The Hawks are falling behind in the wild card race, but their roster isn’t easy to tear down. So what can Chicago do to improve for the future?
The Chicago Blackhawks enter their bye break on an obvious down note. In the immediacy, you had a 4-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, currently the sort of low-end team we’ve been accustomed to Chicago beating in recent years. But there’s also the mysterious injury to starting netminder Corey Crawford that has weighed the team down and another injured regular in Artem Anisimov.
Crawford in particular hurts the Hawks, since he has been their best player this season. These aren’t the Stanley Cup-era Blackhawks, blessed with a deep defense corps – this is a new iteration that really needed Crawford’s heroics to get them past on a lot of nights. Amongst starting goalies right now, only Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy has a better even-strength save percentage, with a .937 mark to Crawford’s .934.
And we don’t know when the veteran Hawks keeper will be back. Which is a long way of saying that Chicago appears to be in real trouble this season.
Toss in the recent healthy scratching of Brent Seabrook and the waiving of Cody Franson and I suppose this is obvious. But a look at the standings will tell you that the chances of Chicago missing the post-season altogether, for the first time in a decade, is very real. With five days off, the Hawks find themselves out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference. Colorado will probably leap-frog them during that span, while San Jose can build more of a cushion ahead of them. Both teams have several games in hand on the Hawks.
So what do you if you’re GM Stan Bowman? The steward over three Cups since 2010 is not used to being a seller, but it seems only prudent to consider that path.
But there is a structural problem in Chicago that will make that difficult. Simply put, the Hawks don’t have a lot of guys that will be easy to move.
One player who seems like the ultimate rental is Patrick Sharp. The veteran left winger has tons of championship experience and his $800,000 stipend would be easy to absorb by a team at the deadline. If only they could all be like ‘Sharpie.’
Seabrook, the owner of three rings himself, seems to be reaching the end of his effectiveness. But on top of his no-move clause, the big veteran also owns one of the most untradeable contracts in the NHL right now. Even if you did convince Seabrook to waive the clause, you’d have to find a trade partner willing to take on a 32-year-old defenseman with a ton of mileage on him who is also owed a cap hit of nearly $7 million a season until 2023-24. Seattle doesn’t even have a franchise yet and I can see Chicago offering them a first-rounder to take on Seabrook when they do join the league.
I suppose you could trade Brandon Saad again (he does carry a hefty $6 million cap hit), but at 25, he’s not exactly over the hill and he’s the type of player you prefer to hang on to – no sense making trades just for the sake of. Lance Bouma is, like Sharp, a pending unrestricted free agent on a cheap contract ($1 million) and maybe you could get a fifth-rounder for him. Sharp could fetch a second-rounder, I’d bet; third-rounder if the market is stiff.
So let’s pretend Chicago gets two picks in exchange for Sharp and Bouma. It’s not much, but also remember that the Blackhawks have a very good scouting staff. This is the organization that snapped up Alex DeBrincat in the second round, Dylan Sikura with the 178th pick overall and Tim Soderlund in the fourth round. Troops are coming, they just need time.
It’s not exactly a sexy solution to say “just wait,” but based on the architecture of the Hawks right now, it may be the only option at their disposal.