With the NHL’s March 1 trade deadline fast approaching, the Blackhawks have a conundrum to sort out.
They’re sitting in second place in the Central Division. They’ve scored the ninth-most goals in the league (170), given up the 23rd-fewest (150) and are sitting on a 101.6 PDO.
Joel Quenneville doesn’t have the best team in the league — but it’s close. And with a Stanley Cup window that’s as wide as it’s ever been, he and the Hawks’ brass will have to decide what, if anything, can be added to push them over the edge heading into the home stretch.
This is not to suggest what the team should do. This is to explain what they flat out shouldn’t. And that’s to make Ryan Hartman or Nick Schmaltz available.
Obviously, no matter who calls with a trade offer, you pick up the phone and listen. But it should take a franchising-changing deal for the Hawks to consider it. Because that’s what the Hawks have in Schmaltz and Hartman: two guys who are quickly becoming every bit the face of the team that players like Patrick Sharp and Andrew Shaw were.
Schmaltz and Hartman have completely played themselves off the trading block in recent weeks (if they were ever on it to begin with).
Since being recalled from Rockford on Jan. 15, Schmaltz has seen his game transition to the NHL in the way scouts hoped he would at the beginning of the year. It’s not just that the forward is scoring more (three goals, four assists), he’s seeing the ice better overall, allowing him to slow the game down and work his way through defenders in the offensive zone to set up prime scoring chances like this one against Buffalo:
Schmaltz finds Panik for another prime scoring chance. pic.twitter.com/tze83p374Y— Blackhawks Breakdown (@HawksBreakdown) February 20, 2017
Individually, plays like these show off Schmaltz’s potential, yet with the Hawks pairing him on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik, the rookie’s talent has started to flourish in earnest.
The trio has combined for 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in the last five games.
Hartman, on the other hand, seems to be as close to a plug-and-play guy as the Hawks have. His knack for winning battles along with an ability to carry the puck and a quick shot — not to mention his overall energy — has made him one of the more invaluable players this season.
When the postseason rolls around, he’ll be depended on as much as anyone in Chicago’s locker room.
And, no, that’s not to say the Hawks have found a replacement for Sharp — he and Schmaltz are completely different players — nor does it mean Hartman has replaced Shaw.
But Shaw and Sharp were able to solidify roles on the team that no one else could duplicate. It made them tough pieces to even consider moving. Hartman and Schmaltz aren’t at that exact level yet, but they’re closing in on it faster than expected.
No one should be surprised if this current Hawks team doesn’t win the Stanley Cup this year, but that’s a different issue altogether. However, Chicago is on the verge on putting together a core like it did after winning in 2010.
The pieces didn’t all fit together at once. But the talent was there. It took a year like 2012, with the Hawks falling to Arizona in the first round, to figure out how to address their weaknesses. Moving around a bunch of young, promising players wasn’t necessary.
The same can be said for the Hawks right now. The talent is there. Maybe it takes another early round exit in the playoffs for it to grow, but spending big on outside help isn’t the answer. Not with Artemi Panarin’s extension about to kick in. Not with Alex DeBrincat getting ready to join the team.
And certainly not if it means trading away a future of Schmaltz and Hartman in Chicago.