Editorials

Chicago Blackhawks’ Michal Kempny Trade A Dangerous Maneuver

By Colin Likas
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 22: Michal Kempny
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 22: Michal Kempny /
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The Chicago Blackhawks had a capable, able-bodied defenseman with plenty of cost control on their roster, and they traded him away Monday. This team is playing with fire, giving up on certain athletes while in the midst of a rebuild.

On the surface, the Chicago Blackhawks trading Michal Kempny to Washington on Monday was in line with past moves involving players who don’t pan out with the Blackhawks. Stan Bowman acquires said player, hoping for some cost efficiency and solid play, the athlete either struggles or isn’t trusted by coach Joel Quenneville (or both), and the skater is summarily shipped away.

The Blackhawks have done this most often with defensemen. There was a point not long ago when Trevor Daley turned into Rob Scuderi, who turned into Christian Ehrhoff. Bowman has a penchant for struggling to 1) identify defensive talent and 2) acquire defensemen Coach Q, a former blueliner, will actually use.

But Kempny was different than the aforementioned guys because he could’ve actually helped the team moving forward. Like Nick Leddy before him, Kempny had the ability to skate the puck forward and out of trouble. The Blackhawks are sorely lacking this right now, especially from the back end.

Yet, Coach Q never warmed up to Kempny, and whenever the Czech player made a mistake, he was back on the bench. The belief among some that his recent increased playing time was meant to display his trade value proved correct, and now Kempny is playing on a postseason-caliber club.

While it may not seem like the Blackhawks lost much here — and acquiring a third-round draft pick is certainly nice consolation — the team is playing a dangerous game giving up on useful players so quickly during a rebuilding phase.

Blackhawks’ blue line uncertain

To say the Blackhawks don’t have a clear direction on their blue line right now is an understatement. The veteran members (Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook) haven’t looked any better than “poor” this year, while very few young guys are being given a legitimate chance to develop.

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Connor Murphy has been blunted from the start despite some great moments since arriving from Arizona. Jan Rutta played well, got mixed up with his off-side and suiting up alongside Gustav Forsling, and now Rutta is injured. Forsling is back in the AHL. Erik Gustafsson is just around to fill a spot, essentially.

It’s nice to see Carl Dahlstrom getting some rub, but multiple guys who could’ve actually helped the Blackhawks while they worked through this rebuild have had their legs cut out from under them.

That’s not to say Dahlstrom is useless, but he’s been a career minor-leaguer to this point and doesn’t seem destined to be a top-pairing guy. It’s good the Blackhawks are showing him some trust, but they’re simultaneously showing no faith in a bunch of other guys who could be playing a bigger role.

Why you would do this when you have little else of certainty to fall back on, not to mention a badly injured starting goalie and a backup whose confidence is getting shot on a regular basis? It shows a continued divide between Bowman and Quenneville, as far as what one thinks will help the team win and what the other actually wants to see on the ice. (If you were looking for a reason to dump one of these guys after the season, you could certainly start with this talking point.)

Youth will need to rise

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With Kempny being traded and the Blackhawks probably not done in that department — Ville Pokka was already gone, Gustafsson is pretty clearly being worked out for a Kempny-esque move, and Murphy’s security is unstable at best — the young blueliners in the system will need to pan out in a hurry.

This isn’t just from an aspect of the Blackhawks needing someone on the back end who can actually move the puck, either. They need guys who can do pretty much everything.

Keith and Seabrook look rough in most facets, while the future of Murphy, Rutta and others on the roster is uncertain. You know Cody Franson is just a stopgap, and not a major part of the future (otherwise he wouldn’t be in the AHL right now).

So here’s some guys who need to step up, stat: Dahlstrom, Forsling, Darren Raddysh, Luc Snuggerud, Robin Norell, Robin Press, Chad Krys and Henri Jokiharju. Oh, and the defensemen whom the Blackhawks should select in this year’s draft.

Yes, very few of these guys have actual NHL experience. But the way the Blackhawks are playing around with their present-day defensive roster, it’s pretty obvious they expect multiple guys on the above list to perform at the NHL level very soon. Unless there’s some sort of major trade in the works.

The Blackhawks can’t have just a couple guys playing NHL-caliber defense. Not in front of Corey Crawford, Anton Forsberg or a wooden goalie. That’s what makes moving Kempny all the more concerning and baffling. He wasn’t a star, but he could play.

Next: Will Ryan Hartman Be Traded Next?

The Blackhawks need to be wary about what additional moves they make next when it comes to the blue line. While it may not matter for the rest of this season, it will definitely make an impact beyond then.

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