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Best forward fits for Blackhawks on trade market

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From San Jose to Montreal, the forwards Chicago should, and can realistically, kick the tires on.

Chicago Blackhawks v Montreal Canadiens
Andrew Shaw #65 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the Chicago Blackhawks
Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/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 forwards 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?

Timo Meier, LW, Sharks

Meier would be the costliest addition on this list. Not only is he the youngest member of the Sharks at just 22, he also had the fourth most points on the team with 66 (30 goals, 36 assists) and a points per game average of 0.85 in 2018-19. But with Erik Karlsson’s recent $11.5 million AAV contract signed by the San Jose Sharks, and with millions on the cap already with Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the Sharks will be up against the salary cap. It would make some sense for a team to offer sheet Meier.

But offer sheets don’t happen in the modern NHL. What could happen, and what happened the last time there was a legitimate offer sheet threat, was a trade. That was with Saad back in 2015. If the Sharks feel like they’re going to get offer sheets on Meier, they could easily just move him.

And it would make a lot of sense for the Blackhawks to acquire him. He’d be a power forward who could fit with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane better than any forward has since the magnificent playoff run Bryan Bickell had in 2013. He’s that exact model of Bickell, the big, looming threat who can get to the high-danger areas and add to the line’s defensive ability.

Meier was most commonly played with Logan Couture and either Joe Pavelski or Tomas Hertl this season, and he made both versions of that line better. Here’s his impact on the Sharks’ offense.

Again, Meier would be tremendously costly. The Blackhawks would have to define what they believe is untouchable — a list that likely includes those with no move clauses, as well as Alex DeBrincat and now Dylan Strome, but everyone else should be on the table. Next year’s first is a likely starting point. With a little more (Gustav Forsling and one of the top forwards from Rockford)? Why not make that trade?

Jason Zucker, LW, Wild

The next two, including Zucker, would be the most challenging players to acquire, if only because in-division trades between teams both hoping to contend don’t happen that often. Yeah, teams can sell off players at the deadline to inter-divisional rivals, but that’s if they believe they’re done like the Blues did when they traded Paul Stastny to the Jets in 2018. A trade between Minnesota and Chicago this offseason doesn’t have that same situation.

Still, acquiring Zucker is something the Blackhawks should look into. He’s a four-time 20-goal scorer who scored 33 the season before last. He’s someone who’s played more minutes every season, and can fit on the top line. Moreover, he’s protects the puck well and is crafty at stealing the puck from opponents. He had 47 takeaways to 31 giveaways last season. He drew 34 penalties and had 214 shots. He’s a natural finisher, exactly what the Toews-Kane line needs.

Zucker can add to the power play and while he didn’t have the best luck last season or the most astounding defensive numbers, he’s still capable offensively. He’d also be the cheapest forward to acquire among these selections, if it wasn’t for the whole division thing.

Zucker would likely cost the Blackhawks more than he would other teams, but that shouldn’t be past a fourth-round pick. There’s rumors Buffalo has been in contact with Minnesota, and that would mean trading a defenseman. The Blackhawks have young defensemen in Forsling and Carl Dahlstrom available, but they’re not at the same level as Buffalo’s experienced defensemen. Slater Koekkoek could head the other way with a higher-round pick and the fourth.

Nikolaj Ehlers, RW, Jets

That Central-division-hard-to-trade-between-rivals is again present in Nikolaj Ehlers, but again, Ehlers is a player worth the hassle. He’s someone who made a line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler much better, which is a very hard task to accomplish. He’s a capable puck mover, and one of the faster players in the league.

For as talented as the Blackhawks are, that’s something they’re currently missing — nobody on the team plays with much speed. Kane and Toews are older. DeBrincat has never been known for his skating, and neither is Strome. The depth players on the Blackhawks are mobile, but the closest the Blackhawks come to fast is probably Perlini or Alexandre Fortin.

Ehlers adds to his speed as well, and he’s scored 20 goals each of the last three seasons, despite limited minutes. He’s capable in his own end as well, and while he’s not as good on the power play, where the defense is more able to get set and Ehlers’ speed is taken out of the equation, that’s not a necessity for the Blackhawks, who currently have a set first unit.

That’s a player who could play on either of the Blackhawks’ top two lines and immediately add to it. But Ehlers, 23, will be expensive. The Jets aren’t near the salary cap ceiling, but they have Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor to re-sign, as well as Tyler Myers and now Neal Pionk, who the Jets just traded Jacob Trouba for. Getting rid of Ehlers’ $6 million annual cap hit might be in their interest.

And as Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff showed by trading Trouba for well below market value, he’s willing to trade good players for young defensemen. The Blackhawks have those in Forsling, Dahlstrom, and those who would have to be included with far less of a package in prospects Nicolas Beaudin and Ian Mitchell. The Blackhawks drafted Alex Vlasic in the second round, so there’s a surplus now of talented young defensemen.

Bonus: Andrew Shaw, RW, Canadiens

Chicago should absolutely want Shaw back. Trading him meant the Blackhawks got two second-round picks, which became Alex DeBrincat and defenseman prospect Chad Krys. But as a part of two Stanley Cup championships with the Blackhawks, Shaw was the lovable Mutt — the guy who worked harder than anyone, and did anything he could to win.

Shaw had one of the best performances by any forward last season with the Canadiens, and was 18th in even strength goals above replacement last season and 77th in wins above replacement. He’s blossomed into the middle-six forward the Blackhawks knew he could be, capable in both ends and still just as hard working. He’s cut down on penalty minutes and suspensions. DeBrincat and Strome could use more help in their own end and offensively. Bringing back Shaw to complete the line could be just what the duo needs.

Shaw even made a line with Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin better, and had a 53.79 expected goal share last season.

Shaw has the same effect on the penalty kill. Bringing him back means the Blackhawks add more grit to their middle six, and more depth to their forward corps. Shaw has shown an ability to fit anywhere in a lineup, and even just with the Blackhawks played with Toews on the first line, centered Saad and Kane on the second, and played a prominent shutdown role with Marcus Kruger and Andrew Desjardins.

Shaw has only improved since he left Chicago, and now he’s (rumored to be) available, the Blackhawks bringing him in would be worth it. It’s time for Bowman’s tradition of bringing the boys back to pay off, and Shaw might be the player to do so.

The Blackhawks could give up center depth to bring in Shaw, and trade Anisimov — whose modified no-trade clause with 10 teams he can be traded to expires July 1 — and maybe a little more, including casting off one of the Rockford defensemen, somebody the Canadiens should have interest in, and the deal could work for both sides.

Poll

Which forward should GM Stan Bowman target?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Meier - LW, Sharks
    (884 votes)
  • 5%
    Zucker - LW, Wild
    (152 votes)
  • 13%
    Ehlers - RW, Jets
    (331 votes)
  • 46%
    Shaw - RW, Canadiens
    (1174 votes)
2541 votes total Vote Now