The Chicago Blackhawks had two major concerns in the off-season: managing the salary cap and bolstering the blueline. Taking care of the cap wasn’t easy as the Blackhawks parted ways with Brandon Saad, let free agent Johnny Oduya walk and traded Patrick Sharp to the Dallas Stars. But in saying goodbye to Sharp, Chicago believed they had addressed their defense.
In the Sharp trade, Chicago GM Stan Bowman managed to land Ryan Garbutt and rearguard Trevor Daley. It was thought that Daley, a veteran earning $3.3 million per season, would be the fit on the back end that replaced Oduya. That hasn’t quite panned out, though. Matter of fact, it’s been the complete opposite.
Through 20 games, Daley has just three assists, is averaging less than 16 minutes per game and there are reports now that Daley finds himself on the trading block. It’s been more than just Daley’s play that has made him a trade candidate, though. Realistically, he hasn’t so much played himself off the Blackhawks as it is young players have shown that the 32-year-old blueliner is expendable.
Realistically, the writing could have been on the wall for Daley before the season began and maybe it’s something Bowman should have seen coming. The Blackhawks had a number of blueline prospects they valued in the AHL and the emergence of Trevor van Riemsdyk in 2014-15 gave the Blackhawks a second-pairing option who coach Joel Quenneville was familiar with. So as Daley tried to settle in, players such as Ville Pokka, Niklas Svedberg and Erik Gustafsson were all vying for spots in training camp, with van Riemsdyk possessing a surefire spot on the roster.
There were some questions about van Riemsdyk, though, which created concern about the second-pairing. But by the time the season began, it was van Riemsdyk, not Daley, who wiped those away. The 24-year-old found himself playing beside Brent Seabrook in the Blackhawks’ top four while Daley was relegated to the bottom-pairing.
With Michal Rozsival recovering from a fractured ankle, though, there was another bottom-pairing job open. That spot was won in training camp by Svedberg, but the 6-foot-8, 238-pound blueliner made a big impression on Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. Svedberg’s ice time grew by the game, and, when Duncan Keith went down with injury and the Blackhawks needed to shuffle their defensive pairings, Quenneville quickly opted for the towering blueliner to be the replacement in the top four. Daley, instead of getting big minutes with Keith out, was stuck with third-pairing duty and limited minutes.
During Keith’s absence, there was a game in which Daley played only 10 minutes, and even though Daley saw a significant increase in ice time during some outings, he remained closer to a 13-minute average than 15 minutes or more. But Daley was more than just a victim of circumstance. While Svedberg’s size helped him win the second-pairing spot, Daley could have very well earned a move up the lineup with his play. Instead, he seemed to be outplayed by the younger Svedberg on a near nightly basis.
While Keith was out, the Blackhawks also made the move to bring up Gustafsson from AHL Rockford. For almost his entire stay in the NHL, Gustafsson lined up beside Daley. It seemed like a chance to protect the 23-year-old defenseman during his first taste of the NHL, but instead Gustafsson shined in limited minutes, racked up three points in six games and was likely only demoted due to the Blackhawks’ cap situation.
But with Chicago’s defense finally healthy, it’s no wonder the rumors about Daley are growing stronger. The return of Keith and Rozsival resulted in demotions for both Svedberg and Gustafsson, but it’s hard not to feel as if the Blackhawks would have preferred to keep at least one of the two around. Moving Daley out makes that possible, especially considering it frees up more than $3 million in cap space.
Daley can still contribute — he hasn’t fluked into seven 20-point seasons — but he hasn’t seemed to fit in Chicago. And while the defensive depth was once seen as a problem, Bowman’s got himself a decent stock of defense in the AHL who could contribute now. It’s a good problem to have for the Blackhawks, and one that means Daley could be finding himself elsewhere by the time the season ends.