The NHL’s holiday roster freeze is still in place, but that doesn’t mean the trade chatter isn’t happening behind the scenes. Teams are already jockeying for position in the playoff picture, and injuries around the league are starting to make front offices consider their needs in the short and longer-term if they want to make a run in the postseason.
The Blackhawks are going to be sellers at the deadline. We knew this when they started selling at the draft back in the summer. But the hope when the season started was that some of the players on the roster would perform well enough to increase their value when the phone calls came about some of the players general manager Kyle Davidson could have available.
And some of the Blackhawks skaters have done precisely that. Here are a few guys who have helped their stock increase thus far.
Domi signed a one-year deal with the Blackhawks this past summer that carries a modest $3M cap hit. When the deal was announced, I liked his potential to raise his trade value but questioned his fit as a full-time center considering how he’d performed historically at the dot. Well, unlike some other young centers who have come to Chicago and struggled in the faceoff circle, the improvement from Domi was immediate. He’s in the league’s top-20 (min. 400 faceoffs) at 55.6 percent this season, which helps his value a great deal.
Domi is also tied with Jonathan Toews for the team lead with 11 goals and ranks second on the team with 23 points (behind Patrick Kane). That $3M cap hit is going to look awfully good to teams looking for a guy who can win faceoffs now, especially when you consider the cap hit and cost to acquire another top tier center like Toews or Bo Horvat before the deadline.
Khaira was a loss last year because of multiple injuries. He inked a multi-year deal from the previous regime that raised eyebrows at the time because… well, the Blackhawks appeared to have plenty of fourth-line options. Adding another physical player didn’t make sense.
The good news: the Blackhawks still have lots of guys who belong on a fourth (or fifth) line. And Khaira has remained healthy mostly this year and has done a really nice job. Carrying a $975,000 cap hit and in a walk-year (he’s UFA this summer), he’s the kind of affordable rental that could make a lot of sense for a team looking to add some sandpaper (cough, Edmonton, cough).
Add to his physical play (51 hits, ranks sixth on the Blackhawks) an ability to win faceoffs (he’s 61.7 percent at the dot, albeit in only 60 faceoffs), Khaira could be a nice buy-low option for the Blackhawks at the deadline. Remember: Kyle Davidson was able to get a late-round pick for Ryan Carpenter last year.
Johnson was an extra body on the Avalanche’s Stanley Cup championship team last year and inked a one-year deal with the Blackhawks in large part because he was a steady, veteran presence on the back end. Little did we know back in September that he would average over 20 minutes per game through Christmas and would prove to be more than just a veteran body on the back end.
Johnson has been credited with 40 hits and 54 blocked shots thus far this season. He’s also put 41 shots on net, which is only four fewer than Taylor Raddysh (who ranks seventh on the team). If a team is looking for an affordable veteran to help their defensive group, Johnson’s $950,000 cap hit could make him a more attractive asset with his ice time load thus far this season.
I’m going to put an asterisk on this one just because he’s presently on IR and has had a rough couple weeks. He took a skate blade to the face in his first shift after returning from IR the first time and then took a puck to the face after that and now has a facial fracture that’s going to keep him out of the lineup for a while.
But when the Blackhawks claimed him off waivers from the Rangers, I was one of those who wondered why the Blackhawks were grabbing a stay-home guy who hadn’t been able to crack an NHL lineup with any regularity yet despite being a former first-round pick.
Tinordi has been a really nice, steadying player on the Blackhawks’ blue line when he’s been healthy this season. He leads the team with 92 hits — Jake McCabe is second with 64 — despite missing seven games because of injury. He’s averaging 16:47 per night and has also been credited with 37 blocked shots (fifth on the team). With a $900,000 cap hit, a team looking for someone to be an enforcer on the back end who has now shown the ability to skate bigger minutes might be willing to rent Tinordi down the stretch.