Salary cap talk is getting to be a bit of dead horse around these parts, huh? Here we are with one of, if not the most talented teams in the NHL, and yet they’re struggling a bit on the blue line. And even though there are plenty of solid NHL defensemen reportedly available, such as Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Arizona Coyotes, and Dion Phaneuf of the Maple Leafs, we can’t even start thinking about the possibility of one of the Blackhawks acquiring one of those players due to their big cap hits.
We’ve explored a few solid options that the Blackhawks could realistically pursue on the blue line without going "nuclear" and trading a guy like Patrick Sharp. It's a group of solid veterans on expiring deals. However, are any of those guys really talented enough to put the ‘Hawks over the top in a stacked West? Maybe not.
Cody Franson looked like a nice option, but then he was gobbled up by Central Division rival the Nashville Predators, along with talented forawrd Mike Santorelli. Regardless of your thoughts on the trade and what it means for the Preds, one thing we know for sure is that they are all in this year. They have the Stanley Cup on their mind, and they're doing whatever they can to get it. The Blackhawks might have to answer the same bell.
What if the "nuclear" option wasn’t so nuclear? Why is it considered nuclear to trade one of the several $4-plus million cap-hit forwards that the Blackhawks have in an effort to acquire a true difference maker to add the Blackhawks blue line? Why can’t we seriously consider that the Blackhawks might look into trading Sharp or Bryan Bickell?
The Blackhawks could probably survive without one of the two. The top-six is pretty much set regardless of which one would go, and Sharp and Bickell have both been playing bottom six roles of late. That's close to $10-million in cap space for two bottom-six guys. If they recalled Teuvo Teravainen and added him to the third line, it's hard to think they'd be that much worse, especially after adding the new defenseman.
Bickell would obviously be a tougher sell to other teams. With his weighty $4 million cap hit still set to go through the next two seasons, it's tough to turn him into much other than a draft pick, and that might only be a second-rounder or two from another contending team. But hey, if the ‘Hawks can be rid of that big contract, and it provides them the opportunity to acquire a player like Yandle or OEL, couldn't that be worth it?
On the other hand, when you look at a guy like Sharp, there’s a lot of value there. There are plenty of teams out there that have a whole crop of high-potential prospects, are in contending positions, and are looking for that elite goal scorer to really put them over the top. A team that comes to mind off the top of the head is the Calgary Flames. They’re currently in line to make the playoffs over teams like Minnestoa and L.A., and they have over $13 million in cap space. Would they be willing to trade Sven Baertschi, or 2014 first-round pick Sam Bennett for Sharp? Maybe, and it might be worth exploring.
In terms of production, the decision as to which player to move is obvious. Bickell isn’t nearly as productive as Sharp is, and while he has been good in the playoffs over the last two seasons, that might not be enough to justify keeping him and his bad contract around, especially if it means you can add a top-level defensemen to your roster.
However, Sharp is definitely the more valuable player on the trade market. Trading him to make room for a better defenseman could mean that the ‘Hawks also end up with an elite or at least very good prospect as well. With the cap restrictions coming up, Sharp might not have much time left in Chicago anyway, so if the ‘Hawks think moving him now in order to get one of those better defensemen gives them the best chance to win this year, and in the future, why not pull the trigger?
I’m not saying this is a must-do, and I'm not even really trying to endorse the idea. But this is definitely a conversation worth having. It shouldn't be dismissed outright. Moving one of Sharp or Bickell might not be favorable, but if it means that the Blackhawks can add a true difference maker to the blue-line, particularly an elite puck moving defenseman like Yandle or Ekman-Larsson, it might be the best option they have when it comes to trying to win this year.
Sharp and Bickell have been key contributors to this team in the past, but you could make the argument that they aren’t nearly as important to the team as the once were, and the notion of trading them is at last worth exploring. It might not be so nuclear after all.