Hockey is known as a suitcase lifestyle. Not only are teams on the road for up to three weeks at a time, but players can find themselves with a new team every year, sometimes less. Michal Handzus was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks just 265 days ago, and now, he may be on the way out of the Windy City.
The Blackhawks weren’t taking a gamble when the acquired Handzus from the San Jose Sharks for a fourth-round draft pick. In fact, they got more than they bargained for. Handzus was brought in to improve the Blackhawks in the faceoff circle, taking over the second-line center position that has been a troublesome spot for the club for years. The 36-year old rejuvenated his play almost immediately, scoring 6 points in 11 games, far better than his 2 points he had in the 28 games previous with the Sharks. Handzus was a big contributor in the Blackhawks’ playoff run, with a shorthanded goal and 11 points, en route to his first Stanley Cup of his 16-year career. Handzus contemplated retirement, but signed on for one more year, with a $1 million deal in the off-season.
Fast-forward to 2013-14. Handzus wins the battle against Brandon Pirri in training camp to center the second line, and the AHL’s leading scorer is sent back down. Handzus appeared in the first 9 games of the season, scoring three points, before being pulled out of the lineup with an “upper-body injury” that was never disclosed. Handzus moved from a scratch to the Injured Reserve, and currently sits off the Blackhawks’ active roster, on Long Term Injured Reserve. Pirri was recalled immediately to fill the role, and the 22-year old has 6 goals and 11 points in 17 games, and is winning faceoffs at a 43% clip, impressive for a rookie.
The Blackhawks’ usual situation at center has been solved, and now Handzus is out of a roster spot. As long as Head Coach Joel Quenneville sticks with the hot hand, Handzus will continue to watch from the press box once he is healthy (reports suggest that could be within the next week).
So, does Handzus have to go?
Absolutely. The Blackhawks have been hit with a bad bout of injuries, and now face trouble recalling prospects to fill that void because of salary cap space. Trading Handzus and his low cap-hit can make room for an extra winger to come up into the lineup, Jeremy Morin, who spent a stint with the team already this season. Handzus’ faceoff abilities are in great need with a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs, where they only have 2 out of 4 of their starting centers in the lineup. The fourth, former Blackhawk Dave Bolland, suffered an Achilles tendon injury, and is expected to miss a substantial amount of time. With Tyler Bozak just resuming practice this week, and obviously not at 100% health just yet, Handzus could join the team in the next 7-10 days and make an immediate impact. The Leafs have already tried to patch their center situation, acquiring young gun Peter Holland from the Anaheim Ducks, but he is fresh and unproven, leaving 28-year old Trevor Smith as the most experienced Center on their active roster. Handzus’ $1 million cap hit is easily affordable by the young team, and he could be used as a rental player, helping beef up the Leafs’ lineup as they plan on a lengthy playoff run.
Handzus’ fit in Toronto would be a great one. However, Chicago Blackhawks’ GM Stan Bowman has an extremely short opportunity to make this trade, as he is waiting on Handzus’ health to recover before exploring any options. In that time, Bozak could be back in the lineup for the Leafs, and they would have lots more flexibility at center. This potential trade will all come down to which of the two pivots’ health recovers quicker. If no deal is made, Handzus will return to Chicago, but will most likely be put up on the trade market near the deadline as a rental center.
What do you think? Does Handzus have to go?
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