By now, most Chicago Blackhawks fans have heard that the Trevor Daley experience came to an end Monday night, as Stan Bowman dealt him to the Pittsburgh Penguins for another defenseman in Rob Scuderi. Daley was one of the key pieces in a trade that sent Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns to Dallas in the offseason. And after just 29 games in the Indian Head, Daley is moving on.
It had been reported last month that Ottawa was interested in dealing for Daley, and that Bowman had given his asking price for the defenseman, so the fact Daley was moved is not totally surprising. The report Daley wanted out of Chicago as well is a little more surprising, but considering he didn’t fit well in Joel Quenneville‘s system, this isn’t a bombshell either.
There is a very interesting aspect to this deal, however. Considering Scuderi is pretty much a worse version of Michal Rozsival (yes, really), this move wasn’t made to shore up the Blackhawks defense. If anything, it either has a negligible effect on the unit or makes it worse by killing off a defenseman who could move the puck up ice and replacing him with a pylon. So why did Bowman make this play?
It’s a matter of dollars and cents, and it may be a precursor to something more impactful. At first glance, the money doesn’t suggest the Blackhawks made off well, as Scuderi is currently on a two-year, $3.375 million/year contract, while Daley is at two years, $3.3 million. But it’s not a wash, because the Penguins are not only taking all of Daley’s salary, but also $1.125 million of Scuderi’s per year. So the Blackhawks effectively freed up $1,050,000 in cap space while gaining Scuderi.
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If I’m doing the math correctly, the Blackhawks are currently $2,946,538 under the salary cap, and that’s with the team able to add a player to fill out its 23-man roster. So, they have some room for legitimate maneuvering to address the serious need on this team: a second-pairing defenseman.
Trevor van Riemsdyk clearly needs third-pairing minutes, and while Rozsival has been fine since his return from injury, he’s not about to play 20-plus minutes a night every game until the postseason — and then 23-ish minutes a night at that point. The Blackhawks need to find a way to shore up their blue line with some experience but also some ability — AKA a player who isn’t just off the boat, but also one who isn’t about ready to be buried at sea.
Considering the Blackhawks probably aren’t going to find a player who suits their needs or interests in the free agent pool, this means another trade. That leaves two big questions: Who are potential targets, and who would go the other way for Chicago?
Neither question has a predominant theory or answer. Looking at the first query, we could eye Edmonton’s Nikita Nikitin, who may have almost become a Blackhawk much earlier this season if a deal for Bryan Bickell had gone through. Nikitin carries a nasty $4.5 million cap hit, and he just came back from a stint in the AHL. So unless the price is really right for Bowman, this deal is probably dead.
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If the Buffalo Sabres continue to falter, perhaps Mike Weber or Cody Franson would be available. The two make up a pairing for the Sabres at the moment and have combined for just 13 points this season (Franson has 11). They are, however, seeing some decent success carrying the puck, with Franson at a 50.36 Corsi-for percentage for the season and Weber at 58.02. Neither is getting predominantly offensive- or defensive-zone starts, either. Franson’s cap hit of $3,325,000 would obviously require some maneuvering on Chicago’s end, while Weber’s $1,666,667 hit would be more manageable.
Perhaps Mark Stuart in Winnipeg is a possibility. I know the Blackhawks need another slow defenseman like they need a hole in the head, but Stuart’s cap hit of $2,625,000 is in play for Chicago, and his 48.73 Corsi-for percentage with a slightly defensive leaning isn’t the worst thing in the world. Still, you wouldn’t want to give up too much for this guy (he has two points and 37 penalty minutes in 30 games this season), and he’s probably not a standout answer at 4D.
Nov 19, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie (4) shoots the puck up ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Would the Colorado Avalanche consider moving Tyson Barrie? He’s only 24 years of age and has a $2,600,000 cap hit ahead of free agency after this season. He has 18 points in 28 games this season as well. But he’s also been a black hole of possession at a 43.67 Corsi-for percentage despite getting more offensive-zone starts than defensive-zone. He’s certainly an option, but the Avs would probably want a decent return for him, especially trading within the division.
Those are just a few names of guys who are playing for currently-bad teams and who could be options for Chicago. I’m sure there are many other possibilities I haven’t yet considered. And, no, the Blackhawks aren’t getting any superstar defenseman with this freed-up cap space, unless you want to see them sell the farm for a single-season championship shot.
Speaking of selling the farm, the second half of this equation is also difficult to ponder. What would the Blackhawks send to a trading partner for a defenseman? We know Bowman loves to stockpile his draft picks, and while he typically likes to actually use them, this may be a situation in which he has to break into his stash and utilize the picks to improve his team right now.
After that, you naturally turn to the farm system to see what’s available. If Bowman continues to plunder his own defensive prospect pool, the Blackhawks are going to need to keep Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson on respirators to keep them upright by the end of their respective contracts, so it seems more wise to look at forwards worth moving. Opponents could certainly find value in a number of Chicago forward prospects. Ahead of the 2015-16 season, Hockey’s Future ranked the Blackhawks’ farm system the eighth-best in the league. Of course, that rank included Teuvo Teravainen and a now-departed Johns, but it still shows there’s value to be had for teams looking to trade with Chicago.
One consideration regarding the Blackhawks’ stream of call-ups earlier this season is that Bowman wanted to see how some of his younger guys looked at the NHL level, while also giving other teams a look. Bowman is always thinking ahead, it seems, so some of the early shuttling of players between Chicago and Rockford may have served multiple purposes.
Lastly, you could look at the current roster for trade bait. Honestly, there isn’t much I see Bowman willing to part with at this point. Bickell is probably still in play, and maybe Ryan Garbutt and Andrew Shaw are as well. No one is going to want Rozsival or Scuderi right now, and most of the other guys are off limits barring an insane offer. (Note: I’m considering guys like Dennis Rasmussen and Brandon Mashinter part of the prospect pool for the time being).
So there are a lot of variables at play after the Daley-for-Scuderi move. Scuderi will probably find his way into the Blackhawks lineup at some point (if he does tonight against Colorado, he’s going to get smoked repeatedly), though he isn’t an answer to shoring up the Chicago defense. But the move that brought him here certainly frees up the Blackhawks to make that happen.