Examining The Chicago Blackhawks’ Predicament As The Trade Deadline Approaches

As much as any other team in the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks have all the qualities of the high-end cameras used to photograph their games: flash (this is a very high-end model we’re talking about here), wow factor, and most of all, contrast. Contrast between a dominant performance one night and an awful one the next; contrast between their great players and poor ones all playing together on the same lines. Contrast between their scoring prowess and defensive deficiencies, headlined by porous goaltending. Yes, the Blackhawks are a unique team. They may be the NHL’s closest team to being a dynasty out of the teams who need to add the most to get there… or something. (Yes, that is intentionally paradoxical).

The Blackhawks are so talented in some ways, but they still struggle so much in others. The speed, skating, agility, puck-handling, and passing of their core players is as good as any team, probably better. But the Blackhawks’ size, strength, work ethic, battle level, shot blocking, special teams, depth, and goaltending are all among the worst in the entire NHL, with the team-finishing ability, structure, and systems-play (which falls on the coaches) also lacking.

So what do you do to change this team with the trade deadline looming? Does it even need changing? I think there’s no question it does, but what of the man (or men) who would be making those changes? I have not been impressed with the personnel moves of the new management team brought in two years ago, headed by Stan Bowman and his father, Scotty Bowman, who inherited a very balanced Cup-calibre roster from former-GM Dale Tallon and proceeded to poke so many holes into it, holes that have yet to be filled. Scotty Bowman was a good coach 10 years ago; why Chicago ownership thought that would magically make him and his son a good management team is beyond me. So unless they know something I don’t, change #1 on my docket would be to find a better GM.

Then what? You can’t improve the forwards, the defense, and the goaltending all at one deadline, can you? Maybe you can, actually, with the right GM. Luckily for the Blackhawks, cap space is not an issue, it would just be the assets required to significantly improve in so many areas that could prove problematic. My philosophy: do as much as you can.

For starters, the Blackhawks need a 2nd line center. These are usually expensive to acquire, unless you can find someone undervalued around the league. For instance, for years now rumors have been swirling that the Dallas Stars want to unload Mike Ribeiro’s contract, with no takers. Ribeiro is on an affordable 5M cap hit, and only signed for one more year after this one. He does not bring the size or grit the Blackhawks would want in their ideal 2nd line center, but you’re never going to find the perfect situation. I don’t think the St. Louis Blues want to give David Backes away to their division rivals.

What Ribeiro lacks in size, he makes up for with Patrick Kane like quickness and skill, and he has all the vision and more to set up Marian Hossa or right-hand shot Patrick Sharp on the 2nd line. So if the Blackhawks can get Ribeiro for no assets or close to it, he would be one of the few (or maybe the only) affordable ways to fix the 2nd line center hole while still saving the Blackhawks best trade assets for defense and potentially goaltending.

That would be the type of approach you would have to take. There is no way you can pay market value for a 2nd line center, a top-four defenseman, and a starting goaltender without having few good prospects left. You have to find players that are undervalued and available for less than the going market rate. Derek Roy and potentially Mikael Graobovski are other 2nd line center options, but they will likely cost more to acquire, and Grabovski is a rental.

On defense, Kyle Quincey may have been the prize in terms of the best defenseman and fit for the Hawks in relation to what his cost was to acquire, but the Detroit Red Wings already snagged him. Jaroslav Spacek is another two-way stud, although he is getting up there in age. If you are looking more for just offense and right-hand-shooting at the expense of defense and physical durability, Marek Zidlicky is a very talented offensive defenseman, when healthy. Perhaps the best defenseman overall thought to be available is Lubomir Visnovsky, but he has a 6M cap hit for another season after this, and does not bring much size or grit.

In goal, Evgeni Nabokov is the big name available, but he is overrated and his alleged cost reflects that. This would be a very poor move for the Blackhawks in my opinion. Again, unless the Blackhawks are willing to really go all-in this year and trade some of their better young players and prospects, their theme for the deadline should be “undervalued.” Nabokov certainly is not that. The Blackhawks don’t need to acquire a Ryan Miller type big-name goaltender, just someone more consistent than their current goaltenders, with more of the “stopper” style that fits them best. Meaning, they need a goaltender who fills the net and makes the first save better than Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, even if he gives up some rebounds. Think Antti Niemi. Nabokov is one of the smaller goaltenders in the NHL, and I don’t think he’s the answer for the Blackhawks.

As always, the Blackhawks core makes them a team full of potential, but it is the supporting cast (with an undervalued name like supporting cast) that will dictate whether that potential is realized. And as the cast stands now, the Blackhawks better hope Paul Giamanti is available, otherwise it’s not looking good. Stan Bowman needs to add some quality pieces, and he needs to add them in bulk quantity.


Written by Shark Circle


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