The Chicago Blackhawks have fallen far from their championship days. Many espouse the ‘Hawks need more than just a couple new players to get back to being a top team in the NHL. Let’s take a look.
Championship teams are a perfect amalgamation of personnel, system and timing. To win in the NHL, there must be a balance between finesse and grit, speed and size, veterans and younger players and, of course, outstanding goaltending.
The stars of the team must produce beyond the regular season, and the role players have to fit perfectly to the team and the system it plays. Starting with the captain, every player must have the mentality to give everything it takes to win the Stanley Cup. Blocking shots, checking opponents off the puck and winning board battles are critical to success.
If you look at the Stanley Cup-winning Washington Capitals, they had what most thought of as a less-talented team than the year before. But this year’s mix of personnel, the efforts of their role players and a renewed dedication from each player to give it everything they had, made it a championship team.
On paper, the Chicago Blackhawks have a similar mix. What does that mean for the near future?
We all know the veterans. There aren’t many general managers in the league who wouldn’t take Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad, Duncan Keith, Brett Seabrook and Corey Crawford in a must-win game late in the playoffs.
These guys know how to win. If Brandon Saad can get back to his career shooting percentage and Toews and Keith can elevate their game back to an elite level, the ‘Hawks could be a difficult team to play against. As Kane continues to play at an elite level, and assuming Mr. Crawford is back 100 percent, it could be an entirely different looking team this coming year.
Da Windy City
On the youth side of the ledger (under age 25), Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz are progressing to be impact players in the NHL. Add to that if either (or both) of the Sikuras can bring 20 goals while you add in Vinnie Hinostoza, John Hayden, David Kampf, Victor Ejdsell and Anthony Duclair and you have a pretty talented core of young, fast players.
This doesn’t even touch on the many players in Rockford who will be pushing to make the club this year, or any draft picks that may be added. Youthful prospects are a strength of the team.
Positions to upgrade
So if the mix of players is basically there, what are the positions that require an upgrade? I see three positions.
First a solid veteran defenseman who can run the No. 1 powerplay and let Keith sit on the bench until it’s time for 5-on-5. Assuming the ‘Hawks aren’t changing systems, they require at least three excellent D-men to win. They need another solid player in this regard.
The team also needs a shutdown third-line center. While Artem Anisimov is a productive player when playing with skilled players (Kane specifically), he doesn’t have the quickness to excel in a more defensive-minded assignment. As Schmaltz seems to have solidified the second-line center position, this places Anisimov as the current third-line center. Not a good match.
The final area to address is a solid backup to Crawford. Even with five goalies on the roster as of this date, it seems doubtful the Blackhawks have someone who can step in now and play above a .900 save percentage.
With this in mind, I researched a couple trade options for the Chicago Blackhawks that haven’t been bantered around in the media. What about this scenario …
- Trade Anisimov and the No. 27 first-round pick to Ottawa for Zack Smith and their No. 22 first-round pick
- Both 30 years old, and both under contract through 2020-21.
- Cheaper – Smith at $3.25M – Anisimov at $4.55 (saves ~$1M).
- ‘Hawks add critical “rat” third-line center – (Smith is 6-foot-2, 210 pounds), but lose some offense.
- Upgrade first-round pick to No. 22.
- Zack has averaged a 51.8 percent faceoff rate over last three years.
- Ottawa gets a much needed No. 2 centerman and saves some money.
- Then trade the first-round pick from Ottawa (No. 22), Connor Murphy and the No. 87 third-round pick (or a prospect) to Calgary for Dougie Hamilton
- Right-handed D-man who can slot as a No. 2 or No. 3 D-man and replaces Murphy.
- Only 24 years old with more size – 6-foot-6 – and skill than Murphy.
- Under contract through 2020-21 season (Murphy is contracted thru 2021-22).
- Points – Over past three seasons, Hamilton is averaging 45 points per season and has only missed two games. His total exceeds that of any ‘Hawks D-men aside from Keith, and Hamilton averages more points per season than Anisimov.
- $5.75M cap hit versus Murphy’s $3.85.
- Calgary has no picks in the first three rounds this year, so the Flames are looking for picks, and a decent first-round pick plus a third might make the deal.
- Then trade Anton Forsberg/J-F Berube/whoever and a prospect for a decent backup goalie.
Smith is a physical, talented center who would fit a role the ‘Hawks require. Hamilton may not put up the points like he did in Calgary due to the system the Blackhawks play, but would be a great fit with size and powerplay ability to upgrade the current D corps. It also allows Keith to play fewer minutes so his game is more impactful.
With these or similar changes and steady goaltending, I believe the Chicago Blackhawks are closer to the Cup than many think. If coach Joel Quenneville can commit to playing younger players more minutes (DeBrincat lead the team in goals and played under 15 minutes a game?) and sit veterans who are not playing well, the team could do some damage. What do you think?