The Blackhawks’ Blue Line Depth Could Turn Into Trade Action (Again)

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Caleb Jones Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks’ Blue Line Depth Could Turn Into Trade Action (Again)

Chicago Blackhawks

Remember back on Oct. 19 when, for the first time during the 2022-23 season, I considered the crowded blue lines in Chicago and Rockford could lead to an early season trade?

I tend to think this year it could be [Nicolas] Beaudin who moves on early.

Beaudin was traded to Montreal nine days later.

Now that I’m recovered from the shoulder procedure after patting myself on the back too strongly, let’s hit the fast forward button almost one full month. It’s now Nov. 16 and the Blackhawks defensive group hasn’t become any less crowded.

Ian Mitchell is back on the ice, skating with the IceHogs. Jake McCabe is skating top-pair minutes in Chicago. Alec Regula and Filip Roos are trading games on the third pair in the NHL with the Blackhawks carrying seven defensemen and that’s before Seth Jones comes back from his thumb injury at some point soon.

Seth Jones went on IR with a thumb injury Nov. 1 with a 3-4 week timeframe for return. He’s been skating and (checks calendar) we’re getting close to the three week mark.

Would I prefer to see Mitchell or Regula over Caleb Jones for a couple weeks to see what they can do in the new system? Absolutely. Can the Blackhawks afford to carry eight defensemen? Not really — and they shouldn’t. Someone will have to go to Rockford to make roster space just for Seth to come back. When the regular season started, Regula was the last guy sent to Rockford; he was recalled when Seth went on IR.

So… once again, something’s gotta give.

Lots of people are ready to run Caleb Jones out of town after a couple rough games. His (tipped) giveaway that turned into Carolina’s third goal on Monday night will likely be the replay that everyone will link to when making other teams offers to take him for a bag of pucks or an eighth round draft pick. But let’s keep a couple things in mind with Caleb.

Luke Richardson came to his defense after the game on Monday night, pointing out the fact that he’s playing a significantly more important role right now than he’s used to, and that’s been painfully obvious at times. Over part of three seasons with the Oilers (97 games), Caleb averaged 15 minutes of ice time per game. In 2018-19 he skated an average of 19:48 per game — in 17 NHL games. This season he’s averaging 18:39, which is almost two minutes more than he averaged last year in 51 games with the Blackhawks.

There are enormous flaws in Caleb’s game. But there are some elements (his skating, for example) that coaches do like. And, at 14-16 minutes per game without relying on him to be the PP1 point man, he likely settles into a better situation. At the end of the day, though, he’s a 25-year-old left-handed shooting defenseman on a one-year deal at $1.35 million with RFA rights next summer. For a team that needs a rental on the blue line, Caleb could make sense.

Caleb isn’t the only guy in the final/only year of his contract in Chicago. Jack Johnson signed a one-year deal and is $400,000 less than Caleb against the cap. And Jarred Tinordi, who was claimed off waivers just before the start of the regular season, has a lower cap hit ($900,000) than Jack ($950,000). But Richardson has really liked what both of them has brought to the table.

Rockford also has too many bodies right now, so a demotion doesn’t help (again). On the same day the Blackhawks traded Beaudin, they sent forward Evan Barratt to Philly for defenseman Cooper Zech. He has appeared in two games for the IceHogs but would figure to be the bottom of the depth chart because he wasn’t drafted by Davidson. He’ll also turn 24 in mid-December, doesn’t fit the physical mold we’ve seen Davidson clearly prefers (Zech is listed at 5-9 and 161 pounds) and has no NHL experience.

As I also outlined today, there are a number of teams that might/should be interested in a rental on the blue line. With a potential roster issue looming when Seth is healthy enough to return, it’s worth keeping an eye out for if the Blackhawks will get active early again.

Author: Tab Bamford

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab