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.

Blackhawks’ new lines taking shape; Sharp addresses rumors

15-_DSC2491-toresizeNow that the dust has settled from the trades that brought in Kimmo Timonen and Antoine Vermette, we can really begin to look into what lines we may see from the Blackhawks moving forward. Today was the team’s first practice since their loss in Tampa Bay Friday night, and it was also Timonen’s first with his new team. Vermette did not participate due to travel reasons.

The lines in today’s Hawks practice were Versteeg-Toews-Hossa, Sharp-Teravainen-Saad, Bickell-Richards-Shaw, Nordstrom-Kruger-Smith. After practice, Quenneville indicated that Vermette will center the second line, meaning we might see Teravainen on the third line, Shaw on the fourth, and either Nordstrom or Smith benched. It also wouldn’t surprise me if the Hawks bench Teravainen, even though I think that would be the wrong thing to do.

The defense pairings today were skewed because Keith did not practice. Timonen was paired with Seabrook, however I don’t think that will be the case tomorrow night. If I had to bet on the d-pairings, I’d say they’ll likely be Keith-Seabrook, Timonen-Hjalmarsson, Rozsival-Rundblad.

Kimmo Timonen was also taking reps with the Hawks’ number one powerplay unit today. That unit consisted of Shaw, Toews, and Hossa, with Seabrook and Timonen at the points. I am really looking forward to seeing just how big of a factor he might be on the team’s powerplay moving forward.

Both Timonen and Vermette will be in the Hawks’ lineup tomorrow night against Carolina. Since Vermette did not practice with the team today, it remains a bit of a question mark at this point in terms of how he will be used on the special teams. One would assume he’ll center the second powerplay unit, as well as take faceoffs on the penalty kill, but we won’t really know for sure until he plays.

Also, Timonen will be wearing number 44, while Vermette will wear 80. That makes it four players now wearing a number in the 80’s for the Hawks, in case you were wondering.

Patrick Sharp

15-_DSC2491-toresizeAccording to the local beat writers for the Blackhawks, Brent Seabrook addressed the media on his own today to put the Patrick Sharp and “fight” rumors to rest. He was never asked by the media to address the situations, but felt it was his job as one of the team leaders. To summarize, Seabrook made it clear that the locker room is “tight” and that there are no issues going on in there whatsoever. Jonathan Toews later backed up those statements.

Then Patrick Sharp addressed the reporters and said that the rumors surrounding him are “laughable,” yet have taken a big toll on him. He denied all the rumors and even went so far as to say he is looking into taking legal action against those who reported the rumors on the internet yesterday. Sharp said that these rumors have taken a toll on him and his family, and have even begun to affect his play on the ice. If you want to read more of what Sharp said today, I suggest scrolling through the Twitter timelines of Mark Lazerus, Chris Kuc, and/or Brian Hedger.

The fact that the Blackhawks took it upon themselves to bring these rumors up with the media today tells me that there probably isn’t anything bad going on in that locker room right now. Maybe, and quite possibly, something did happen last year as was first reported by the guys at The Committed Indian. Who knows what that may have been… As of right now though, it would appear all is good in the Hawks’ locker room despite what some morons on Facebook and Twitter are saying.

If in fact all of this crap surrounding Patrick Sharp is false, then I can’t help but feel terrible for him and his family. He has been absolutely degraded through social media over the last week. I don’t blame him for wanting to pursue legal action against those responsible for the rumors if everything really is false.

Hopefully all of this off-ice stuff gets put to rest once and for all very soon and we can begin to focus solely on the Blackhawks’ as a hockey team. There is a lot of reason to be optimistic even despite the Patrick Kane injury.

Hawks get Vermette

imageThe Blackhawks have traded Klas Dahlbeck and this year’s 1st round pick to Arizona for Antoine Vermette. Vermette, a center, is a career 58% at the faceoff dot and figures to be a big addition to the Hawks’ special teams.

Dahlbeck was one of the Blackhawks’ top prospects, but Bowman realizes the time is now to try and win the Cup. Also, you can count on the Hawks acquiring a 1st round pick this summer when they inevitably trade a Sharp, so don’t freak over that.

Vermette will probably/hopefully be placed on the team’s second line, moving Richards to the third and Shaw to the wing where he belongs. Ideally, the lines will look like this:

Saad-Toews-Hossa

Sharp-Vermette-Versteeg

Shaw-Richards-Teravainen

Smith-Kruger-Bickell

You might even switch Versteeg and Teravainen. Teuvo and Sharp on a line centered by Vermette sounds very intriguing. Also, all of a sudden the Hawks have some nice depth. If they manage to get deep enough into the playoffs where Kane can come back, they are going to be loaded.

Let’s hope we witness that.

Blackhawks acquire Timonen, but may not be done

15-_DSC2491-toresizeFriday night the Blackhawks traded for 39 year old Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen in exchange for a couple of draft picks, including this year’s 2nd round pick. The Hawks badly needed to upgrade their blue line before the trade deadline came and went, and it appears that they have done so. It all depends on Timonen’s health, however.

Kimmo Timonen, a 5-time NHL All Star and 4-time Olympian (Finland), has yet to play in a game this season. Last summer, blood clots were discovered in his right leg and both lungs, which kept him off the ice for quite some time. Since being cleared to resume hockey activities, Timonen had been practicing with the Flyers and was apparently ready to start playing in games again as of Friday. He was supposed to be back in the Flyers’ lineup tonight as a matter of fact, and is likely to be in the Hawks’ lineup on Monday.

In a phone conference after learning that he had been traded to the Hawks, Timonen said that his one goal in returning to play hockey this season is to win the Stanley Cup. That’s it. He also made it clear that it may take him a few games to really get back into “game shape” and back to the level of playing that he is used to. That should come as no surprise.

While we were all anticipating Stan Bowman to acquire a defenseman before the trade deadline on Monday, Kimmo Timonen’s name was not often mentioned as a possible target of the Hawks. Now that the deal is done, let’s take a look at what the Hawks got:

  • I’m guessing most people’s first reaction to the trade was “He’s 39!?” Or something along those lines. The answer is yes, but don’t be discouraged by that. People close to him have commented that “he’s in the best shape of his life.”
  • Timonen was once one of the NHL’s elite defenseman with the Predators and Flyers. He is, as mentioned before, a 5-time All Star and 4-time Olympian. He had, and still has, incredible skating ability and great offensive and defensive awareness.
  • His game is more of an offensive style, which fits perfectly with the way that the Blackhawks play. They can easily use him on the second d-pairing if they want (or third when Oduya comes back), and the powerplay. He is another good left-handed shot from the point.
  • Despite being 39, age has not really caught up with Timonen the way it does with most aging players. He isn’t what he once was, but he’s not that far off either. He can still out-skate a lot of guys in the NHL.
  • He is a great presence in any locker room and is yet another leader we can add to the roster.
  • Timonen carries a 1-year, $2 million dollar contract with him and has already stated he is going to retire after this season.

To sum it all up, even though he has yet to play this season, Timonen was a great acquisition for this specific team. Obviously the ultimate decision on this move can’t be made until we see how he performs, but all signs look good at this point.

By getting Timonen, the Hawks now have at least four reliable defensemen on the roster. Maybe even five if Oduya can get back to the way he was playing the last two years. Adding Timonen now also allows Quenneville to reunite Seabrook and Keith on the team’s top d-pairing. That pair is often regarded as one of the best in hockey.

With Trevor van Riemsdyk getting set to return to the Hawks sometime very soon, the defense doesn’t look all that bad suddenly (it’s worth noting that the Hawks placed Tim Erixon on waivers today and sent Kyle Cumiskey back down to Rockford). If the Blackhawks can enter the playoffs with a trio of d-pairings that looks something like Keith-Seabrook, Hjalmarsson-Timonen, Oduya-TVR, I’d be quite happy. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be that way barring another injury.

In other news, it sounds as though Bowman isn’t done trading yet. He told reporters that he would still like to add another forward via trade by Monday. The team still has roughly 4-5 million dollars in cap space, and it appears they are intent on taking advantage of that.

Antoine Vermette and Curtis Glencross have both been heavily linked to the Hawks in trade rumors over the past few days. Vermette, a center, would be the better option of the two. He is a two-way player, is great at the faceoff dot, and would be a great add to a Blackhawks team that could use another center. I’m not so sure that the Blackhawks’ centers (aside from Toews) could truly compete with the centers of the Kings, Ducks, and even Blues as the roster stands right now. With Brad Richards’ decline in performance over the past couple months, it would be great to add a younger and bigger centerman to the Hawks’ second line. This would allow them to demote Richards to the third line and move Shaw his natural wing position, which happens to be where he is most valuable as well.

As for Glencross, he’s got a lot of talent and skill, but he’s a left winger, and the Hawks really don’t need another wing. Obviously the more scoring potential on the roster the better, but when it comes down to Vermette and Glencross, Vermette would be the better fit. Especially if/when Kane comes back in the playoffs.

There are also A LOT of Patrick Sharp rumors out there right now. And by rumors, I mean hockey rumors, and non-hockey rumors… Supposedly the Hawks have had trade discussions with Detroit, Montreal, and Washington regarding Sharp. That was reported by a number of NHL reporters and writers. At the same time, however, Sharp’s agent is claiming that the Hawks told him Sharp will not be dealt by the trade deadline. With Kane now out, I think it would be smart to hang onto Sharp unless they’re getting a top 6 forward in return.

As for the non-hockey rumors surrounding Patrick Sharp, they’ve actually been there since last year, but only now is the average fan finding out about them. If I can say one thing, it’s this: Be cautious with what you believe. There are a lot of rumors out there right now, leading me to think that something did in fact happen, but I’m also being real careful with what I choose to see as facts. Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire, but just how big of a fire? Until that information is leaked and confirmed, take the rumors with a grain of salt. Don’t believe everything you read. If the situation inside the locker room is really as bad as some are making it sound, I think we see Sharp get traded by the deadline. Keep in mind though that this supposed “stuff” was already there before the season even started. It didn’t just happen in the last week.

That’s all for now. The next 48 hours should be fun.

Kane to LTIR; All eyes on Stan Bowman

15-_DSC2491-toresizeTuesday, February 24, 2015 will forever be one of the worst days/nights in Chicago sports. During the first period of the Blackhawks’ tilt with the Florida Panthers, NHL points leader Patrick Kane was cross checked from behind and fell awkwardly into the boards. It was instantly obvious that he severely injured his left arm in some way. Then about two hours later, news broke that Derrick Rose had re-torn the meniscus in his right knee. Both are expected to miss a lot of time. While the Rose injury is definitely sad and horrible for him and the Bulls, I’ll only focus on Kane and the Hawks here.

It was reported today that the Blackhawks are expecting Kane to miss somewhere near 10 weeks. The details of the injury are still not completely known, but it is certain that he’ll be out for some time. This prompted the Hawks to place Kane on long term injured reserve (LTIR). By doing this, Patrick Kane’s salary no longer counts towards the Hawks’ salary cap.

Also in response to Kane’s injury, the Hawks recalled Teuvo Teravainen back up from Rockford. He had just been sent down not long ago.

Meanwhile, Stan Bowman and the Hawks are presumably still looking to acquire a defenseman before the March 2nd trade deadline.

So, clearly a lot to digest here. Let’s start with Stan Bowman and the trade deadline.

With Kane now out of the lineup until possibly the playoffs, the Blackhawks have a big hole to fill on the roster. Since Kane has been placed on LTIR and his salary no longer counts towards the Hawks’ cap hit, the team has roughly 5 million dollars that they could theoretically spend on new acquisitions. These possible acquisitions would have to be guys who currently have a contract that expires this summer, basically making them rental players. Another thing to note is that the league salary cap disappears in the playoffs, meaning Kane could return in the postseason and his contract wouldn’t mean a thing to the team’s cap hit.

A few names come to mind regarding forwards the Hawks should/could look to target. The first, and maybe the biggest, is that of Antoine Vermette. Vermette is a 6’1″, 198 pound center and currently plays for the Arizona Coyotes. He has a $3.75 million dollar cap hit, which may be a bit higher than the Hawks would like, and is a free agent this summer. He would fit real nice with the Hawks. Last season, he finished with 24 goals and 21 assists, and also won over 56% of his faceoffs. This year he has 13 goals, 22 assists, and is still winning 56% of his draws. Brad Richards has not really performed the way a true number two center should, and Andrew Shaw is really not a center. Adding another real center to the lineup (besides Toews) who wins faceoffs with regularity would be big, especially when you consider the quality of centers the Hawks will face in the playoffs.

Another name is Curtis Glencross, who I’ve talked about before so I won’t get into too much detail about him again. Glencross is a two time 20 goal scorer with speed. The way he plays would fit well with the style the Hawks like to play.

Two other names that I was going to mention were Daniel Winnik and Jirri Tlusty. However, both were just traded within the last hour, so that eliminates those two options for the Hawks. The fact that both guys were just traded (the day after Kane gets hurt) makes me believe that Stan Bowman needs to act quickly to make a deal. Teams know that the Hawks might be looking for a replacement for Kane, and therefore they are ramping up their pursuit of additional forwards.

Aside from looking to fill Kane’s hole in the lineup, the Hawks still need another defenseman. In fact, they need a defenseman more than they need a forward to replace Kane. It has been reported that they are actually looking into Andrej Sekera of the Carolina Hurricanes, who I have also recently talked about in a previous blog or two. If they can land Sekera, that would be really big. Jeff Petry has also been linked to the Hawks within the last day or so. Like Sekera, I wrote about Petry not long ago, so look at my previous posts for information on him.

Of course, if the Hawks trade for anyone, it will come at a price. Whether that price is Patrick Sharp, Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell, or Antti Raanta, as well as prospects/picks, someone is likely leaving town. Just keep that in mind. There have also been rumors surfacing that there is some disfunction in the Hawks’ locker room right now, and some people believe Patrick Sharp is the source. Whether or not that’s true, who knows. If it is true, he may be the man on his way out.

I mentioned earlier that Teuvo Teravainen was brought back up from Rockford today to fill the empty roster spot left by Kane. Despite everything I just said about the Hawks looking to trade for a forward, this may be Teravainen’s time to shine. The sole reason that he was sent down to Rockford recently (according to Quenneville) was because there was no room for him on either of the top two lines for the Hawks. Well, now there’s a glaring hole at right wing, Teuvo’s natural position, on the team’s second line. I would imagine he’ll slot right into that spot in the lineup and be given the chance to earn a spot on the playoff roster. At the same time, the Blackhawks may be looking to trade for someone to fill that spot. If it were up to me, I’d set my sights on Vermette (who would likely center the second line, thus still leaving right wing open for Tevuo) and Andrej Sekera. Sekera should be priority number one. If you can’t get Vermette, then don’t trade for a forward at all.

Everything just got extremely interesting with the Hawks now that Kane is out. A defenseman should be their top priority, but if they can get an Antoine Vermette as well, go for it. If that happens, and you then add Kane back into the lineup for the playoffs, we’re looking at a pretty good team.

Update: Andrej Sekera has just been dealt to the Kings. So there goes that. The clock is ticking for Bowman and the Hawks.

Something needs to change for the Blackhawks

Patrick+Sharp+Colorado+Avalanche+v+Chicago+gEDAOBprw4qlToday’s loss to the Bruins at home and on national television was one of the more embarassing losses the Blackhawks have suffered in recent years. The penalty kill was bad, the powerplay was bad (the PP goal came 5 seconds into the man advantage, so I’m discounting that one), the goaltending was bad, and pretty much everything else was bad. Nothing good can be taken from this loss.

In somewhat of an odd way, maybe the only good thing that came out of this beat down by the Bruins is the fact that this loss and the way the team has played recently cannot be ignored by the Hawks’ management. There was already a ton of talk prior to today about the Blackhawks needing to trade for a defenseman, and possibly another forward as well. After today’s game, the talk is even louder, and rightfully so.

There is a glaring hole in the Hawks’ defensive corps. Michal Rozsival’s lack of defensive ability was yet again showcased today by the Bruins. It’s been a reoccuring theme throughout the year for him. The Blackhawks cannot enter the playoffs having to rely on him to give them quality minutes out of their third d-pairing, because he won’t be capable of doing so.

David Rundblad, while arguably slighty better, isn’t much different than Rozsival in terms of his defensive game. I believe we can throw out Cumiskey, as I don’t see him sticking on the roster once TVR returns.

The Blackhawks need to add another defenseman to the team, and a good one. They also need some sort of “shake up” to the lineup, because right now they are not producing on offense the way that they should be.

Now might be the time to pull the trigger on a Patrick Sharp trade. Sharp is in the midst of a bad season and isn’t contributing to the team in anyway right now. He really hasn’t done much all year. Due to his contract (see my last post for more on that) and his declining role on the team, moving him for a good defenseman might be the way to go. A “shake up” of that magnitude might be what this team needs. If they could acquire a good blue liner for Shaw instead, I’d do that. But you’re going to get more in return for Patrick Sharp most days.

Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune has reported the past couple days that the Blackhawks are interested in Flames forward Curtis Glencross and Hurricanes defenseman Andrej Sekera, who I talked about in my last write up. Both players are in the final years of their contacts, both are making less than $3 million, and both are very good at what they do. If I were Stan Bowman, I’d go for Sekera over Glencross and address the team’s defensive issues with a bang.

Whether it ends up being Sekera, Glencross, Jeff Petry, or some other name, the Blackhawks need to make a change. What they have right now is not working anymore, and probably won’t get them past the first round of the playoffs. I can’t believe I’m actually writing those words, but it’s becoming increasingly true. If they get a good d-man via a trade and Trevor van Riemsdyk returns to the lineup and plays the way he did early in the season, all of a sudden the Hawks’ defense is a lot better and much more prepared for the playoffs.

The trade deadline is 8 days away. A move needs to be made, and it’s all up to Stan Bowman to make it happen.

Blackhawks’ trade targets and pieces

15-_DSC2491-toresizeThe NHL trade deadline is fast approaching (March 2nd). Multiple teams around the league will be looking to somehow strengthen their rosters heading into the final month and a half of the regular season, and the Blackhawks may be no different. I say “may be” because I’m not one hundred percent sure that they are aggressively looking to make a move. “Kicking the tires” on a few players is different than actually trying to acquire somebody.

As I’ve said on here before, the Hawks, if they do make a move, would probably like to add another depth defensemen to the roster. I’m not so sure that they feel comfortable enough with the group of d-men currently on the team. I know I don’t feel too confident about this defensive corps, but that’s just me.

The two biggest names in terms of defensemen that are reportedly on the block are Edmonton’s Jeff Petry and Carolina’s Andrej Sekera.

15-_DSC2491-toresizeJeff Petry (6’3″, 198 lbs) has been buried in Edmonton since making his NHL debut in 2010, and therefore most people don’t know who he is. While the Oilers have consistently been an awful defensive team in recent years, Petry is arguably their best defenseman. This year, he has 4 goals to go with 11 assists, but that’s not really why you’d trade for this guy. He is an above average defender, he’s got a 6’3″ frame, and he is a right handed shot. This would be quite a nice fit for the Blackhawks, who are struggling to get any quality ice time from a guy like Michal Rozsival or whoever the sixth d-man happens to be. Petry won’t come at a very cheap price, but he should be cheaper than Cody Franson who went to Nashville.

139990-330-0Andrej Sekera is more of an offensive defenseman. He finished the 2013-2014 season with 11 goals and 33 assists, and currently has 2 goals and 17 assists this year on a bad Carolina team. At 28 years old, he is a nice puck-moving defenseman and gives you a good left handed shot from the point. His 6’0″, 200 pound body isn’t the biggest, but he’s no pushover. Like Petry, but for different reasons, Sekera would be a real nice fit for the Hawks. The Blackhawks are a fast team that likes their defensemen to skate the puck up the ice and be involved in the offensive game, and that’s exactly what you get with Sekera.

Adding either one of these two defensemen, or someone comparable, to the Hawks’ lineup would instantly make them a better team. The problem is trying to afford these guys.

Right now the Hawks are about as tight against the league salary cap as you can get. Acquiring anyone would mean they’d have to lose someone’s salary off their current NHL roster. Petry has a $3,075,000 cap hit this season, with his contract expiring this summer. Sekera is making $2,750,000 this year, and his contract also expires this summer. To trade for either player, or even an unmentioned player of equal salary, the Hawks would need to trade a “bigger name” in return.

Who might that be?

Well, Patrick Sharp, Bryan Bickell, Michal Rozsival, and Andrew Shaw would all qualify (Shaw and Rozsival are making $2 million and $2.2 million respectively). One of those guys would have to be headed the other way to acquire any solid defenseman who is not on an entry level contract.

While I’m sure no one wants to hear it, Patrick Sharp may be the best option in terms of who to trade. We all know what he’s capable of offensively, but he is on the down slope of his career, he’s in the middle of a sub-par individual season (he’s now on the team’s fourth line), and he is a $5.9 million dollar cap hit. Not only would trading him allow the Hawks to fit a solid d-man into their lineup in terms of salary, but it would also open up a lot of cap space for next season when they are going to have to re-sign guys like Saad, Kruger, and maybe Oduya. And, there aren’t many teams with cap space that would say no to acquiring Patrick Sharp.

Bryan Bickell and his $4 million dollar salary would also open up some cap space for the Hawks if they were to trade him, but dealing him would be a much harder sell than Sharp. I don’t see this scenario happening.

Then there’s Andrew Shaw. It’s no secret that he is one of Joel Quenneville’s “favorites,” but trading him would free up $2 million dollars. Shaw is definitely a replaceable kind of player, especially when you have someone like Ryan Hartman now on the team who is virtually Shaw’s clone in terms of playing style, and maybe even better. Hartman’s call-up raised some questions regarding Shaw’s future with the team, and maybe the Hawks are looking to move his salary.

The bottom line here is that the Blackhawks really do need to make a trade for a quality defenseman. It’s just going to have to come at a higher price. Add in the fact that other teams know the cap situation that the Hawks are in, and they have very little leeway in terms of trying to work out a favorable deal.

If it were up to me, I’d be in favor of moving a Sharp, Bickell, or Shaw if it meant getting a Petry or Sekera in return. You might be saying “Why would you trade Sharp!?” Well, this team has a ton of firepower on their first two lines without Sharp, and when you have guys like Teravainen and McNeill down in Rockford, it is definitely possible to fill Sharp’s absence on one of the bottom two lines. The question is whether or not the management would make a trade like this now as opposed to waiting until the summer. Either way, adding a good defenseman to this team is crucial. Could you imagine if Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, or even Oduya got hurt and the Hawks had to fill their spot with Rozsival or Rundblad? That would be a nightmare, which is why they need to make a move.

Hawks beat Penguins in a shootout; NHL trade deadline

15-_DSC2491-toresizeWe’re already 4 games into the Blackhawks’ 8-game homestand, and with today’s shootout win over Pittsburgh they have taken 6 of the possible 8 points so far. It may not feel like they have earned 6 points in the last 4 games, but they have, and every point is a big point at this time of year. So we’ll take it.

Today’s game really wasn’t much of an entertaining one, despite two of the league’s most exciting teams playing in it. Both teams did a really nice job of clogging up the neutral zone, forcing the other to chip-and-chase and then try and set up the offense. You might say that Pittsburgh was more successful at it than the Hawks, but they still couldn’t generate a ton of real good chances. They had a few, and Corey Crawford answered all but one of them with a save. He seems to have really found his stride again, but more on that in a bit.

Niklas Hjalmarsson was the Blackhawks’ lone goal scorer on the afternoon. A faceoff scrum in which Saad out-muscled his counterpart to get the puck back to Hjalmarsson before he bombed it at the net is what led to the goal. For Pittsburgh, it was Nick Spaling that knocked home a rebound given up by Crawford after a bad angle shot from Beau Bennett.

Each team traded powerplays, but no one could score with the man advantage. In overtime, the Blackhawks were the better team, but again, no goals were scored.

Then came the shootout. Now, I’ve always been a big critic of the “talent show” and have wanted the NHL to develop a new format for ending games. Whether it’s 3-on-3 hockey, a 10-minute overtime, etc., I don’t like shootouts. However, today’s shootout was one of the best I’ve seen. The first 4 shooters all scored, with Toews and Kane making Fleury look like a clown. Then Kris Letang went for Pittsburgh, and his bid was stopped by Crawford. It was Patrick Sharp who then had his name called to shoot for the Hawks, and he beat Fleury with a glove-side wrist shot. Game over.

Here’s a few things I took away from today’s contest:

  • The Blackhawks are still trying to find their way back to playing the way they were earlier in the season when they went on their annual Circus Trip out west. Today’s game was a better 60 (or 65) minutes than we saw against both Arizona and Vancouver, but it still wasn’t a pretty win to say the least.
  • Kyle Cumiskey logged 10:25 of ice time today, while Keith had over 28 minutes of playing time. Oduya, Hjalmarsson, and Seabrook were all over 20 minutes as well (Rozsival had 16:42 for what it’s worth). Duncan Keith, while he’s one guy who can handle loads of ice time, shouldn’t be on the ice that much. Come playoff time, you want to see your top defensemen logging minutes somewhere in the low to mid 20’s. You do that by getting quality minutes from all six d-men and by distributing somewhat equal playing time. Right now the Hawks’ fifth and sixth defensemen are generally not giving the Hawks quality minutes, thus lowering their TOI, and raising the other guys’ minutes. This needs to change for them to be successful in the postseason.
  • Corey Crawford appears to be back to his “per-concert incident” self. He made 37 saves on 38 shots today. A few of those saves were great ones that kept the game close. The Hawks will need him to stay on top of his game. You can’t win anything in the NHL without good goaltending.
  • The third and fourth lines of the Blackhawks have featured all kinds of names the last couple games now. We’ve seen line combos from Sharp, Kruger and Smith/Carcillo, to Versteeg, Kruger and Smith/Carcillo, and Bickell, Kruger and Smith/Carcillo. Shaw and Hartman are the only two from the bottom two lines that have consistently played together the last two games. Quenneville is trying to generate more offense from those lines, and until he sees something he likes, they’ll keep changing. They need to figure it out sometime soon though, or at least by April.
  • Ryan Hartman, who had a really good debut against the Devils, wasn’t too noticeable today. He had a team low 7:35 of ice time. Despite not being noticeable and not playing much, he didn’t do anything to warrant him getting scratched next game either. He seems to be really composed while on the ice and doesn’t try to force much. He just takes what he’s given and seems to have good hockey smarts. I’d like to see him continue to play while Carcillo sits in the press box.
  • Lastly, Brad Richards has kind of disappeared lately. Ever since Versteeg went down with his injury on New Year’s Day, Brad Richards has seen his game decline back to the way it was at the beginning of the season. I know he’s getting old and isn’t what he used to be, but the Hawks will need more from him come playoff time.

Today’s game resulted in 2 points for the Hawks, which ultimately is all that matters right now as they chase down the Blues for second in the division. Right now, they trail St. Louis by 2 points, but the Blues have 2 games in hand. Assuming the Hawks don’t bomb between now and April (same with the Blues), they should finish no worse than third in the Central Division, which means we’re looking at another Chicago-St. Louis first round series. While having home ice didn’t help the Blues last year in that matchup, it’s still something that both sides will want for that series. It’s not going to be easy, but if the Hawks can keep winning, they might just catch the Blues this time around.

NHL Trade Deadline

Cody FransonEarlier this morning, the Predators acquired defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli from the Maple Leafs in exchange for Olli Jokinen, a prospect, and a 2015 first round draft pick. Franson was arguably the best defensemen on the trade block, and now he’ll be joining what was already one of the league’s best d-corps on the Predators. He’s a big, right handed shot who likes to be involved offensively. This was a guy that the Blackhawks could have desperately used, but that’s off the table now. The move definitely makes the Predators a better team, and one that we can officially consider a Cup contender.

Because Franson was the best d-man available, teams will now use this trade as a bargaining point while trading for defensemen heading into the trade deadline. The price Nashville paid for Franson and Santorelli, who is a nice player in his own right, wasn’t all that high. This is a good thing for the rest of the league, as almost all contenders seem to be interested in upgrading their blue line. In terms of the Blackhawks, they would be smart to look for a reliable, puck-moving defenseman who can be paired up on the Hawks third d-pairing, or with Hjalmarsson. A combo of Rozsival and Rundblad/Cumiskey/Erixon won’t cut it, and who knows what TVR will be like when he returns…

Now that Franson is off the board, look for more trades to start taking place between now and March 2nd.

Blackhawks reassign Teravainen; Recall Hartman, Cumiskey

IMG_1999-0Earlier this evening, the Blackhawks announced that they had sent top prospect Teuvo Teravainen back to the Rockford Icehogs of the AHL. In return, they called up 2013 number one draft pick, Ryan Hartman (right winger), and 28 year old defenseman Kyle Cumiskey. Cumiskey has been seeing playing time in the NHL on and off since the 2007-08 season, while also playing a number of games in the AHL. He played 4 preseason games with the Hawks this year before getting sent to Rockford for the start of the season.

So what does this all mean?

Well, with the return of Kris Versteeg to the Hawks’ lineup, someone had to leave it. Nordstrom was sent down to make room on the roster for Versteeg, and now Teravainen has been sent down to make room for Versteeg in the everyday lineup. While most of us would love to see Carcillo be the one to lose his spot in the lineup, that’s not happening. At least not right now. It is believed that the Hawks ultimately want Teravainen as part of their top nine forwards. With Versteeg now back in the top nine, that leaves no room for Teuvo, unless Quenneville got smart and decided to leave him as the third line center and demote Shaw to a fourth line wing where he belongs. But that’s not going to happen. Shaw is Q’s third line center, and that’s that. Instead of keeping Teravainen in the NHL and having him scratched from the lineup on a regular basis, the Hawks have opted to send him to Rockford where he’ll see loads of playing time.

In Teravainen’s place on the roster we’ll now see West Dundee native Ryan Hartman. Hartman is looked at as being a potentially more valuable version of Andrew Shaw. They are similar players in that they are agitators who also possess offensive talent. Hartman is likely a better offensive player than Shaw, and has notched 8 goals and 10 assists in 47 games this year in Rockford. He also earned 81 penalty minutes there this year.

Also coming up to the Hawks is Kyle Cumiskey, who leaves Rockford with 1 goal and 10 assists on the year. Cumiskey is recognized for his speed and puck-moving abilities, and that’s about it…

These moves raise a few questions regarding the current state of the Blackhawks.

  1. Will they stick with 8 active defensemen on the NHL roster?
  2. What does this mean for Andrew Shaw?
  3. And to combine the two questions, is a trade looming?

It’s no secret that the Blackhawks probably would like to upgrade their d-corps between now and the end of the trade deadline. I’m not sure that anyone in Chicago feels too comfortable having to rely Rozsival, Rundblad, and Oduya in the lineup at the same time on a nightly basis in the playoffs. It would be great if they could get a trustworthy, number 4-5 defensemen to replace either Rozsival or Rundblad, ideally. The odds of that happening are not great though, as almost every contender is looking to do the same thing for a low price. Still, I don’t see them progressing with eight active defensemen. Does this mean that Tim Erixon gets placed on long term injured reserve assuming no trade is made? We shall see. And let’s not forget that Trevor van Riemsdyk is due back from injury sometime before the playoffs. That adds another d-man to the roster. We would all like to believe that TVR is the answer for the Hawks’ defense, but there’s no telling what kind of shape his legs will be in or how long it will take him to get back into game-shape, let alone playoff-shape. Needless to say, more moves are to come concerning the team’s defensemen.

As for Andrew Shaw, the call-up of Ryan Hartman could possibly (not likely) mean that the Hawks are looking to deal him. The Hawks need to shed some salary before next season, and with the way Shaw has performed this year, he looks expendable. Ryan Hartman, if he performs well in the NHL, is a very similar player to Shaw, and could hypothetically take his place in the lineup. If dealing Shaw results in acquiring a defensemen of the caliber that I previously described, then I’m all for it. The Blackhawks have enough offensive firepower to win without Andrew Shaw, and if Hartman can fill his void, it’s a win-win situation. Granted, this is assuming that Hartman gets a chance to prove himself, which is by no means a guarantee as long as Quenneville his behind the bench. It’s just as likely, if not more, that Carcillo continues playing every night while Hartman watches and eventually gets sent back down.

Clearly, a lot could potentially happen with the Blackhawks’ roster in the near future. One thing is for sure though, and that’s that the recent moves by the Hawks have raised a lot of eyebrows and questions. Could a trade be coming? Or do they have a different plan in store? As usual, only time will tell.