Normally, April 12th signals the end of the NHL regular season and the beginning of the Stanley Cup playoffs. But we are not in normal times, and haven’t been for a year. Even still, the NHL Trade Deadline is coming up on that very same date (April 12th), and that has us thinking about any potential moves Stan Bowman might have in mind to push the Blackhawks forward in the playoff hunt (or the rebuilding process, for that matter).
However, according to Scott Powers and Mark Lazerus, there’s little reason to believe that Stan Bowman will be doing much of anything at the deadline, at least in terms of any buy-side trades:
With the team likely to be in a dogfight for the fourth playoff spot in the Central Division this year, Stan Bowman surely has at least an itch to see if the missing piece is out there.
But a league source said Bowman is unlikely to fall into that trap and that he’s still focused on the bigger picture.
“He knows that the success this season is really just a bonus,” the source said. “They’re still looking at another year or two before they’re really done with this rebuilding process.”
The Blackhawks are currently sitting on roughly $22.09M in cap space, but are not necessarily in a position to fill that space by acquiring players for a playoff push. Chicago is a young team in a rebuilding phase. They have had success this season, but the long-term plan is still to build the organization back up from what was left in the wake of the “One Goal” Dynasty era of transactions.
And remember, Chicago is still playing without Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach, and Alex Nylander, all of whom were expected to be major contributors this season. And, indeed, it’s looking like Dach’s accelerated timetable could be viewed as the “deadline acquisition” of sorts for Bowman. But that’s about it.
Put simply, the Blackhawks are not in a position to put all their chips on the table to try and make a run to the Stanley Cup this season. It would be wasteful to acquire high-priority players at the expense of their draft capital or high-value prospects, some of whom are part of the reason the Blackhawks are in the playoff hunt.
But Chicago could be in the market, either at the deadline or in the offseason, to take on high-priced deals that teams are looking to offload. Therefore potentially gaining draft capital, rather than trading it away, something we haven’t seen Stan Bowman do a lot of in his tenure as general manager in Chicago. A name mentioned by Lazerus and Powers is Loui Eriksson of the Vancouver Canucks, who will enter the final year of his current deal next season with a $6M cap hit.
As far as movable players for the Blackhawks, Ian Mendes and Sean Gentille (The Athletic) have some thoughts:
Chicago also has some more obvious bait in Soderberg ($1 million) and Janmark ($2.25 million), who are decent depth forward options. Soderberg is probably the better bet there; his point production has ticked upward of late, and his expected goals-for percentage of nearly 59 is best among Chicago’s regular forwards.
Mattias Janmark and Carl Söderberg could be intriguing players for teams who are looking to get over the hump at the top of the league. Both are very serviceable players on one-year deals that would expire after this season.
With players like David Kämpf, Pius Suter, and Brandon Hagel becoming Restricted Free Agents this offseason, Chicago will need all the workable cap space they can get to keep these young pieces of the puzzle in place.
Another player to watch, according to Mendes and Gentille, is Dylan Strome. He signed an extension prior to this season that runs through next season (2021-22) at a $3M cap hit, which could make his a very interesting trade piece this offseason. But, the uncertainty of Toews makes Strome potentially key for the Blackhawks. What if Toews is unable to continue his career? The Blackhawks center depth would take a massive hit if they were without Toews AND Strome long-term. At 24-years-old, Strome is a player to keep an eye on around the league.
Of course, Powers also says that the Blackhawks COULD sign Maxim Shalunov once his KHL season ends, but I think he’s contractually obligated to say that in every other story he writes. Shalunov should be an afterthought for the Blackhawks at this point. He’s no longer a “prospect” at 28-years-old, and has played 355 games in the KHL over the past nine seasons.
We know what he is as a player now and the time to strike on Shalunov should have been around 2016. He’s a 0.52 point per game player over his last three seasons in the KHL and probably projects as a bottom-six forward at this point for Chicago. Plus, he’d sign a similar contract to Pius Suter’s deal this season (one-year, entry-level) so I don’t see the upside for the Blackhawks.
We’ll keep an eye on the movers and shakers in the league as the trade deadline approaches over the next month, but I wouldn’t hold your breath hoping for a blockbuster move from the Blackhawks, or from any other team.
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.