The Chicago Blackhawks are in a peculiar situation. They have won three out of their last six games and are playing better. It’s a stark contrast from starting the year losing nine in a row. However, although they have been playing better, the odds are still against them. With 22 points this season, they are eight points out of the second wild card spot and barring a miracle, that doesn’t seem subject to change. Their only option is to move forward, grow, and improve. Improvement starts by upgrading the roster. The Blackhawks are still a work in progress and this season showed how flawed the roster truly is. Luckily, there is a player that is currently on the market that can move the team in the right direction: Boston Bruins’ forward Jake DeBrusk.
DeBrusk’s Background With Bruins
DeBrusk was drafted 14th overall to the Bruins in the 2015 NHL Draft. He made his NHL debut in 2017 and did very well. He had 16 goals, 27 assists, 43 points, and was a plus-13 in 70 games. From his strong season, he finished 12th in the Calder Trophy vote: the trophy awarded to the top NHL rookie. He followed up his rookie season, scoring 27 goals in 2018-19 and 19 goals in 2019-20. However, he has struggled as of late. He only had five goals in 41 games last year, and this season he only has five goals in 22 games.
DeBrusk is a natural top-six player. He has spent most of his career on the second line, in which he found a lot of success with former-Bruins’ center David Krejci. Last season, he even found himself on the first line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron as a way to shake up the Bruins’ already steep offense. This season is a different story. He has found himself healthy scratched, and looks stuck on the team’s third line. His play has gone sideways, and it doesn’t seem to be working out for him or the team. On Nov. 29, it was reported that he requested a trade and Boston is working to give him a fresh start.
DeBrusk’s Fit With Blackhawks
When looking at DeBrusk’s stats, it may not seem enticing to go after a player who has a combined 10 goals in two seasons, but he is a player whose career average is 22 goals and 43 points in 82 games. The Blackhawks need goal-scoring, plain and simple. Their average goals per game is 2.12, and they are the worst goal-scoring team in the league at five-on-five. Their leading goal-scorer is Alex DeBrincat with 14. He is the only player on the team with double-digit goals, which proves the point. Where the team is right now in goals is unsustainable, and that is where DeBrusk can help.
Another area that DeBrusk can help with is the power play. The Blackhawks’ power play started hot and in the top 10 in the league. Now, it has fallen to 20th in the league. Two of the five goals that DeBrusk has scored this year have come on the power play. In his career, 21 out of his 72 goals have come from the power play. representing about 30% of his total goals. When a team like the Blackhawks has trouble scoring five-on-five, the power play makes it all the more important to win games. He can definitely add another threat to the two units.
The final area where DeBrusk can help the Blackhawks is on the top lines. If he is good enough to be paired with Marchand and Bergeron, he surely is good enough to put with Patrick Kane. The Blackhawks have had issues all season trying to figure out how to balance all four lines, but the top-six has been the most confusing. They have Kane, Jonathan Toews, DeBrincat, Dominik Kubalik, and Dylan Strome that are true top-line players. Everyone else is a guessing game and the rest of the roster has been shuffled in and out of the top-lines all year, such as Kirby Dach, Henrik Borgstrom, Brandon Hagel, and Reese Johnson. As you can infer, there is a bit of a depth problem. If DeBrusk were on the Blackhawks, he could be paired with Kane on the first line or Toews on the second line. He could give Chicago more to work with to keep the top lines strong.
Blackhawks’ Trade Proposals
Trading for DeBrusk seems like a no-brainer, but with any trade, it can be tricky. He is currently on his final year of a two-year, $7.35 million ($3.675 million AAV) contract. According to ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, a big factor for teams being hesitant to trade for him is because he is eligible for arbitration this offseason with a qualifying offer of $4.41 million. Because his production has slipped, it seems like a high number that would be hard for many teams to swallow. Right now, the Blackhawks have zero cap space, but they could take on his contract if they can shed some salary of their own.
The first player that could be involved in a trade package is Strome. He was a healthy scratch four times towards the end of last season. This season is no different. Between two coaches in Jeremy Colliton and Derek King, he has been healthy scratched for 10 games. He’s in a similar predicament to DeBrusk, where he has scoring talent but has been underperforming. A change of scenery would benefit both players and help their overall games. Strome has been linked to the Bruins in trade rumors before. They could use a center and added offense because they are facing a dry spell.
It seems too good to be true. Strome and DeBrusk’s cap hits are similar with Strome’s $3 million AAV. So, a one-for-one seems like a fair swap. The second option could be Kubalik. He has been struggling this season with only four goals in 28 games. However, he averages 28 goals in 82 games. A change of scenery could serve him well too. He has a $3.7 million AAV this season, which, again, is similar to DeBrusk. Other than those two players, there isn’t another player that can be offered that has as much upside. They can immediately help a playoff-seeking team like the Bruins.
The other tricky issue with a trade package would be draft picks. DeBrusk was a first-round draft pick, so the Bruins may want more than just a forward. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks don’t have much to offer. They don’t have a first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft because it was used to acquire Seth Jones and they only have one second-round pick. They have three third-round picks, but those can be iffy as some teams seek them more than others.
Blackhawks Desperately Need DeBrusk
Overall, the Blackhawks badly need DeBrusk. The urgency to acquire him went from “maybe” to “have to,” in my opinion. As the season wears on, he fits the bill of most of the Hawks’ needs. He is a scoring threat that offers flexibility within the lines, especially the top-six. Because he is only 25-years-old, he fits a rebuilding team. The Blackhawks need a heck of a lot more assets if they want to make the playoffs and he is a player that can grow within their new direction.
Yes, there is a financial risk if he is acquired and still doesn’t produce. But what if he doesn’t? He is already a proven goal scorer and if he finds his stride again in Chicago, that is a bonus for their future.
Lastly, the Blackhawks don’t have many viable options at forward. Even their affiliated team, the Rockford Icehogs, don’t carry many high-end prospects besides Lukas Reichel. DeBrusk, himself, is better than 50% of the current roster. The team needs to take a chance if they want to improve. It’s not every day that a player like him asks for a trade. He seems to have fallen in the Blackhawks’ lap and I don’t think they should waste that opportunity. They may not have a ton to offer the Bruins, but these two teams can help each other fill voids. If DeBrusk forces the Bruins’ hands at some point, the two franchises may be more willing to work with each other. This is a perfect case of “he needs the Blackhawks and the Blackhawks need him.”
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Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.