The Blackhawks seem to be taking a bit of a different tact to the NHL trade deadline this season. The past couple years, they were aggressive buyers who ponied up loads of assets to acquire veteran rentals for playoff runs to varied success.
Now GM Stan Bowman has indicated a more conservative plan, telling reporters he doesn’t expect trades and that top rookies such as Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz are off-limits.
Still, it seems like a portion of the hockey world isn’t quite buying Bowman’s stance, and there’s still a chance the Hawks make a move. The odds of a big name like Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, or James van Riemsdyk seem to be dwindling, but the door remains open for a smaller addition like Thomas Vanek.
Part of the trouble is that the Blackhawks don’t have as many trade assets as other teams following years of win-now management. A lack of salary cap space doesn’t help matters, either.
Still, Bowman could decide to pull the trigger on something over the next few weeks. Here’s a look at what the Blackhawks have to offer when he’s on the phone with other GMs.
Hartman, Schmaltz, Vinnie Hinostroza, Gustav Forsling, Tyler Motte, and Tanner Kero have all emerged as useful contributors at times for the Blackhawks this season. Five of them are in Rockford right now, but that’s just a salary cap move as at least three of them will be back for the next game on Saturday.
But recently, Bowman told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that the rookies won’t be traded, which would scratch some big assets off the table. Schmaltz in particular would be a juicy prize for teams negotiating with the Blackhawks, although now he’s playing on the same line as Jonathan Toews. Still, you imagine teams will ask for these pieces, and Bowman will repeatedly say no.
Pokka, who was acquired for Nick Leddy in 2014, is in an interesting situation with the Blackhawks. The 22-year-old is considered one of the organization’s best prospects, but he’s been in Rockford for the past year-plus without a clear path to the NHL. Forsling already passed him as the top defenseman prospect in the system, and this summer he’ll be both a restricted free agent and eligible for the expansion draft.
If there’s any top prospect who the Blackhawks might move for short-term reinforcements, it’s Pokka. But on the flip side, he’s still a young, talented right-handed defenseman on a team that badly could use one of those, so there’s a good chance they’re eyeing 2017-18 for his arrival as another cheap option given he won’t be able to command much money this summer.
But again, among the guys in Rockford who actually have trade value, Pokka is probably the most logical trade candidate.
This may be a player who other teams are circling around trying to see what the Blackhawks would want for him. Kempny hasn’t really found his role in Chicago since signing with the team over the summer, and at age 26, the Blackhawks don’t have much reason to be patient with him if they don’t want to use him now.
On the flip side, Kempny is among the team leaders in even strength Corsi (54.7 percent) and Corsi relative (+5.6 percent), so there’s a pretty good chance that he’s an NHL-caliber talent. His cap hit is also an affordable $700,000. The defenseman hits restricted free agency in the summer, and could be moved then, but maybe the Blackhawks get an offer soon that pushes them to pull the trigger and stick with Gustav Forsling and Michal Rozsival as their sixth and seventh defensemen, respectively.
McNeill could be included in a trade as a throw-in, or as part of a change-of-scenery deal a la Jeremy Morin-for-Richard Panik a year ago. Either way, his trade value is basically nil given he passed waivers unclaimed in October and hasn’t played well in the AHL this season, but there are signs the Blackhawks are ready to move on from the 2012 first-round pick. Just don’t expect much in return.
The Blackhawks have loads of lower-level prospects to offer in trades, although you have to imagine they’re not interested in discussing Alex DeBrincat right now. There are other players in college, juniors, and Europe who could tempt other teams, though, as well as fringe guys in Rockford like Carl Dahlstrom, Luke Johnson, and Erik Gustafsson. If the Hawks are willing to further dig into an already below-average prospect system, those guys could be in the mix.
The Blackhawks have already indicated they don’t want to trade their 2017 first-round pick given that the event in June is being hosted at the United Center. Not having a first-round pick when the NHL Draft is in your city wouldn’t be ideal, and while that’s not a hard line for the team in trade talks, it’s another consideration as they run what’s ultimately a very lucrative business.
However, if you open up the possibilities beyond the Blackhawks’ top pick, it’s possible they could make a smaller deal involving lower selections. Here’s a look at all of Chicago’s draft picks this year and next year:
|1||Own pick||Own pick|
|2||Own pick||Traded to MTL (Weise, Fleischmann)|
|3||Own pick||Own pick|
|4||Own pick||Own pick|
|5||Own pick; Acquired CAR's pick (Versteeg); Acquired STL's pick (2016 pick)||Own pick|
|6||Own pick; Acquired NYI's pick (2016 pick)||Own pick|
|7||Own pick; Acquired ANA's pick (Tropp)||Own pick|
Given that the Blackhawks have 10 draft picks this year, including three extra picks in the final three rounds, it wouldn’t be shocking if they used a couple of them to make a trade. Obviously fifth- and seventh-round picks don’t hold a ton of value, but there are often rentals traded before deadline who don’t get those big “first-rounder and a top prospect” returns. Maybe the Hawks use some of their cache of picks to add a rental instead of moving other pieces.
These are the primary assets that Bowman will likely be discussing with other GMs before the trade deadline. There are surely going to be other possibilities, too, and maybe even some bigger discussions involving the key players who make up the core of the roster, but those kinds of trades usually wait until the offseason, if they ever happen. All the no-movement and no-trade clauses involved only further complicates matters.
So it’s more likely these are the kinds of assets that Bowman will consider moving before March 1, even if he’s insistent that they’re operating under a different plan this season. Can he turn some of this stuff into a worthwhile acquisition? We’ll have to wait and see.