Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks’ Reader Mailbag On Trade Deadline And Beyond

By Stephen Yatsushiro
CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 23: Chicago Blackhawks fans celebrate a goal during a game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the San Jose Sharks on February 23, 2018, at the United Center in Chicago, IL. Blackhawks won 3-1. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 23: Chicago Blackhawks fans celebrate a goal during a game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the San Jose Sharks on February 23, 2018, at the United Center in Chicago, IL. Blackhawks won 3-1. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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I opened up the Blackhawk Up reader mailbag.  Let’s see what Chicago Blackhawks fans and readers have on their minds.

Brandon “@StrateWhiteMail” asks:

“This question is premature in nature, because I am asking it without knowledge of the Monday transactions. What do you think of the Chicago Blackhawks’ deadline moves this season and how do you think they will affect the team next season? Is it possible that everyone except Patrick Kane and the young guys are just having bad years, are they due for bounceback years?”

I’m really glad someone asked about this.  This is such a good series of questions that I’m going to devote this post to answering it in full.  Let’s recap what roster moves have happened in the last few days.

  • Feb. 19: Michal Kempny traded to Washington for a 2018 conditional third-round pick
  • Feb. 25: Lance Bouma placed on waivers
  • Feb. 26: Ryan Hartman and Blackhawks 2018 fifth-round pick traded to Nashville for prospect Victor Ejdsell and their 2018 first- and fifth-round picks
  • Feb. 26: Matthew Highmore recalled from the Rockford IceHogs
  • Feb. 26: Tommy Wingels traded to Boston for a 2019 conditional fifth-round pick

While these might not be blockbuster moves, these are significant moves for building toward next year.

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Michal Kempny

Michal Kempny never gained the trust of coach Joel Quenneville since being signed as a free agent from the Czech Republic.  His highly athletic yet inconsistent play earned him a room in Coach Q’s doghouse, and the frequent healthy scratches stunted his development.

As he would be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, this trade netted general manager Stan Bowman a free draft pick.  I would assume that Kempny would not even want to re-sign for another season here, so this is a gain.

Lance Bouma

Lance Bouma formed an intimidating line with Tommy Wingels and John Hayden.  But his lack of offensive production did not help with solving this year’s scoring drought.  His demotion to Rockford was inevitable.

The positive element is that he could be a mentor for the very young forwards.  His open roster spot cleared the way for Matthew Highmore to be called up.  Highmore is currently the IceHogs’ leading scorer, so it’s time to see what he can do in the NHL.  The Athletic’s Scott Powers took a look at this young forward:

Ryan Hartman

It’s uncomfortable to see the ‘Hawks give up on a young talent.  There have been numerous losses over the years as prospects have been traded for playoff rentals.  Hartman brought the sandpaper that is hard to find on this current Blackhawks roster.

But Hartman is a pending restricted free agent in 2018.  Vinnie Hinostroza and Anthony Duclair, both of whom have higher ceilings than Hartman, are also RFAs.  The ‘Hawks most likely wish to sign both Hinostroza and Duclair to new contracts, so Hartman would be the odd man out in the salary cap shrunken world.

So in the trade for Victor Ejdsell, the ‘Hawks get a big, young forward whom they had previously pursued, along with a first-round draft pick.  The trade of a fifth-round pick for a fourth-round pick is basically a wash.

Bowman has to be lauded for leveraging at the deadline to get this big of a haul from Nashville.  Evander Kane, who was much more sought after than Hartman, was traded by Buffalo to San Jose for about the same assets.  Just do the math — this is a big win for the ‘Hawks.

Tommy Wingels

Wingels surprised most of us with his relentless style of play.  Even more surprising was his recent promotion to the top forward line.  But this was most likely a promotion for the purpose of showcasing his versatility to potential buyers.

He really is the perfect fourth-line grinder and penalty killer.  His absence will now force a youngster to fill that role.  And the ‘Hawks do have quite a glut of potential bottom-six forwards playing in Rockford right now.  So getting another draft pick for a player signed as a free agent is another plus move by Bowman.

The new set of 2018 draft picks

The result of the latest moves puts the ‘Hawks in very good position for the upcoming 2018 draft. From the Blackhawks’ website:

Rd

Pick

Belongs to

Notes

1CHI1NSHFor R. Hartman, 2/26/18

2

MTL

For Weise/Fleischmann, 2/26/16

3

CHI*

3

WSH**

For M. Kempny, 2/19/18

4NSHFor R. Hartman, 2/26/18

4

DAL***

For J. Oduya, 2/28/17

5

CHI

For R. Hartman, 2/26/18

5CBJFor A. Panarin/T. Motte, 6/23/176CHI7CHI

Total picks: 8
* Blackhawks retain conditional draft choice included in A. Ladd trade with WPG.
** Blackhawks get the better third-round choice between WSH’s own pick or TOR’s previously acquired.
*** Remains a fourth round choice based on Blackhawks’ 2017 playoff finish.

With eight draft picks, the ‘Hawks will have the opportunity to stockpile some prospects for development or trade.  Their own first-round pick is a lottery pick, which could net them a very talented player who could even make the roster in the fall.

SportsNet ranks the top picks in a deep draft in its article.  Rasmus Dahlin is a generational talent on defense and is the prize of the draft.  The ‘Hawks’ chances of landing Dahlin are low, but anything can happen in a lottery.

The ‘Hawks obviously have several needs to get back into serious Cup contention.  These roster moves and draft pick acquisitions give them flexibility to make some trades to address the weak spots.

The mailbag question of the epidemic of off-year performances

Without a doubt, several key players are having an off year.  They are:

  • Jonathan Toews
  • Duncan Keith
  • Brandon Saad
  • Artem Anisimov
  • Brent Seabrook
  • Connor Murphy

Jonathan Toews

The captain has been overworked this year.  After losing strong two-way forwards in Marian Hossa and Marcus Kruger, Toews is the only true shutdown forward.  David Kampf has been a pleasant surprise, but he may be too new to be placed into a position of great responsibility.

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  • So in addition to being the only shutdown forward, Toews also kills penalties and is on the powerplay.  His relentless leadership by example is simply wearing him down.

    We’ve seen flashes of the old Toews this season, but it is difficult for him to sustain his level of play without any support.  I believe he can rebound next season with a lighter workload.  The addition of another shutdown forward and a better defensive unit that doesn’t get tangled up in itself in the defensive zone will help.

    Duncan Keith

    The same can be said for Keith.  He has been overworked this year due to a lack of defensive depth.  The warning signs came early in the season, when he was tasked with 26 to 28 minutes of ice time.  Even with his famous superhuman aerobic ability, he cannot carry the defense all by himself.

    After Keith as the top defenseman, there are a bunch of fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh defenders.  Keith needs Bowman to acquire two top-four defensemen.

    Jordan Oesterle has been amazing while playing on his offside, but I see him as a No. 3 defender.  Oesterle needs to improve in his own end to be considered a No. 2, and I prefer a right-handed stick on Keith’s right side.  Off-handed defenders have a harder time clearing the defensive zone.  Reduce Keith’s work load and he will rebound just fine next year.

    Brandon Saad

    The trade of Artemi Panarin for Saad has not worked out this season for the ‘Hawks.  Panarin was a league top-10 scorer and a great setup man for Kane. But the expectation was that Kane could produce with anyone on his line.

    Saad was supposed to be the winger to revitalize Toews.  This trade turned out to be a double whammy. Nick Schmaltz has developed since last season, but is not yet at the level of Panarin.  Saad has looked disinterested at times and has not elevated Toews’ game.

    Most players return to their own level of play, whether for better or worse.  At his young age, it’s reasonable to expect him to return to his normal level of production.

    Artem Anisimov

    Anisimov has been great on the powerplay and the penalty kill, but abysmal in 5-on-5 play.  Last year’s vaunted AK72 line put him in the company of two skilled playmakers/scorers.  This year, he’s just not able to pick up the slack for the loss of Panarin.

    With age setting in and two consecutive years on injured reserve, I’m not expecting him to have a significant rebound next year.  But his value as a big, skilled center remains fairly high.  He could be packaged with another asset to acquire a top-four defenseman this summer.

    Brent Seabrook

    What more can be said about Seabrook?  He is definitely in declinem and his enormous contract makes him virtually untradeable.  Seabrook is today’s Brian Campbell, in the respect that his contract is way over value and messes up the team’s salary cap room.  If Bowman somehow manages to trade him, he would redeem himself for this contractual mess.

    Connor Murphy

    Murphy has been a model of inconsistency this season.  Sometimes he is intimidating and efficient in clearing the slot, but at other times he looks lost.  He is yet another square peg in Coach Q’s system and may never pan out here.  If the coach is retained after this season, then Murphy probably needs to be dealt away in a trade.

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    Patrick Kane

    I didn’t list Kane as a player having an off year.  But he has also been improperly used and overused.  The constant changing of linemates has not allowed him to build chemistry with anyone.  He has also been double-shifted frequently when the bottom six has struggled.

    I can understand double-shifting him on the powerplay, but more ice time in the bottom six is a waste of his talent.  As a player who deftly avoids big hits and plays a skill game, he can rebound nicely next year with proper use and consistent linemates.

    The bottom line

    In conclusion, the recent moves at the trade deadline have given the ‘Hawks some flexibility to reconstruct the defense and add a solid shutdown forward this summer.

    Everything starts with good solid defense.  The wide-open style of hockey of this year must come to an end.  Otherwise, we’ll just see a repeat of this year’s  .500 record. Taking the excessive work loads off Toews and Keith will allow them to play to their abilities once again.  These are two Conn Smythe winners who need to get back to that level of play.

    Bowman will have to a better job of deciding who his true core players are.  Someone from the core will have to be jettisoned to acquire the missing defensive pieces. And the young players who were thrust into action perhaps a year too soon need to keep making progress. Schmaltz, Hinostroza and Alex DeBrincat need to gain some strength over the summer to propel themselves to the next level and into the core.

    Some prospects to watch out for are Highmore, Dylan Sikura, Henri Jokiharju, Luc Snuggerud, Blake Hillman and Tim Soderlund.  There is certainly some quality here, but no one can expect these youngsters to step right in and contribute on a grand scale.  We’ve already seen a bunch of not-quite-ready youngsters this year, and we don’t need an encore next year.

    This will be Bowman’s make-or-break offseason.  The championship window has not yet  shut, and he needs to move swiftly before it does.  It’s a tricky task, but absolutely doable.

    Sneak peek to next year?

    Nope! It may be fun to project what next year’s roster and lines could look like, but there’s too much work to be done.  In Survivor Hockey Style, some players are going to be voted off the island.  The ‘Hawks aren’t in need of a complete overhaul, but they do need to overhaul the way they manage their assets.

    Next: Blackhawks' Should've Traded Mascot Tommy Hawk

    Keep those questions coming. I’d like to make this a regular feature for fans to sound off and spark some constructive discussion.

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