Blackhawks’ Roundtable Deadline Decisions: Gustafsson, Lehner, Crawford & More

The NHL trade deadline is on Monday, Feb. 24, and all eyes will be on the Chicago Blackhawks and their plan of action. Based upon where they stand to date, it’s a given they won’t be buyers. So will they sell big to load up for the future? Will they simply make some minor adjustments? Will they stand pat and save their moves for the offseason?

We won’t know until we know, but it sure is fun to speculate. Today our crew of Meghan Dillon, Greg Boysen, Scott Schultz, and Gail Kauchak give their opinions of what we think (and wish) for the Blackhawks as this season’s trade deadline approaches.

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The biggest name on the market for the Blackhawks is Erik Gustafsson. The defenseman will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and due a sizable salary bump. The Blackhawks likely will not be able to afford him. Therefore, the smart business move would be to try to get something for him now instead of let him walk for nothing in the offseason.

But this could also be a big blow to the team, as Gustafsson is currently a regular in the lineup, and Brent Seabrook and Calvin de Haan are obviously out of commission until next season.  Which begs the question. Are you ready to let Gustafsson go?

Should Gustafsson Go?

Meghan Dillon – Yes

Out of all the upcoming free agents, Gustafsson is most likely to go before the trade deadline. I think it’s smarter to trade him for someone who could help the Blackhawks’ instead of just letting him go during the summer.

Erik Gustafsson #56 of the Chicago Blackhawks
Erik Gustafsson is the most likely of the Chicago Blackhawks to be dealt at the upcoming trade deadline. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

There is some time to find a spot for him in the window in the offseason before free agency begins. But it’s best to bite the bullet now, especially since teams are rumored to be showing interest in him. Getting someone in exchange for him is much more beneficial than just letting his contract expire with no return.

Greg Boysen – Yes

I’ve been saying for months Gustafsson should have been moved at the draft. He was coming off an unbelievable season with great numbers and at a very fair price. His trade value was at an all-time high, and that’s when you need to sell.

His offensive production last season made some overlook his defensive inefficiencies. Now that his points are dramatically down, he’s a liability on the ice and that has diminished his trade value. However, based on the going price for defensemen over the last few days, the Blackhawks should still be able to get a decent return for him.

It’s time to move on from Gustafsson. There are plenty of young defenders in the pipeline with Adam Boqvist already in the NHL, and the likes of Dennis Gilbert and Nicolas Beaudin looking to grab future spots. Possibly Ian Mitchell too.

Scott Schultz – Yes

I think we’ve reached the point that this season is a loss. It’s time to come to reality and start looking forward. The potential of Gustafsson leaving after this season is high; so it would probably be a good idea to get something for him while we can. What really matters for the rest of this year anyway?

Gail Kauchak – Maybe

Yeah, he should go. Based on the trades so far, general manager Stan Bowman should be able to get a nice return for him. And he’s too much of a defensive liability to make it worth re-signing him. Boqvist is ready to take his place, and Mitchell is waiting in the wings.

Adam Boqvist Chicago Blackhawks
Rookie Adam Boqvist has shown the potential to take Erik Gustafsson’s place for the Chicago Blackhawks. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

But it still makes me sad. He was so much fun to watch scoring all those goals last season, and he actually seems to be progressing defensively. Just watch; he’ll go somewhere else and pull it all together in a different system (aka Michal Kempny).

And I’ll miss him waving to his adorable daughter during pre-game warmups. Saying goodbye is so hard…

It isn’t common for goaltenders to be moved at the deadline, as they require more time than any other position to adjust to a new team. But Robin Lehner wants big money, and Corey Crawford doesn’t want to be a backup. And let’s face it; the Blackhawks can only afford to re-sign one of them for next season anyway. Is it possible one of them gets dealt at the deadline instead? Regardless of whether it’s now or later, who would you choose to stay?

Who Stays: Lehner or Crawford?

Meghan – Lehner

I highly doubt either of them will be moved before the deadline, but I do think it’s important to keep Lehner on. He’s younger than Crawford and is more likely to stick around longer. Crawford is a wonderful goalie, but it’s probably best for him to retire.

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Unfortunately, Crawford is past his prime, and his history of concussions will likely have horrific long-term effects on his health. With a wife, young child, and baby on the way, it’s probably best for him to focus on his family. He will very likely have to retire for his health if he gets another concussion. Why not save him from even further damage?

Greg – Neither!

If the Blackhawks want to do this right and realize it’s time to start over, they move both goaltenders at the deadline. If contract talks with Lehner aren’t going great then get some assets for him now and try your luck with him in the summer. Otherwise you risk losing him for nothing.

Crawford will go down as one of the greatest goaltenders in Blackhawks’ history, and that’s impressive when you see the names of Glenn Hall and Tony Esposito hanging in the rafters. As great as he’s been, it could be time to move on from him if there is a market for him. You’d have to imagine somebody would want a two-time Stanley Cup winner on their roster for a playoff run.

As far as which one I would choose, I would trade the one that gets me the most in return, and that’s probably Lehner.

Scott – Lehner

Similar to the situation with Gustafsson, it’s time to face reality and the fact that what the organization has been doing isn’t working. Crawford will always be a legend in Chicago, but it’s time to move on. He’s past his prime and not likely to be able to put in a full season as the number one goalie on any team.

Chicago Blackhawks Robin Lehner
Should Robin Lehner be the goaltender of the future for the Chicago Blackhawks? (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

Lehner could be solid for a couple years yet. Spend the money and get some stability in net. But there also needs to be a focus on spending money to shore up the defense in front of him, or it won’t matter.

Gail – Lehner

This is a no-brainer. Sign Lehner to a longer term to spread out his cap hit. Make it happen Bowman! He’s seven years younger than Crawford, he doesn’t have previous concussion issues, and he’s arguably better (despite his recent slump).

That being said, even if this season turns out to be another bust we should all appreciate how awesome it was to have these two elite goaltenders on the same team. It was a lovely luxury while it lasted.

I personally think they’ve been playing Crawford more recently because they’ve been shopping him. Ah, I’m so sorry Crow! Man, the business side of this stinks.

Another route Bowman might take is to let go of a forward he feels is expendable that could give him a worthwhile return. Two high-profile names we’ve heard in these rumors are Brandon Saad and Dylan Strome. So for our final question. If you had to give one up, who would it be?

Who Goes: Saad or Strome?

Meghan – Strome

I’m not gonna lie; this might be the most difficult question I’ve answered in a roundtable. I’ve gone back and forth on my answer. But I would give up Strome simply because he is less valuable. I think the Blackhawks should wait until the end of the season to decide between Strome and Saad to see how they perform during the rest of the season.

Dylan Strome Chicago Blackhawks
Dylan Strome is another name that has been brought up in trade deadline rumors for the Chicago Blackhawks. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But as of right now, Saad is playing much better than Strome. It will likely be impossible for the Blackhawks to keep both Strome and Saad once Dominik Kubalik is re-signed. And Strome is unfortunately the least valuable of the three.

Greg – Strome

I would not trade Saad. He has been one of the best and most consistent forwards all season long, and his shooting percentage woes from last season have corrected themselves. He is one of the few forwards who can play a physical style and get to the front of the net when need be. Plus his contract, for what he brings, is a pretty fair deal.

Coming into the season, many felt Strome would get a contract extension similar to Alex DeBrincat’s. The Blackhawks were smart in not rushing to sign him after his impressive run to finish last season. While he hasn’t been bad by any stretch of the imagination, he isn’t worth that type of investment at this point.

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Any general manager worth a grain of salt looking to sell at the deadline should listen to any and all offers. I would prefer to keep Saad and trade Strome, but if a deal comes across that blows my socks off, I take it.

Scott – Saad

As with the other two points, it’s time to move on and look forward. Strome is the future; Saad is the past. I still think the Blackhawks are going to be stuck in the mud until Stan Bowman is no longer in charge. I could go on for several pages about this, and have. Just ask Artemi Panarin.

It’s time to clean house and realize the current names aren’t getting the job done. So get new ones, all the way up!

Gail – Strome

Strome has been quiet on the scoresheet of late, but he’s been working hard to be more aggressive like the coaching staff has asked. He’s also still feeling the effects of his ankle injury. If anything, this down season will make it easier for the Blackhawks to re-sign him for less. And then he and DeBrincat can bounce back together next season.

Saad has a hefty cap hit at $6 million through the 2020-21 season. Having that money available could go a long way for this cap-strapped team. Tempting, isn’t it?

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad
Brandon Saad could bring a nice return for the Chicago Blackhawks, but he’s also one of their most valuable players. (Photo by David Berding/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

No, no, no!!! Yes, I’m arguing with myself. Saad is arguably the Blackhawks’ most consistent player this season. He’s strong on the puck, he’s responsible defensively, he does all the little things right. AND he scores. He’s the power forward the Blackhawks need moving forward. Pun intended.

Hopefully the Blackhawks won’t have to part with either of these players, but if I had to choose, I’d keep Saad. Heck I’d keep Saad over DeBrincat right now. Yep, I said it.

We only have a few more days to wait. Soon Bowman will show his hand, and then we will know the fate of the above players, as well as the direction of the Blackhawks for the rest of the season.

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