Tanner Kero squeezed off Blackhawks’ roster by depth, asset management

Kero might not be worthless. He just doesn’t have a use for this team.

The Chicago Blackhawks put forward Tanner Kero up for grabs Thursday by placing him on waivers. The other 30 teams will have 24 hours to put in claims to acquire the 25-year-old. If he clears waivers, the Hawks will assign him to the AHL in order to free up a roster spot.

The move shouldn’t really come as a surprise because the Blackhawks didn’t really do anything in terms of roster transactions over the first two months of the season. They were trying to let a new team gel for a while, and hopefully build some chemistry in the process. Then came a five-game losing streak.

So now come the changes, at least on a small scale, which start with putting Kero on waivers. It’s a reasonable move in the sense that you need to put somebody on waivers in order to free up a roster spot. He lost his job to Tommy Wingels and never seemed likely to win it back.

Let’s run through this since it’s an off day anyway.

The Blackhawks want to keep all their waiver-exempt players

Here’s the list of guys on Chicago’s roster that can be sent to the AHL right now without waivers: Nick Schmaltz, Alex DeBrincat, John Hayden, Gustav Forsling, and Jan Rutta. Want to ship off any of those guys to Rockford? The Hawks don’t want to, either. Those five have clearly cemented themselves as key players on the roster right now, which makes sense given their cheap entry-level deals.

So the only way to free up roster room without a trade is to place somebody on waivers. That’s where the next question comes in.

Why waive Kero over Oesterle?

The Blackhawks needed to waive somebody to make room on the roster. Your options logically would be the three guys who have been sitting in the press box for the last few weeks: Kero, Jordan Oesterle, and Michal Kempny. But this is where Kero gets squeezed again.

Think about which player is most likely to get claimed here. Kempny and Oesterle are both NHL-level defensemen on affordable deals. Kempny might be a little better than Oesterle, but the latter is signed to a two-year deal worth $650,000. The Blackhawks might be eyeing that 2018-19 season of Oesterle at that price and thinking, We can’t just let this guy hit waivers when we’ll need defensive depth as much as ever.

On the flip side, Kero seems exceeding expendable. He’s a serviceable fourth-line center, but he lost his job to Wingels. He’s no longer a prospect age 25. And the Blackhawks have more depth in their prospect ranks at forward than defenseman right now.

Consider all the players who could be called up now to replace Kero. There’s not just Vinnie Hinostroza, but David Kampf, Tomas Jurco, Matthew Highmore, Laurent Dauphin, and even Jordin Tootoo. (I really hope it’s not Tootoo, but let’s be honest, there’s a non-zero chance it’s Tootoo.)

So off goes Kero, and the Blackhawks will continue to operate with eight defensemen primarily because of asset management. They’re most confident that Kero will clear waivers, and least concerned of what will happen if he doesn’t anyway.

Will Kero be claimed, though?

It doesn’t seem impossible that another team could want a player like Kero for the next season-plus at a $750,000 cap hit. He’s not completely worthless, and teams have taken shots on players like Christopher DiDomenico, Nathan Walker, and Brandon Davidson in recent days.

But for the Blackhawks, Kero was fairly redundant on a roster that already has Wingels on the fourth line. And relative to Oesterle and Kempny, he was the easiest player to risk losing. So here we are.