The St. Louis Blues served loud notice to the Blackhawks with their acquiring of Goalie Ryan Miller from the Sabres last Friday. The Blues are all in this year, and have their sights set on dethroning the defending cup champs. If Stan Bowman and the Hawks’ front office aren’t concerned by this move, they definitely should be. The Blackhawks have had enough difficulty beating the Blues this year as it is. By adding the former Vezina Trophy winner and 2010 Olympic MVP Miller, the Blues have solidified an already imposing defense.
The question remains though: Can the Hawks make the same sort of splash even if they wanted to? Money, as usual for the Hawks, continues to be tight with this year’s cap nearly maxed out and next year’s not opening up much. Adding a marquee player will most likely require some creative cap maneuvering. Assuming that is possible, there really is only one player in this year’s deadline rumor mill that fits the Blackhawks’ needs: Ryan Kesler.
Kesler and Kane
The Hawks’ persistent 2nd line center problem has plagued the team for years, and is really the only glaring need on the roster. Despite being a hated Canuck his whole career, Kesler would be a dream fit for this team. Kesler is a great two way player, proficient at faceoffs, with a knack for finding the back of the net. Patrick Kane, who played on the same line as Kesler in this year’s Olympics, would finally have a complimentary centerman to play alongside. Kane has always been more of a playmaker than a sniper, thriving most when having a reliable scorer to feed the puck to. Number 88 has put up near-MVP numbers playing with the likes of Pirri, Handzus, and Regin this year. Can you imagine him lining up with Kesler every night? Also, with Jonathan Toews and Kesler as your 1-2 at center, the Hawks would have two of the last three Selke winners.
Stan Bowman has tended to be conservative at the trading deadline during the teams’ resurgence. I think this year might be a good time to break that mold. The Blackhawks are still near the peak of the powers, but in all honesty are probably the third best team in the west behind the Blues and the Ducks, both whose size and grit have given the Hawks fits this year. Kesler would go a long way toward closing that gap, with his ability to be a pesky thorn in the side of the likes of a Ryan Getzlaf or a David Backes. Of course, a Kesler trade would involve some tough choices. The Canucks will want draft picks and likely a quality established player in return for their star center, which could include young talent such as Nick Leddy or Brandon Saad (although I’d be loath to give up Saad). Keeping Kesler on for the final two years of his contract could require some buyouts (most likely Marian Hossa) or additional trades.
Bowman has preached against doing anything reactionary in the wake of the Blues’ Miller trade. You have to wonder whether things might be unfolding a little differently behind the scenes though, especially with yesterday’s jettisoning of Brandon Pirri to the Panthers for draft picks- picks that could easily be flipped to another team like the Canucks. Acquiring Ryan Kesler would be a gutsy move, but for this year anyway, it may be the only way for the Hawks to again accomplish their “One Goal” of a Stanley Cup championship.