Here we are in December of 2018, lamenting the fact that the Chicago Blackhawks aren’t the powerhouse they once were. Unless the team has some kind of miracle turnaround, it looks like yet another season that will end in early April. So many things have changed in just a few short years.
With Christmas right around the corner, we here at The Hockey Writers are taking a page out of the classic holiday tale, “A Christmas Carol.” Today Meghan Dillon, Greg Boysen, and Gail Kauchak will delve into the Blackhawks’ past, present, and future for our monthly roundtable edition. Let’s begin by looking back.
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The Hawks appear to be paying the price for winning three Stanley Cups. After each Cup win, they’ve been forced to purge key players for salary cap purposes. It’s never easy to make these decisions, and there will always be differing opinions over whether the correct choice was made. With that in mind, let’s play a game of “what if,” just for fun. If you could erase one trade from the recent Cup-winning years, who would it be, and why?
I have to go with trading Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad. I know it’s no surprise to anyone who has read everything I’ve written, but I genuinely believe this is a good answer. As much as this trade was a gamble and how much Saad has grown this season, I don’t think anything can possibly beat Panarin’s chemistry with Patrick Kane.
Kane and Panarin’s first season together ended in Panarin taking home the Calder Trophy for best rookie of the year, and Kane claiming the Art Ross Trophy (leader in points), the Ted Lindsay Award (most outstanding player), and the Hart Trophy (most valuable player).
Individually they are amazing players, but they are unstoppable when they’re on the same line. If it’s possible for Panarin to come back to the Hawks and it wouldn’t do too much damage to the salary cap, I think it would be dumb not to take him back.
This is a very fun question and there really isn’t a wrong or right answer for it. The easy answer is the trade of Panarin, but the Columbus Blue Jackets didn’t make it out of the first round last season and are likely to lose him for nothing this summer, while Saad is under contract for two more seasons. Plus, there is always an outside chance he returns to Chicago as a free agent.
The first trade with Columbus involving Saad wasn’t the greatest, but Artem Anisimov had two very good years playing between Panarin and Kane. The trade of Niklas Hjalmarsson for Connor Murphy has not looked good, but there is still time before having to submit a final verdict.
There have been plenty of trades where Stan Bowman was forced to add a top prospect because of the bad contracts. We heard that the Blackhawks would rue the day they traded such players like Adam Clendening, Dylan Olsen, Marko Dano and Stephen Johns, but that day has yet to come.
Acquiring Dale Weise and Thomas Fleischman for Phillip Danault and a second-round pick is just brutal in hindsight. However, giving up on Teuvo Teravainen and sending him to the Carolina Hurricanes in order to shed the final year of Bryan Bickell’s contract is the trade I would erase. Teravainen had a hard time winning over both Joel Quenneville and the fanbase during his brief time in Chicago. Since moving on to Carolina, he has gone from averaging .38 points per game (PPG) with Blackhawks to .67 PPG with the Hurricanes. For a team that’s dying for more talent up front, the loss of Teravainen has been very noticeable.
I’m going with Hjalmarsson, mostly just because I miss spelling that lovely Swedish name! But seriously, folks. Yeah, it made business sense – Hjalmarsson earned a nice chunk of change, and he was one of the only core players with a modified no-movement clause where he had to pick 10 teams he’d be willing to be traded to. He wasn’t getting any younger. He was the easiest to unload.
And he was still on the upside of his career, so he had some value. But he was the wrong defenseman to unload. Sure, he was injured half of last season with the Arizona Coyotes, and his numbers aren’t that great this season. But I don’t think anyone can make a case that the Blackhawks wouldn’t have a better defense right now with Hjalmarsson still on it. His warrior mentality and defensive prowess would go a long way on this current roster.
But I think the worst part about the Hjalmarsson trade was the emotional side of it. He was one of the seven that made history by winning three Cups with the Blackhawks. Of the other six, Jonathan Toews, Kane, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook are still with the team. Patrick Sharp left, but came back and is now an announcer for the Blackhawks. Marian Hossa was forced to retire because of a skin condition. But he did so on his terms, and it’s rumored he will once again be affiliated with the Hawks in the future. The Hjalmarsson trade marked the end of an era. To me, it was the official stamp that the glory days were truly over.
Top prospect Dylan Sikura recently joined the Blackhawks from the Rockford IceHogs. He was favored to start the season with the Hawks, but didn’t make the cut out of training camp. His call-up also coincided with an eight-game losing streak by the Blackhawks. Before this, future Hall-of-Fame head coach Joel Quenneville was fired. Nick Schmaltz wore out his welcome and was traded for two fresh faces. But the question of the present remains. Was Sikura another desperation move to appease a rabid fan base, or is he truly NHL-ready?
Is Dylan Sikura Ready?
Sikura shows promise, but he definitely needs time to grow in the AHL before he can truly thrive in the NHL. It has happened before; take Vinnie Hinostroza as an example (who was a close runner-up for “erasing a trade” by the way). Hinostroza grew and thrived in the AHL before becoming a strong NHL forward. I think Sikura is similar to Hinostroza in that way. He simply needs more time to grow before he’s ready to play in the NHL.
I’ve watched Sikura play in person about a dozen times this season in the AHL. There is no doubt he is highly skilled and was the most dynamic player on the Rockford IceHogs roster. Head coach Derek King had a very interesting quote after Sikura’s two-goal game on Dec. 7.
“I still think he puts too much pressure on himself to be the best player on the ice,” King said. “There’s nothing wrong with that but he’s got to realize that this is a pretty good hockey league and the next step is pretty big. I try to explain to him not to be in such a rush to get to the NHL. When you do get there, you want to stay there. You don’t want to be up and down like a yo-yo. He’s a talented hockey player. He’s going to play in the NHL, eventually.”
This led me to believe that Sikura would be staying down in the AHL for the time being, however, he was skating at the United Center just a couple of days later. My biggest issue with Sikura is that he doesn’t like to go to the middle of the ice. You can find success at Northeastern and in Rockford playing on the perimeter, but in the NHL, you need to go between the dots to be a consistent producer.
If you are thinking Sikura is going to be some sort of savior, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment. He can be a really nice player if he is willing to do the small things to succeed at the game’s highest level.
Greg would probably be the best of us to give insight on this question, as he’s watched this top prospect up close and personal with the Rockford IceHogs. Sikura’s had a slow start in the NHL, posting one assist in four games played, while averaging just over 10 minutes of ice time on the Blackhawks’ third line.
If the Hawks were doing better in the standings, I’d be all about letting Sikura learn and grow in the AHL. But the Blackhawks are at the bottom of the league right now, and their playoff hopes are a huge long-shot at best. With nothing much to lose, why not let Sikura get acclimated in the big leagues? He can make his mistakes and then adjust against NHL players. Eventually, he’ll be more prepared for next season, when things might actually count.
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that this 2018-19 season isn’t salvageable for the Blackhawks. There’s been more and more discussion that it’s time to let the past go and say goodbye to one of the core players. Which player would give the best return for the Blackhawks and help them build towards a better future?
Which Blackhawks’ Core Player Should Go?
I talked about this in the second episode of The Hockey Writers Podcast, and I’m going to stick with Duncan Keith. He’s not the worst defenseman in the world right now, but he’s a far cry from what he used to be. The Keith I see playing today isn’t the same Keith who helped the Hawks take home three Stanley Cups, and he’s definitely not the Keith who took home two Norris Trophies and a Conn Smythe Trophy.
He’s been given so many chances to prove himself and make a comeback, but seems to fail every time. As unfortunate as it is for the organization, I think it’s time to cut ties with Keith if they want to truly improve defensively.
Even though the title of my last article is, “The Blackhawks Should Move on From Corey Crawford,” he is not my answer to this question. I argued that Crawford was more valuable to the future of the franchise as a trade chip rather than being its starting goaltender during a season going nowhere. Obviously, after Sunday night, Crawford’s personal health is the top concern and trade scenarios have taken a back seat.
The “core player” that should be traded is Brent Seabrook. His play has greatly declined over the past handful of seasons and unless Bowman can acquire a time-traveling DeLorean, things will not improve. The problem is that there is not a general manager in their right mind who will take on Seabrook’s contract. The 33-year-old is signed through the 2023-24 season with a $6.8 million cap hit. They only way Bowman can move him will be retaining at least half of that salary and/or including a top prospect in the deal. When Bowman writes his memoir, you can bet the Seabrook contract will be included as one of his biggest regrets.
I’d love to say Seabrook here, but no one is going to take on his albatross contract, especially with the way his play has declined. I’m still of the belief that Toews and Kane are untouchable. After all, they’re the faces of the franchise. They’re what keep people coming to the United Center. And even in this lost season, these two are still finding individual success.
Keith is my pick to go. His play has declined, but he still could be an asset on a team with Stanley Cup hopes. Utilized the right way, he could provide stability on the back end. And his veteran presence and playoff experience would be invaluable. As for the Blackhawks, it’s time to invest in the young defensive prospects in the pipeline.
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It isn’t easy to be a Blackhawks’ fan right now. The team is going through so much transition, and not seeing a whole lot of success in the process. The past is gone, but it’s fun to project how things could have been different. The present isn’t very pretty, but if you look closely you can see the potential. And the future still has so many question marks. Here’s to finding the right answers.