Blackhawks Buyers or Sellers at the Deadline?

Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman is no stranger to the National Hockey League’s trade deadline, but this season he in is in uncharted territory. In seasons past, Bowman looked to acquire a third-line center or fifth defenseman to be the last piece of a championship puzzle.

Stan Bowman
Stan Bowman has some tough decisions to make over the next few days. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This season’s team is a bit different. For much of the season, there was little doubt that the Blackhawks should be sellers before the deadline. Things have changed recently as the team has themselves right in the thick of the wild-card race. Bowman now has to decide if he should add a piece or two to try to make a run, stay pat or sell off what he can to add future assets.

Hot Streak Should Not Force Blackhawks’ Hand

At the beginning of the season, there were those who thought the Blackhawks would have a legitimate chance at the worst record in the league, winning the draft lottery and drafting Jack Hughes. I felt the Blackhawks had too much talent to finish that far down the standings, even when they were mired in extended losing streaks. It appears my initial feelings were correct.

After Wednesday night’s overtime win at the Detroit Red Wings, the Blackhawks have won 10 out of their last 12 games. This streak coincides with many of the teams they have to beat to get a Western Conference wild-card spot playing their worst hockey of the season.

Chicago Blackhawks Patrick Kane
Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane celebrates his goal in overtime on Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

At this point, trading away high draft picks and what few real prospects you have to make a run at the eighth seed would be counter-productive. Even if this team qualifies for the Stanley Cup playoffs, they are not good enough to beat the Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators or Calgary Flames in the first round.

Power-Play Success Driving Playoff Push

Let’s face it, the biggest reason the Blackhawks are battling for the final playoff spot has been because their power play has been as deadly as it has ever been before. Their play at five-on-five has been shaky at best and downright brutal at times.

The Blackhawks currently have a 48.53 shot-attempt percentage (SAT%) at five-on-five which ranks 22nd in the league. They have a minus-20 goal differential at five-on-five and are minus-23 overall. They are giving up 35.4 shots and 3.70 goals per-game, which has them near the very bottom in both categories.

Alex DeBrincat Chicago Blackhawks
Alex DeBrincat has been a huge part of the Blackhawks power-play success. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While this recent stretch has made the Blackhawks fun to watch again, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking they are a serious Stanley Cup contender. A championship threat does not give up 11 goals in two games to the Ottawa Senators and Red Wings.

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Bowman should not be willing to give up any draft picks or prospects for a rental player. Their prospect pool has been improving because they have been hanging on to their top draft picks. Considering they still need plenty of help up front going forward, they need every draft pick they can get.

Hard Decisions Loom Before Monday’s Deadline

So, what should Bowman do before Monday’s trade deadline? He should give these guys a shot to ride this thing out; they have earned that. However, he should be actively listening to what other general managers may want from him. Based on Bob McKenzie’s comments on NBC Sports Network Wednesday night, that appears to be exactly what Bowman is doing.

Now that Dylan Strome has taken over the second-line center role, Artem Anisimov and his contract have become even more expendable than it was before. While it is unlikely that he will be moved in the next couple of days, at the very least, he should be shopped around. There have been various reports that Bowman is looking to move the veteran center, including from Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet during his most recent 31 Thoughts podcast. Somehow getting Anisimov’s contract off the books before free agency starts in July would be a huge move for the Blackhawks.

Is Artem Anisimov on the trading block?  (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If someone calls looking to give up a low draft pick for a player like Marcus Kruger or Chris Kunitz, he should jump at it. The same could be said if there is an inquiry about John Hayden, who you should be able to get a better return for than the two veterans.

Bowman has hinted that he does not want to move defenseman Erik Gustafsson, but his trade value will never be higher than it is right now. He is in the midst of a career season and there is no guarantee that he will ever put up these types of numbers again. While his offense has been great, his defense is below average. If another general manager gives you a big offer for Gustafsson, Bowman should take it.

Erik Gustafsson #56 of the Chicago Blackhawks
Erik Gustafsson could bring back a really nice return. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Otherwise, you are going to have three 30-goal scorers for the first time since Tony Amonte, Steve Sullivan and Eric Daze accomplished the feat back in 2000-01. While trying to outscore your opponent 6-5 is usually not a great way to find postseason success, it is what this version of the Blackhawks are. Giving up a piece of the future for the seventh or eighth seed, at best, should not be in their plans right now.