Today is the 1st installment of our expanded NHL Trade Deadline coverage. We’ll be posting team outlooks leading up to trade deadline over the next couple weeks from a variety of contributing writers.
The Chicago Blackhawks are in the mix for the best record in the Western Conference, but are equally close to fourth place in the Central Division. With a good, young core locked up and over $5 million in cap space, the Blackhawks will be buyers at the deadline.
What will be the Blackhawks wants/needs?
1. Top-four defenseman
The Hawks have one of the best top pairs in the league with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but have been searching for the right formula all season in the wake of Brian Campbell being traded to Florida during the draft.
Nick Leddy’s developing nicely, but has been better when held under 20 minutes per game over the last month. Meanwhile, Niklas Hjalmarsson appears to have peaked as a number 4-5 defenseman who excels at blocking shots and killing penalties, but has not taken the next step in his development yet.
Some players the Hawks might target include Tim Gleason in Carolina, Hal Gill and/or Chris Campoli in Montreal, and, if Brian Burke puts him on the market, Cody Franson.
2. Top-six forward (second line center)
Chicago has been impressed with the play of rookie Marcus Kruger, but he hasn’t been an impact on the offensive side of the ice. If GM Stan Bowman can get his hands on a legitimate top-six forward, or, more specifically, a second line center.
Buffalo’s Derek Roy is a name that has been prominently linked to Chicago lately. The Hawks have also been rumored to have interest in Columbus center Derick Brassard, Montreal forwards Travis Moen and Andrei Kostitsyn and former-Chicago wing Tuomo Ruutu of the Canes. Chicago could look into a number of other options up front if injuries hit between now and the deadline.
There are a couple factors to consider when assessing the Blackhawks approach to the trade deadline.
First, they’ll be getting a better left wing/center back from injury than they would be able to acquire via trade when Patrick Sharp returns after the All-Star Break. Also, they’re getting a really nice season from affordable Viktor Stalberg (14 G, 15 A, +7) as their top line left wing.
Secondly, the Blackhawks’ front office has worked hard to stockpile a good group of NHL prospects that are all over the map, from the AHL affiliate (Rockford IceHogs) to juniors and college ranks.
A couple players on the NHL roster that have disappointed this year have been Bryan Bickell and, to a much lesser extent, Michael Frolik. Bickell has lost his spot on the depth chart to rookie Jimmy Hayes, and has been a healthy scratch for most of January. He did, however, score 17 goals last year and has one more year left on a contract for just above the league minimum. Frolik, meanwhile, has two more seasons on his contract with a modest cap number of just over $2.3M per.
If the Blackhawks put prospects in play, a couple names to watch are defensemen Brian Connelly and Shawn Lalonde. Connelly was named to his second consecutive AHL All-Star Game on Tuesday, but hasn’t been able to crack the NHL in Chicago. Lalonde, a younger prospect with a higher ceiling, may be the asset Bowman uses to attract a better veteran player. With other talented defensemen like Dylan Olsen, Adam Clendening and Stephen Johns in the organization, the Hawks may choose to deal from a position of strength, and Lalonde and Connelly might be the players on their way out.