The NHL Trade Deadline is behind us for another year, and aside from recalling players from the minors, what you see on NHL rosters today is the same you will see until those 30 teams hit the ice at the beginning of the 2015-16 season.
With all the speculation gone, and the game itself the main focus, the Chicago Blackhawks are back in the spotlight. This time, however, it’s not for the same reasons as usual.
The Blackhawks have struggled ever since the calendar turned the page, and they played in the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day; their record in that time is 14-12-2. For a team that was 25-9-4 to that point, ‘slump’ is putting it lightly.
At the center of the Blackhawks’ struggles is their offense. Once at the pinnacle of the entire NHL, the Blackhawks’ offense now ranks sixteenth in goals/game, at a 2.74 clip.
True, Patrick Kane missing the rest of the regular season with an upper-body injury was a huge blow for the Blackhawks, but Kane’s absence outlined something many Blackhawks’ fans were becoming aware of; the lack of production coming from some of the Blackhawks’ other big guns.
No, we’re not pointing the finger at Marian Hossa or Jonathan Toews. Both have had solid production all season, and it has only increased since Kane went down with injury. Specifically, we’re looking at you, Patrick Sharp.
Sharp’s .61 points/game average this season is nowhere near the .95 rate he posted last season, and is a -12, all while costing the Blackhawks $6.5 million dollars in cap space.
Meanwhile, in Long Island, Nick Leddy is not only having a career year, but his New York Islanders are holding on to a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. The Islanders and Leddy have got along so well, it seems, that he will spend the next 7years with the team, after signing a contract extension worth $5.5 million/year in February.
After Leddy unintentionally ended the Blackhawks’ season last spring, as a puck deflected off him and past Corey Crawford during Game Seven overtime against the Los Angeles Kings, he would never play a game in the Blackhawks’ sweater again.
So, let’s play ‘what if’. What if Sharp was the one the Blackhawks sent away this summer, and Leddy stuck around?
Well, there would certainly be no need for the trade that brought Kimmo Timonen to Chicago just days before the trade deadline. It is clear that GM Stan Bowman and Head Coach Joel Quenneville felt that enough time had been spent developing Leddy, and though he does have a Stanley Cup ring, they felt that they could get by without him on defense, and if the need arises, they could swing a trade for a veteran defenseman.
One of those was true.
Yes, the Blackhawks certainly acquired an experienced blue-liner in Timonen, at 39 years old. In fact, this season will be his last, as he announced he will retire following the 2014-15 campaign.
Two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith has been good, but certainly not near the level he performed at last season. Brent Seabrook has once-again been lights-out defensively, and so has Niklas Hjalmarsson, for the majority of the year. The Blackhawks even fixed a temporary problem in the top-four, placing David Rundblad on his native right side with Keith, where he has found much more success than previously in the season.
The problem lies in the third pairing; Michal Roszival and Johnny Oduya are simply not pulling their weight. Leddy, in the final year of a contract that would be considered a relative bargain considering his play, could have slotted in that role once again this season, or at least bumped down Rundblad, and play on the top pairing with Keith. Both roles are familiar to the former Blackhawk.
Instead, the Blackhawks now have to rely on the aging Roszival and under-performing Oduya to play solid minutes against top-9 forwards, something they haven’t done well all year; their combined plus-minus is -4, on a Blackhawks’ squad that is +15.
True, the Blackhawks would have a hard time re-signing the defenseman this summer, assuming Sharp was replaced with a forward with a comparable salary cap hit. Leddy was due for a raise, and he got it in a town that could afford to pay him. However, if the Blackhawks were that much closer to winning another Stanley Cup, seeing Leddy walk out for nothing this summer wouldn’t have been so hard to take.
I’m sure some Blackhawks fans are still bitter about the trade, and could do without #10, especially after the year he’s having. Enter, our poll.
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