Dec 11, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defensemanKlas Dahlbeck
(44) and goalieScott Darling
(33) celebrate defeating the Boston Bruins 3-2 at TD Banknorth Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
With the season’s halfway mark now in the rearview, the next noteworthy date on the calendar for our beloved Chicago Blackhawks is just over a month away: the trade deadline on March 2nd.
At first glance it’s hard to fathom any position in which the Blackhawks’ brass are wanting, or any player they’d be willing to part ways with for that matter. However, I have purely hypothetical answers to both questions.
The Blackhawks’ defense has been superb this year so it’s hard to think of this area needing improvement, but the fact of the matter is the Hawks’ situation with their third defensive string has the potential of putting the team in a precarious position. While the first two lines of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson have been lights out this year, the third line has been nothing short of a merry-go-around for the bulk of the season.
Only recently has the rotational line-up of David Rundblad, Michal Rozsival and Tim Erixon been settled upon for the third line defense (pretty much for a lack of a better option), and if this doesn’t give you any concern, it should. For starters, it’s clear the 36-year-old Rozsival has been exceeding his already limited endurance, typified by the frequent times he’s been caught out of position and has had to commit a dumb penalty to compensate (the lone goal the Arizona Coyotes scored last Tuesday night occurred after just such a Rozsival blunder). These kinds of missteps have the potential of costing the Hawks games, and even series in the playoffs. Additionally, David Rundblad, and to a lesser extent Tim Erixon, have both shown good potential, but their development has been slow and steady, and their relatively novice NHL experience don’t do them any favors in the eyes of veteran-favoring Coach Joel Quenneville.
Now factor into all of the aforementioned an injury or suspension befalling one of the Blackhawks’ starting four blue-liners late in the season or during the playoffs, and the Hawks’ defense is suddenly stretched dangerously thin. With the departure of Nick Leddy, the Hawks have lost an anchor for their third line, and have instead resorted to employing a mix of tethers.
The way I see it, the Hawks have two options to address this potential pitfall. 1.) Assume Trevor van Riemsdyk will be able to pick up where he left off prior to his injury, or 2.) make a trade for a more proven defenseman.
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While TVR has played well with his “keeping it simple” style, there’s no guarantee he’ll be 100% upon his return, and even if he is, that’s still quite a bit of faith/pressure to put on a rookie, a rookie who’s missed a substantial amount of time. Therefore, option number two becomes a bit more attractive. The Blackhawks traditionally have dipped into their farm prospects when making on free-market acquisition, but this year things are a bit different. Instead of dealing in just pure player potential (which is always a toss up when it comes to assessing market value), the Hawks have a bit of a known quantity potentially on the trading block.
The player I’m talking about here is Scott Darling. So far Darling’s quite literal towering debut at the United Center has been one of the first highlights of this season for the Blackhawks. The Illinois native, who’s bounced around the minors for several years, took the ice with cool steadfastness that quickly caused everyone in Hawks Nation to take notice.
Darling’s debut has put the Blackhawks in an interesting position, because not only has one of their farm prospects had a tremendous debut, but he plays a high demand position, and unlike other goaltenders (i.e. Antti Raanta), the sheer amount of net his 6’ 6” 232 lbs. frame takes up is a hell of an insurance policy for any temporary, newbie shortcomings he may have presently. Plain and simple, Darling’s stock is high at the moment; a fact that I doubt has not been lost on the Blackhawks’ brass, nor is the potential paper tiger their defensive corp. can become should an untimely injury or suspension occur.
Furthermore, the Hawks have already made a long term commitment (contract-wise) to Corey Crawford, who, despite having his critics, has helped the Hawks win a Stanley Cup and make a deep playoff run. Additionally, Antti Raanta, while still a work in development, has shown he can step in for Crawford when needed.
While it can be debated how much of a role a goalie ultimately plays in helping his team win championships, statistically speaking, to truly have a chance at winning the Stanley Cup, a hockey team needs to have defensive capabilities that rank at least among the top five in the NHL, period. It doesn’t matter how high powered the Hawks offense is, as we painfully saw in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals last year, leads in games are meaningless if you can’t defend them. Yes the Hawks have a top-five ranked defense now, but the playoffs are still a ways off, and lots can happen in the meantime.
It should go without saying the Blackhawks are serious about raising their third Stanley Cup in six years, but this season they’re especially under the gun, as next year Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’ massive contracts kicking in will put the squeeze on the Hawks roster, undoubtedly resulting in the shedding of some key players. Thus, the Blackhawks front office needs to be especially proactive addressing any potential obstacles that could hinder their Stanley Cup bid this season.
While it’d be painful to see Scott Darling go to another team, it would be truly devastating to see the Blackhawks miss returning to the Stanley Cup Finals because of another flubbing by the third line defense.
Jan 12, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks centerAndrew Shaw
(65) looks for the puck with Edmonton Oilers goalieDevan Dubnyk
(40) and defensemanJeff Petry
(2) during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Blackhawks don’t need an all-star defenseman to helm the third line, but a proven utility player capable of holding down the fort and serve as a guide to whoever may be his line mate. Certain rumored defensemen trade candidates like Jeff Petry and Keith Yandle, for example, play for teams that could be considered in the market for a promising young goalie like Darling with the potential to become their long term solution between the pipes. Given the value Darling is presently commanding (though an additional draft pick may be needed), such a transaction would not necessarily be that outrageous.
For historic reference purposes, the Blackhawks are in a similar situation the Anaheim Ducks found themselves in last year with Jonas Hiller, Frederik Andersen, and Viktor Fasth all taking reps in the blue paint, and spoiler alert, Fasth and Hiller were traded.
Do I think the Blackhawks will follow the same route as the Ducks? Not at all, but given how replete the Hawks are presently at the crease, I’d have to imagine Hawks GM Stan Bowman is at least looking into the market value of Scott Darling, Antti Raanta, and even Corey Crawford.
Personally, I’d like to see Darling move into the back-up role and Raanta be shopped for a blue-liner, even though he’s not quite as marketable. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, happens come the trade deadline in March.
What do you think? Should the Blackhawks trade Scott Darling?
FOR THE DAGGER!