Diagnosing the Blackhawks' defensive issues has never been an easy thing to do. Even after a disastrous effort against Vancouver on Wednesday night, the team's overall numbers are quite strong, yet that performance was full of the things that have built up angst in the fan base: sloppy passes, poor positioning, a general inability to clear the zone.
So we've been hearing a lot about trades lately, even though the team's issues go far beyond one or two spots on the roster. Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival get the brunt of our frustration these days, but it would be naive to assume that removing them from the equation would magically solve what ails the team. When spacing and organization are issues, that's not something one guy -- or at least one attainable guy -- can address. Chris Chelios ain't walking through that door.
So when we talk about the Blackhawks making a deal before the March 2 deadline, it's important to keep that in mind. Whoever the team acquires won't be a Shea Weber-type superstar, and that means the biggest issues with the team's zone-clearing execution will need to be addressed from within. I don't think it's any coincidence that Chicago's biggest issue is consistency -- go look at the tape from the Anaheim game, or the ending of the St. Louis game -- the 'Hawks have top-level defense in them.
Executing consistently has been an issue, though, particularly since the calendar turned to 2015. We can attribute some of that to the usual malaise that seemingly comes over the franchise each year, but things have felt a bit more dire in recent weeks. So while the team could potentially stand pat and hope to figure things out -- it's still a top-3 defense overall this season -- it's getting harder to believe that a pivotal year in the Toews/Kane era will be wasted by an unwillingness to deal.
That means a trade seems possible, if not likely, even as the 'Hawks stare at some major cap limitations. While such a deal, presumably for a veteran defenseman, wouldn't solve everything wrong in Chicago, it could be the extra ingredient the team needs to get its zone-clearing efforts back on track.
Money is obviously the big issue, as the team realistically can't coax more than $1.5-1.6 million in cap space out of the current roster. That would be enough to acquire a decent player, but any significant addition would likely require the team to free up further cap space. If moving players off the NHL roster is a deal-breaker, the 'Hawks don't have as many options for serious improvement.
The most obvious option to shed salary off the roster seems to be Andrew Shaw, who's falling out of favor around these parts and could presumably fetch a decent draft pick or two. That could free up as much as $2 million in extra space, which brings you to between $3-4 million available and creates a lot more possibilities, like the ones you'll see below.
So with an extremely important caveat that someone like Shaw would need to traded to make these guys feasible, here are five defensemen rumored to be available who would be in the Blackhawks' potential price range:
Cody Franson, Maple Leafs
Contract: $3.3 million cap hit through 2014-15
Stats: 36 points (6G, 26A) in 53 games; +1.5 percent Corsi relative
This is probably the ideal scenario for the 'Hawks, who could use a talented veteran without a significant financial commitment. Franson is just that, an upcoming unrestricted free agent with a $3.3 million salary who's played quite well for the Maple Leafs this season. His right-handed shot would be welcomed on the blue line, he's among the league leaders in hits and his possession stats aren't terrible despite playing for Toronto.
The biggest problem with Franson is that he's also the ideal scenario for several other teams. If the 'Hawks get tugged into a bidding war with the likes of Detroit, Los Angeles and other prospective suitors, the asking price on one of the top available (affordable) defensemen could go through the roof.
Andrej Sekera, Hurricanes
Contract: $2.75 million through 2014-15
Stats: 18 points (2G, 16A) in 50 games; +2.0 percent Corsi relative
Another solid veteran on an expiring deal, Sekera seems like one of the prominent names most likely to be dealt. The Hurricanes probably don't want to let him walk for nothing in the offseason, and will get a chance to recoup some value now by shipping out the 28-year-old.
Sekera's numbers this season aren't spectacular, but he's only a year removed from a 44-point season and has done a solid job driving possession in a pairing with Justin Faulk this season. He's not playing quite as well as he did last season and he lacks postseason experience (eight games in 2010-11), but Sekera is one of the most attainable guys who could make a discernible difference.
Marc Methot, Senators
Contract: $3 million through 2014-15
Stats: 5 points (0G, 5A) in 15 games; +5.0 percent Corsi relative
The Senators are trying to re-sign Methot to maintain the pairing with superstar Erik Karlsson, but it seems increasingly likely the team will field calls on the 29-year-old. "I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t thinking about it every single day. This kind of stuff is hard to ignore, the potential of being moved is obviously real at this point," Methot told the Ottawa Citizen earlier in the week.
Methot missed the beginning of the season due to a back injury, but has since settled back in as one of Ottawa's top blue liners. The team's possession numbers are way up when he's on the ice, and he's already totaling over 21 minutes per game despite those health issues. If Methot comes significantly cheaper than Franson, which seems possible, then this might be a better route for the 'Hawks.
Nick Leddy, Islanders
Contract: $2.7 million through 2014-15
Stats: 22 points (7G, 15A) in 54 games; +3.6 percent Corsi relative
**deep breath **
Sigh. Miss you.
Jeff Petry, Oilers
Contract: $3.075 million through 2014-15
Stats: 12 points (4G, 8A) in 54 games; +1.5 percent Corsi relative
This could be an opportunity for the 'Hawks to get a somewhat undervalued asset if the Oilers decide to deal Petry, whose underlying numbers are more impressive than the 12 points in 54 games. When the 27-year-old is on the ice, Edmonton's possession numbers go up a couple percent, and that's despite playing over 56 percent of zone starts in the defensive end.
A low shooting percentage has been the primary culprit behind Petry's lack of raw production, and as we've seen recently with Marian Hossa, regression can come hard and fast on that end. The Oilers, as a team, have shot just 5.2 percent when Petry is on the ice, and even if they're not a particularly good offensive team, that's still well below even his career levels in Edmonton (7.4 percent).
So Petry will surely come cheaper than someone like Franson, who has three times as many points, and that could be a chance for the 'Hawks to save some value depending on Edmonton's asking price.
Marek Zidlicky, Devils
Contract: $3 million through 2014-15
Stats: 22 points (4G, 18A) in 54 games; +2.8 percent Corsi relative
There are a couple problems with bringing Zidlicky to Chicago. (a) His base salary is $3 million, but there's reportedly $1 million in incentives on the deal. If he reaches some of those incentives -- I couldn't find the details online -- then it could really complicate how the team fits him into their payroll. The Devils have the available cap space to swallow whatever incentives Zidlicky might reach, but obviously that's not the case for the 'Hawks. (b) The guy is 38 years old.
However, despite those things, Zidlicky could still make sense for the 'Hawks if the money can be figured out. I know the idea of adding another old guy sounds awful, but Zidlicky's maintained his production well into his 30s and even reached a Stanley Cup Final with New Jersey a few years back. So he could be another experienced option -- which we knows Q likes -- albeit somewhat of a long shot given the aforementioned road blocks.
Bonus: The Nuclear Option
I'm just gonna put it out there, and then immediately bury it because nah that's crazy talk. But you know, the 'Hawks have incredible forward depth these days, and would it really be that crazy to consider dealing a bigger salary like Patrick Sharp or Bryan Bickell to free up even more options this month? Yeah, it's probably crazy. Just thought I'd mention it anyway, since that could open up possibilities like Keith Yandle and Mike Green.