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Best defensive fits for Blackhawks on trade market

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From Vegas to Carolina, the defensemen Chicago should, and can realistically, kick the tires on.

Dallas Stars v Vegas Golden Knights
Colin Miller of the Vegas Golden Knights skates against the Dallas Stars in the first period in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Blackhawks have been active on the trade market. They’ve already acquired Olli Maatta from the Penguins for Dominik Kahun and a fifth-round pick and they’ll look to move other players — namely Artem Anisimov — during the rest of the offseason. General manager Stan Bowman has said the Blackhawks will remain active in the trade market, and with plenty of salary cap space, they could be a team to watch.

So who on the trade market, in terms of defensemen with rumors already out about them possibly being available, make the most sense for the Blackhawks to trade for? And what would it reasonably take to acquire them?

Brett Pesce, RHD, Hurricanes

Before the Blackhawks traded for Maatta, they were linked to the Hurricanes in trade talks. No doubt this discussion focused on a defenseman, of which the Hurricanes have many. Even in the AHL, two of the best defensemen in the playoffs were on Carolina’s affiliate, the Calder Cup champion Charlotte Checkers. Jake Bean and Haydn Fleury proved in the AHL’s postseason that both are deserving of an NHL spot.

So the Hurricanes will likely cast off a defenseman this offseason, probably to bring in more scoring depth. The Blackhawks have already made one such trade — a defenseman for scoring depth — by trading Kahun for Maatta. But here’s the thing — the Blackhawks had a lot of scoring depth. It may make sense to cast off another forward if it brings back the right defenseman.

That right defenseman is Pesce. The Hurricanes could make a number of defensemen available, but besides Jaccob Slavin, who should not be made available, Pesce is the best option to target. When Slavin was paired with Pesce, he had better numbers in high-danger share, goal share, and expected goal share, despite Slavin having a much larger defensive zone starting percentage with Pesce than without him. Justin Faulk, Pesce’s second-most common partner, also experienced better numbers with than without.

Pesce had a similar effect on the penalty kill. He was also 15th amongst defensemen, according to Evolving Hockey’s wins above replacement metric with 2.3. So how do the Blackhawks acquire Pesce? Well, Brandon Saad is probably the starting point. The Hurricanes need more two-way forwards with the capability to score, and Saad is one of those players. The Blackhawks may need to add more to get what is a top-pairing defenseman, perhaps including next year’s second-round pick or a future pick.

Is that a cost the Blackhawks should be willing to pay? For Pesce, yes. Yes it is.

Colin Miller, RHD, Golden Knights

I write for both Second City Hockey and Knights on Ice, and as such, I’ve watched a lot of Golden Knights games during the last two years. My dream Blackhawk should never, ever be available to them — Shea Theodore should be a career Golden Knight. If he’s not, that’s a huge mistake made by Vegas. Colin Miller, however, is available. And that should entice Chicago.

Miller played top-four minutes when Nate Schmidt was suspended last season, and he did it well. He’s proven to be capable of moving the puck effectively out of the defensive zone and within the neutral and offensive zones. Plus, his 29 points in 65 games shows that he’s still a more capable offensive defenseman than the Blackhawks are likely to find anywhere else, in free agency or otherwise. And that’s on a season with bad puck luck across the Vegas lineup.

But that’s not the only impressive thing about Miller. His defensive ability and 200-foot game stood out as well.

You’d expect better power play numbers out of an offensive defenseman like Miller, yes. But those are truly great numbers in expected goals against and in defensive Corsi. Miller is a perfect compliment to someone like Connor Murphy or Maatta. He’s fast where they’re slow. He moves the puck up ice quickly. He has an excellent shot he uses often — 131 times last season — and he’s not signed too long term.

And best of all, he’s cheap. Making just $3.875 million, Miller can be acquired from Vegas for less than he should otherwise because the Golden Knights have found themselves strapped against the salary cap with William Karlsson and Nikita Gusev still left to pay in restricted free agency. If the Blackhawks have to part with anything more than a prospect and a future mid-round draft pick, that would be a surprise.

Shayne Gostisbehere, LHD, Flyers

The Flyers just traded Radko Gudas for Matt Niskanen and two picks for Justin Braun. It’s clear GM Chuck Fletcher is looking for something the Flyers don’t have, and that’s the exact opposite of Gostisbehere. The Flyers want older, slower defensemen to pair with their quicker, younger guys. Philadelphia didn’t just acquire Niskanen and Braun not to put them in their top four. With Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim, Gostisbehere looks to be the odd man out.

And at just 26 years old, that should play directly into the Blackhawks’ hands. Gostisbehere has been in the top 20 in Norris voting twice, and has two 10-plus goal seasons. He only had 37 points last season after having 65 the season before, but part of that was playing fewer minutes. If the Blackhawks acquire him, there’s no reason not to put him on the top pairing.

Both of Gostisbehere’s two most common defensive partners — Provorov and Christian Folin — were better with him than without. He had a positive impact on both the 5v5 defense for the Flyers as well as the power play.

Gostisbehere, like Miller, would be an excellent compliment on the Blackhawks’ blue line, somebody who can be added to the top four and play with either Maatta or Murphy and be the reliable offensive horse. He can be the power play quarterback by himself or, if the Blackhawks opt to go with Erik Gustafsson on the first unit, help someone like Henri Jokiharju learn the ropes.

The Blackhawks wouldn’t have to trade a massive piece to acquire Gostisbehere either. There were rumors earlier this month the Flyers were looking at Andrew Shaw or Paul Byron as return pieces from the Canadiens. That’s a depth scorer the Flyers want, and again, that’s something the Blackhawks have. Drake Caggiula, Dylan Sikura and Brendan Perlini are all pieces that can be moved in a trade. While that probably isn’t enough for Gostisbehere, throwing in a pick wouldn’t hurt.

Poll

Which defenseman should GM Stan Bowman consider?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Pesce - RHD, Hurricanes
    (258 votes)
  • 30%
    Miller - RHD, Golden Knights
    (331 votes)
  • 45%
    Gostisbehere - LHD, Flyers
    (500 votes)
1089 votes total Vote Now