Would Chicago Blackhawks Trade Brent Seabrook?
When the hockey team you support is eliminated early from the Stanley Cup Playoffs (or misses the postseason altogether), you have plenty of time to discuss the future. That’s especially true for the 14 teams that missed the playoffs and, last week, learned their draft positioning. Thankfully, the Edmonton Oilers did not win a 675th consecutive first overall pick they could ruin, with the Toronto Maple Leafs set to draft first on June 24.
No, the Oilers will select fourth in the opening round this year. Well … that’s what they’re slotted to do, anyway. But this interesting bit of information came across the Twitterverse this morning, throwing the situation into the air.
The Oilers, who have drafted first overall four times in the last six seasons (they’re like the inverse Chicago Blackhawks), are still very weak on defense and in goal. The only defenseman they’ve drafted with a first-round choice in the last six years is Darnell Nurse, who they took at No. 7 overall in 2013. And while he’s seeing NHL time, no one is mistaking him for Duncan Keith right now.
Peter Chiarelli realizes the deficiencies on his team (better late than never?) and may actively work to address one of them by moving the No. 4 overall pick. This shows the Oilers think they’re a few pieces away from becoming a playoff-caliber team. They’re not, at least as long as Cam Talbot is their starter, but it appears they have a plan.
So how are the Blackhawks involved in this? Well, you may have heard about the salary-cap issues set to plague the team once again this offseason. The only problem this year is, the Blackhawks won’t be coming off a Stanley Cup win. In fact, this year is very different from previous ones as it pertains to the salary cap and the Blackhawks’ core.
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I’m not here to say the window is closed on the Blackhawks winning another Stanley Cup in the very-near future, because I don’t know that it is. But it has started to slide down as a result of the purge of minor-league talent to fortify the Blackhawks’ ranks, in addition to the increasing age of the team’s core players. The Blackhawks have been left with a fine offensive group, but a very rough defensive unit that doesn’t show any immediate signs of improvement.
The talent just isn’t there on the blue line, if you look down at the minor leagues. Viktor Svedberg hasn’t shown a whole lot of promise, while the Blackhawks don’t seem to think Ville Pokka is the answer to anything more than a third-pairing problem. Any other blueliner you could think of in the system is at least two years away from cracking the big club as well.
That, of course, leaves the Blackhawks with Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson as guys who have to carry the load until things get better. But what if they don’t get better? It’s kind of difficult to improve from the outside considering the Blackhawks have very little cap room. They’ve currently got $65,758,460 invested in 17 players, which is certainly a problem. And guys like Trevor van Riemsdyk and Erik Gustafsson present more as stopgaps than pieces who can actually make the blue line more successful.
That’s where Edmonton’s fourth overall pick comes in. If Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman decided his team, as currently constructed, can’t contend for a Cup in the immediate future, why not talk to Chiarelli about the pick? And why not bring up Seabrook as the potential return?
While Seabrook could and probably will be better in the 2016-17 season than he was this past season (rest will help), he’s 31 years old and very likely past his prime. He’s still a top-four defenseman for many teams, including the Oilers, so he’d certainly fit the bill of Edmonton’s asking price.
There are a few reasons why moving Seabrook would make sense, from the Blackhawks’ perspective. His cap hit is due to jump from $5.8 million to $6.875 million, for starters. Considering his play last season, he certainly isn’t worth that cost. And while he could rebound nicely next season and beyond, it’s likely his better years are behind him. Plus, who’s to say any long run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs moving forward doesn’t drag him back down to the level we saw this season?
Seabrook knows how to score in crucial situations, but he’s a slow-footed defender who recently has shown more struggles in high-pressure situations than we’ve seen in the past.
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The Blackhawks are currently paying for his past, as well as his reported leadership within the locker room (more on that later), and that’s just not a good way to manage a team that still has some sort of window to a Cup.
Moving Seabrook’s overwhelming contract would open up some nice space for Bowman to actually go out and make an improvement or two. The Blackhawks would still be relatively tight to the cap at the end of the day, but getting $6.875 million off the books would be quite the relief. Plus, the Blackhawks could use the fourth overall pick to draft a young defenseman who, in theory, would make a relatively quick impact after a year or so of minor-league seasoning and give the Blackhawks a youthful kick on the blue line. The London Knights’ Olli Juolevi or the Sarnia Sting’s Jacob Chychrun seem to be two strong options.
If Seabrook were moved, the Blackhawks could actively work on improving the blue line for both the short-term and long-term futures. Sure, it’d also take away a blueliner in Seabrook who has seen plenty of past success, but does keeping him around really keep the Blackhawks’ Cup window more open than moving him does?
With all of that said, however, the likelihood of Seabrook actually being moved for the fourth overall pick seems unlikely. For starters, the locker room leadership element and Seabrook’s past success would make it very likely Bowman asks for more than just the first-round selection. If the Oilers were already taking on Seabrook’s massive contract, it seems unlikely they’d want to give up a whole lot more than that, unless they see Seabrook as their key to a near-future postseason run.
Second, there’s always the issue of this plan potentially falling flat. Perhaps the defenseman the Blackhawks use the fourth pick on (I’m banking on them choosing a defenseman in this hypothetical situation) doesn’t pan out and can’t help the big-league team for some time. And maybe Bowman isn’t able to do as much as he’d hoped with the cap space freed up by moving Seabrook. What then? You’ve then wasted the last few prime years of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Keith and Corey Crawford, which is a sin at the least. It’s a dangerous gamble, and one Bowman may not be willing to take. That’s not to mention what kind of damage to the locker room moving Seabrook could create.
If Bowman thinks this current group can still get the job done with a little tinkering, then he’d be far less likely to move Seabrook unless the price was ridiculous, like what the Calgary Flames received from Dallas for Kris Russell at the trade deadline. And there will certainly be other offers on the table if Chiarelli is serious about moving this pick. Seabrook probably won’t be the best of the bunch, given his age and contract.
Overall, I think the Blackhawks could benefit in the short term and long term from moving Seabrook for this pick. It would be a gamble, but one that I think has a better chance of success than failure. However, given a number of circumstances both within the Chicago organization and beyond it, I don’t see Bowman making this play. Of course, there is another option …
OK, not even Edmonton is that crazy.