhawks jerseys again next year: Michal Handzus, Sheldon Brookbank, Nikolai Khabibulin, and Peter Regin. They are all unrestricted free agents that the Blackhawks will most likely opt to not re-sign. Jeremy Morin, Antti Raanta, and Ben Smith are all restricted free agents that I believe the Blackhawks will try to lock up before they become available to other teams. If one of those three were to be let go, I’d put my money on it being Raanta, although that is very unlikely to happen.

Some other guys you might not see with the Blackhawks include Joakim Nordstrom, Johnny Oduya, Michal Rozsival, Nick Leddy, and Kris Versteeg. Nordstrom may be sent back down to Rockford next season, and the other four guys will likely be brought up in trade talks this summer. It is highly unlikely that the Hawks would trade away two of their defensemen, let alone three, so if one of them goes, I’m putting my money on Oduya as he is entering the last year of his contract and is due over $3 million next year. After him, Rozsival would be the most likely to go for similar reasons. Nick Leddy would bring back the most to the Hawks if he were dealt, but I don’t see them giving up on him. He is too talented to trade away at just 23 years old. As for Kris Versteeg, I wouldn’t trade him yet. I’d see how he performs during the first couple months of next season before trying to make a deal.

The Blackhawks will also be looking to add players to the roster. Most notably a second line center. My best guess here is that the second line center position is Teuvo Teravainen’s to lose. The Blackhawks may look to sign a center this off season who could play on the second line if need be, but I believe they want Teravainen to be that guy come opening night. I don’t see him not making the NHL roster, unless he has an absolutely terrible training camp and preseason.

I would imagine the Hawks will be looking to sign a depth defenseman or two. They probably won’t bring back Brookbank, and there is a 50/50 chance they trade Oduya or Rozsival in the next month or so. They acquired David Rundblad this past spring, who is a puck moving defenseman, and he might fill any void left on the d-pairings heading into next year. That leaves room for the Hawks to sign one or two depth defensemen who can rotate in and out of the lineup.

If they don’t sign any defensemen this summer, look for guys like Adam Clendening and Klas Dahlbeck to make the jump from Rockford to the NHL to begin the season.

Something else to keep an eye on is the contract situations with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (both have one year left on their contract). Stan Bowman is now allowed to begin negotiating extensions with each player, and he has made it very clear that re-signing both Toews and Kane is priority number one this offseason. I would imagine that if they do both sign extensions, they will receive identical, or close to identical contracts again. It would be nice if they took discounts to allow Bowman to re-sign and sign other players, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Toews and Kane each ask for Evgeni Malkin-type money ($9.5 million per year).

A lot could potentially happen with the Blackhawks this summer. There is also the chance that not a lot happens either. They are still one of the best teams in hockey and will no doubt be a Stanley Cup contender again next season. Whether or not they make a serious push for the Cup, however, could depend on what Stan Bowman decides to do in the next couple months.