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.

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How the Blackhawks should approach the trade deadline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blackhawks gearing up for a trade?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Ladd back to the Blackhawks?

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

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

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

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

Now back to the Hawks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Blackhawks Stanley Cup will require a trade

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

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

Shaw-Toews-Hossa

Panarin-Anisimov-Kane

Desjardins-Dannault-Teravainen

Panik-Rasmussen-Sekac/Mashinter/McNeill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First half surprises in the NHL

Columbus Blue Jackets  v Florida PanthersBelieve it or not, we are already over halfway through the NHL season. The standings are starting to take shape, but there is still way too much hockey left to come to any solid conclusions as to how they will for sure look in April. There have definitely been some surprises thus far, both good and bad, as well as some not so surprising occurrences. Today we will take a look around the league at some of those surprises, as well as offer up some predictions as to how the rest of the season will unfold.

Let’s get to it.

SURPRISES

The Good

  • How about the Florida Panthers? They just had a 12-game winning streak snapped in Vancouver, and through 43 games Florida sits atop the Atlantic division with 57 points (tied for fourth league-wide). This is due in large part to their defense and starting goaltender, Roberto Luongo. Only one team in the NHL has allowed fewer goals than the Panthers, which is a key statistic. Over the last six seasons, each team to have won the Stanley Cup ranked in the top five in the NHL in fewest goals against. So despite Jaromir Jagr continuing to defy his age, the biggest story coming out of Sunrise, Florida should be the Panthers’ ability to keep the puck out of their own net.
  • This may or may not be a surprise to some people, but the Washington Capitals are a NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitalsvery good team. They currently rank second in the league in goals-scored per game, and are tied for first in fewest goals-against per game. Oh, and they lead the NHL in points with 67. Needless to say, the Caps seem to have everything clicking at the moment. Throw in the fact that Alex Ovechkin just notched goals number 500 and 501, and yeah, it’s been a pretty good half-season in the nation’s capital.
  • The Dallas Stars. Most people had them pegged as a playoff team, but not everyone thought they would be this good this fast. They own the league’s top offense and arguably the NHL’s best line. As of this moment, they lead the Central division with 62 points. They have hit a bit of a rough patch over the last week or so, but every team is entitled to one or two of those over the course of a long season. The biggest question with Dallas is whether or not their defense and goaltending will be strong enough come playoff time.
  • Again, some might not see this as surprising, others may. The Chicago Blackhawks are rolling right now and are winners of seven straight games. Despite another offseason that saw a major roster overhaul, this team has picked up right where they left off a year ago and own the third highest point total in the NHL. Rookie sensation Artemi Panarin, who leads all rookies in goals, assists, and points, has become a huge part of the team and is a huge reason why Patrick Kane is having a career year. The trio of Panarin, Anisimov, and Kane is as good as any league-wide and has carried the Hawks at times this season. Also, Corey Crawford is having his best season in the NHL and leads the league with 6 shutouts. While the Hawks may still be an addition or two away from being a Cup-favorite, they’re still a scary team to play against.

The Bad

  • The Columbus Blue Jackets are an absolute mess. This was a team that many people had making the playoffs, but that looks to be impossible at this point. To recap their season so far, they have fired their head coach, hired John Tortorella out of desperation, and recently traded their top player, Ryan Johansen, to the Nashville Predators. The Jackets sit dead last in hockey with 34 points and are showing no signs of turning things around. Yes, they did acquire Seth Jones in exchange for Johansen, but that move won’t help them this year. Even with a history of losing in Columbus, this year’s losing ways were not anticipated.
  • Who predicted the Penguins would be having this much trouble, especially after the addition of Phil Kessel? We have come to know the Penguins as a perennial playoff team over the last eight years or so, but this year does not look as promising. Pittsburgh struggled out of the gate, following their captain’s lead, but have somewhat turned things around in recent weeks, as has Sidney Crosby. Still, they cannot seem to put any consistent, successful play together and are stuck winning a game then losing a game, and so on. Could this be the year they miss the postseason?
  • A lot like Pittsburgh, the Tampa Bay Lightning got off to a slow start to the season 130107_gq_trout_aand have since found it difficult to find any consistency in their play. This was last season’s best offensive team, but now they rank 17th in goals per game. Their captain, Steven Stamkos, has been surrounded by trade rumors all season. Whether or not his contract situation is affecting his play, there is no denying that he is having an “off year” by his standards. Yes, the Lightning have dealt with some injuries, but now is the time for them to start turning their season around if they want to make another deep playoff push.
  • Ready for another underperforming team? You got it. The Ducks might just be the most surprising team in the league so far, and not in a good way. Their 41 points are good for fifth in the Pacific division, and their 78 goals scored are dead last in the league by quite a bit. Much like the two previous teams we discussed, Anaheim has been unable to consistently play “their” game. However, they do have some things going for them. They are the league’s ninth best team in fewest goals-against per game. If they can keep that up, the law of averages suggests that they’ll find their offense and start to pile up the W’s.

Alright, so there are this year’s biggest surprises to this point as seen through these eyes. Now, here are some quick predictions.

PREDICTIONS

  1. The Ducks will make the playoffs as one of the top three teams in the Pacific division. If they miss the playoffs, Bruce Boudreau will get fired at season’s end.
  2. The Penguins will also make the playoffs, but as a wild card team. There’s too much talent in that locker room for them to not make it.
  3. Steven Stamkos will not get traded this year, but he also will not sign an extension with the Lightning.
  4. Going off those lines, a big name in Winnipeg will get dealt. Whether that’s Byfuglien, Ladd, or Trouba is tough to say. One will go though, that’s for sure.
  5. And lastly, we’ll see the Panthers drop in the standings. They’re a good team, and probably a playoff team, but they won’t win that division.

Thanks for reading.

Trade possibility for the Blackhawks?

Mikkel BoedkerThe Blackhawks are a good team. They are not great and nor are they bad, but just good. Unfortunately for them being good is not enough to accomplish much in today’s NHL. To do something like win the conference or win the Stanley Cup, you need to be an elite team, which is nothing the Blackhawks are unfamiliar with. The tough part for them is that they are so tight against the salary cap due to big contracts for players like Kane and Toews that it is nearly impossible to be elite year after year. The cap will not allow it.

Without question one of the single biggest reasons why the Blackhawks have won three of the last six Stanley Cups is because of the depth that they had on those three rosters. Look no further than last year’s team.

Their third line for much of the postseason, including the Stanley Cup Final, was Sharp-Vermette-Teravainen. That would be a lot of teams’ first or second line. The Hawks’ fourth line for last year’s Cup run was Shaw-Kruger-Desjardins, and while that may not seem great on paper, those three created incredible chemistry and played a huge role in winning the Cup. My point being, if you cannot role four effective lines in today’s NHL, you will not win much.

Today’s Blackhawks cannot effectively role four lines, or at least not consistently, thanks to the league salary cap. And truthfully, this is nothing we should not have expected after the roster changes that needed to be made over the summer. However, there may be a sliver of hope developing that the Hawks can upgrade their roster between now and the trade deadline in late February.

Marcus Kruger was recently placed in Injured Reserve for a wrist injury. David Rundblad was just placed on waivers and is off the NHL roster. That gives the Hawks about $1 million in cap space as of right now. If they were to hypothetically send someone like Rob Scuderi down to Rockford in the future, they would then have right around $3 million in salary cap space. That kind leeway with the salary cap can be extremely valuable come the trade deadline, much like we saw last year when the Hawks acquired Vermette, Timonen, and Desjardins after Kane went on LTIR.

Now I’m not saying that Stan Bowman and the front office will for sure make a trade, but it is definitely possible. If the Hawks were to put Kruger on LTIR, making him done for the regular season, they could replicate what they did last year with the Kane injury situation and trade for a player or two, maximize their cap, and have Kruger return for the playoffs without his cap hit having an affect on the team cap heading into the postseason. It worked perfectly last year with Vermette and company, and if they Hawks can pull it off again this year, it may put them back into Cup contention.

So let’s say that everything I said regarding Kruger going on LTIR, Scuderi being sent to Rockford, and so on does happen. Who might the Hawks target via trades?

One name that I am seeing tossed around on Twitter and various other locations is Mikkel Boedker of the Coyotes. Boedker’s cap hit is $3.75 million this year, and he becomes a free agent in the summer. The sniper leads the Coyotes with 29 points so far this season, is fast, and plays left wing. What is one of the Blackhawks’ biggest problems right now? Finding a first line left winger to play alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.

As it stands at the moment, Andrew Shaw is the one filling that role on the top line with Toews and Hossa. Shaw is by no means a first line player and instead belongs on the fourth line like he was during last year’s playoffs. Acquiring Boedker would create an absolutely lethal top line, and it would allow Quenneville to place Shaw on the correct line, whether that is the third or fourth. That right there adds some valuable depth to the Hawks’ group of forwards.

Getting Boedker would require a valuable asset going the other way, and maybe even a player from the NHL roster, but it would be worth it. You also have to consider that Arizona currently sits second in the Pacific division, and they may be unwilling to trade away their top point producer while occupying a playoff position.

Acquiring Boedker alone would not solve the Hawks, however. They could still use another defenseman and maybe even another third line center or wing. Actually being able to pull that off will not be easy and likely would not happen, but it is something I am sure Bowman will look into.

Keep in mind this is all an idea at the moment based off of some rumors and conversations I have read online. At the same time though, it is realistic to think a deal like the one for Boedker could take place due to the Hawks’ ability to open up cap space with roster moves.

Seeing as how Kruger was placed on IR and Rundblad was waived all within the past 24 hours, we may (or may not) see a trade take place sooner than later.