Options for the defense
Another area of concern for the ‘Hawks is their defense. While they have a few interesting young players, they are not defensively sound right now.
Duncan Keith is playing well but has not had a goal since last year. Brent Seabrook has been aging and showing it on the ice, constantly getting beat in foot races and trying to keep up. Connor Murphy has seemed to come in to his own as of late, but still needs a little work to become a No. 2 or 3 blueliner.
After those three, you have some young and inexperienced players. Forsling has been OK, but hasn’t really shown much improvement, and now has been sent to Rockford. Jan Rutta started the season off great but seems to be slowing down. He may not be used to the NHL level of play and the full 82-game season.
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Jordan Oesterle has been good since he started playing regularly, but again is inexperienced and still questionable in his own end. Oesterle has added offense, which is needed, and has shown he has good speed. In time, he could become a vital defenseman to the ‘Hawks’ plans moving forward.
Cody Franson is still in the organization and could be useful. However, like Seabrook, he is slowing down and is 30 years old. Franson was useful on the powerplay, so could be used if needed.
The last two guys worth mentioning, we have not seen too much of. Kempny has some promise in his offense and the ability to skate very well. The problem is he seems to be in Quenneville’s dog house and is a bit of a wild card.
Gustafsson we have only seen in two games this year, though he helped add a goal and an assist in his debut. His defense was not where it needs to be, but he may just need some more playing time. So the ‘Hawks could look to add defense before the end of the season.
One available option on the trade block is Ian Cole. At 28, Cole is an able-bodied defenseman and has played well over his last seasons, winning the Stanley Cup twice with the Penguins.
This year in Pittsburgh, he has been healthy scratched a bit due to two reasons. Chad Ruhwedel has been play very well for the Penguins, taking Cole’s spot, and Penguins coach Mike Sullivan and Cole have clashed a bit, causing a rift between them.
Cole would be a free agent at the end of this year and has a $2.1 million cap hit. If he plays well, he may get an extension. Although the Blackhawks are trying to get younger, adding Cole and maybe one more defenseman for the end of the season could help bolster the defense for the time being.
Arizona is having yet again another failed season, and it may have two available defensemen. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who is an incredible defenseman, has spent his entire career on a terrible team could want out of Arizona.
As a 26-year-old, he is under contract until the end of the 2018-19 season and his cap hit is $5.5 million. While the defenseman’s plus/minus rating does not stand out as good, he does have 23 points and could be a huge piece to the ‘Hawks defense if they were able to keep him.
Da Windy City
At the end of his contract, he will be due a pay raise. So unless the Blackhawks can unload Seabrook’s massive contract, this option is highly unlikely. The other issue is Arizona GM John Chayka is looking for two roster players and a first-round draft pick that the ‘Hawks should not give up.
The other defenseman on the block in Arizona is Niklas Hjalmarsson. Bowman has been known to try and reacquire favorite pieces, so don’t look past this.
The Coyotes have looked to Hjalmarsson hoping he brings a winning culture and gave him the responsibility of assistant captain. After yet another disappointing season, it’s clear that isn’t working.
While some in Chicago may want him back and he may help solidify the ‘Hawks defense, this move would be ill-advised in my personal opinion, unless Bowman is able to get Hjalmarsson to take a hometown discount after the 2018-19 season.
His current cap hit is $4.1 million, so it would still take some moving to fit him long-term. Another downside is that at 30 years old he is slowing down as well. Hjalmarsson has also missed 26 games due to injury this season. This is abnormal, as he has missed on 32 games over his last eight seasons.
His injuries may be a fluke, or could be the start of his body starting to give out. Hjalmarsson has blocked so many shots and played so hard, he may not be able to sustain that type of play much longer.
Behind these three players, options are very limited. There are not many defensemen openly on the trade market.
Jack Johnson is a option, but at 31 may not be what the ‘Hawks are looking for and would add to the aging core. This move would be the opposite of Bowman’s plan to add youth.
Nick Holden of the New York Rangers is on the trade block. Holden is not bad, but he is questionable at times. Holden is also already 30 and not a viable option. Instead of going down that road, the Blackhawks should just give their younger players a chance to improve and mature.
Lastly would be Dion Phaneuf. As an aging 32-year-old and at $7 million a year for the next three y,ears he is not an option.