Sunday’s Stadium Series game was embarrassing for the Blackhawks. However, they will not have time to dwell on what went wrong for too long as they are getting ready to step into a tough stretch of hockey in the coming weeks.
The NHL trade deadline is looming, and the Blackhawks are almost certainly going to be a major player before all is said and done.
Turning the Page
On Thursday night, they will be facing the Nashville Predators. They are always a dangerous team, in spite of the fact that they are currently clinging to a wild card spot with a very thin lead on the Colorado Avalanche, and the Minnesota Wild threatening from the outside. Both teams are going to come out on a mission to end the month of February with a strong effort in their last two games.
— Blackhawks SPORTalk (@SPORTalkBHawks) February 22, 2016
The Blackhawks are 5-3-1 in February while the Preds are 5-3-3. Neither team is likely to be satisfied with those numbers and will be looking to finish with two more wins, but both will be facing a tough challenge as they matchup against one another followed by the red-hot Washington Capitals for the Blackhawks, and the St. Louis Blues for the Preds.
Both teams will face tough stretches in the month of March, so a strong finish is at the top of each of their to-do lists. The Preds will face the Capitals, Penguins, Islanders, Stars, and Avalanche. The latter being their most heated rival in the Wild Card race. In addition, they will face a bunch of basement dwellers who can light a team up if they don’t come ready to play. In the later stages of the season, those non-playoff teams can be tricky as fatigue from a long season starts to set in on the teams that have been in the hunt all season long.
The Preds will face the Capitals, Penguins, Islanders, Stars, and Avalanche. The latter being their most heated rival in the Wild Card race. In addition, they will face a bunch of basement dwellers who can light a team up if they don’t come ready to play. In the later stages of the season, those non-playoff teams can be tricky as fatigue starts to set in on the teams that have been in the hunt all season long.
— Tennessean (@Tennessean) February 22, 2016
The Blackhawks have an even tougher run in March as they will face the Red Wings, Stars, and Wild both at home and away. They will also see the Bruins, Blues, and Kings who are always tough competition. In fact, the Blackhawks only have four games against non-playoff teams in the next month.
Keys to Getting Playoff Ready
The Blackhawks are undoubtedly going to the playoffs and could have home ice against most of the league if they can hang on to first or second in the Western Conference. However, they will have to bounce back quickly from the embarrassing loss against the Wild in the Stadium Series.
Corey Crawford: "No excuse to play the way we did. It was tough. It was a little embarrassing out there, to be honest."
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) February 21, 2016
The Blackhawks will have to be ready to play each and every game from the opening puck drop, no more playing back until the second period. They simply can not afford to battle back from large deficits, it is far more taxing and will only add to the team’s fatigue in the closing stretch of the season.
The team has played an extraordinary amount of hockey in the last six years between several deep playoff runs, All-Star Games, and the Olympics, so anything that they can do to put games away early is only going to help in the long run.
Additionally, the Blackhawks need to find a way to get Corey Crawford some rest. He has already appeared in 50 games, and with 20 remaining (only two back-to-backs) he is almost certain to blow his previous games played record of 59 out of the water.
Fatigue is starting to show for their netminder who has been having a career year with seven shutouts on the season so far. He is currently only two wins away from a career best 34 wins in one season, a milestone he is all but guaranteed to shatter going forward.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) February 23, 2016
Bring on Terror-vainen
Teuvo Teravainen is going to need to find the next level in order to gain some consistency in his game. He is of great value to this team as he is a versatile forward who can play in any position. However, the lack of consistency offensively is puzzling given his level of skill.
He seems like the perfect choice to play on the top line with Hossa and Toews, but he simply hasn’t been productive when he has been given the opportunity. The Blackhawks have seen glimpses of that kind of play as he was a beast in the early games of the Stanley Cup Final, and in stretches over the course of the regular season this year, but he will need to be more aggressive in the coming month and a half.
He is capable of so much more than he has shown in his time in Chicago, and that is part of the reason that his name has been whispered about in the tradewinds. However, trading the young forward would be a desperate move and one that Stan Bowman is unlikely to make regardless of the return.
Another player who has been linked to a lot of trade rumors is Andrew Shaw. While he seems like a bit player to those on the outside, he is a huge part of the Blackhawks identity. Losing him would be like ripping the heart from the team.
Shaw has added 16 points in 2016 (more than half his total for the season) and has six points in the last five games alone. Even if he could be traded for a true top line winger, he would leave behind a substantial hole. He is a perfect fit on the third or fourth line and is one of only a handful of players that will sacrifice himself in the crease to screen the opposing netminder. His grit is irreplaceable.
If Shaw is the price for Andrew Ladd, Mikkel Boedker or Loui Eriksson, that will be a tough one to swallow. It would be better if they could use some of their forward prospects over a roster player, or better yet, find a way to move Bryan Bickell.
Moving Bickell would likely mean retaining some cap, but they Blackhawks still have the option of putting Marcus Kruger on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) since it seems that he is nowhere near ready to return.
Tradewinds Will Pass Through Chicago
Kruger has just started to skate on his own, but it is unlikely that he will be ready until the first round of the playoffs after having surgery to repair a dislocated wrist. Certainly, the Blackhawks have been waiting to list him on LTIR with the hopes that he could return for the last few games. However, if an early return is still looking like a long shot, they could use that to increase their cap space if needed to land a guy like Loui Eriksson or Andrew Ladd.
Many believe that the Blackhawks should stand pat with the team that they have, but there is no way that Stan Bowman is going to leave that top line left wing slot alone. The Toews line has been so important defensively in each of the Blackhawks Cup runs as they have almost always matched up against the opponent’s biggest scoring threats and while Shaw has done an admirable job there is another spot that could really use him.
Last season, Shaw, Andrew Desjardins, and Kruger were the best shut down line in defensive zone starts. There is little doubt that if all the players are still with the team, they will find their way back together in the playoffs at some point. So, it is imperative that the Blackhawks find the right player to slot in beside Hossa and Toews.
Seeking A Left Wing Lock
The Blackhawks are in dire need of a left winger who can grab the top line spot and flourish quickly. There are several candidates still available who have been rumored to be on the Blackhawks Radar.
Loui Eriksson – Boston Bruins
30 years old – 6’2″ – LW
Eriksson is one of the players that has been swirling among the rumor mills He is an outstanding choice, but his $4.25 million cap hit may prove to be prohibitive unless Kruger is placed on the LTIR, or a player like Bickell can be moved in the deal.
Eriksson has accrued 48 points (23 G, 25 A) this season for the Bruins. He would also make the Blackhawks top line even more imposing with his 6’2″ frame. He is a veteran player at 30 years old, and he has the experience to step right into the vacancy on the top line.
Andrew Ladd – Winnipeg Jets
30 years old – 6’3″ – LW
Another expensive option would be to bring back Andrew Ladd. He is also a long shot because of his $4.4 million cap hit, but Blackhawks fans would love to see him back in an Indianhead sweater, even if it is only a rental. He would also bring size to an already big line at 6’3″.
At 30, he still has a lot left in the tank and he already knows coach Joel Quenneville’s system having played for him from 2008 through the 2010 Cup championship. He was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) in the Blackhawks first post-Cup purge in 2010. He has added 33 points (16 G, 17 A) for the Jets this season.
Ladd has also been linked to former Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon’s Florida Panthers.
Kris Versteeg – Carolina Hurricanes
29 years old – 5’11” – RW
Versteeg is another familiar face as he has been a part of both the 2010 and the 2015 Cup teams. He is a natural right wing, but he has played the left side for the Blackhawks in the past and knows Quenneville’s game plan inside and out. Versteeg could certainly play alongside Hossa and Toews as he has the speed and skill to keep pace.
He is the smallest of the options that the Blackhawks are considering, but he also has the smallest cap hit at $2.2 million as the Florida Panthers retained half of his $4.4 million. Versteeg has had a good year with the Carolina Hurricanes after the Blackhawks were forced to trade him with no deals for Bickell on the horizon. He has collected 33 points (11 G, 22 A) over the course of the season.
While Versteeg may not be the biggest name on this list, he could certainly fill the void and bring some additional skill to an already talent-laden top line with Hossa and Toews.
Mikkel Boedker – Arizona Coyotes
26 years old – 6’0″ – RW
Boedker is another interesting option, and would bring some youth to the top line as he is only 26 years old. His best asset is his speed, he is among the fastest in the league and could be a great addition to the Toews line. He is not a major goal scoring threat, but he has added 38 points (13 G, 25 A) in his 59 games this season.
Under the right circumstances, he could be a more productive goal scorer and certainly Hossa and Toews could create that type of environment for Boedker. He is another big winger at 6’0″, but he would have to adapt his game to play the left side as he has played on the right for most of his career. However, he is a solid two-way forward with a good mind for the game and he should be able to make that transition without much effort.
Chicago also made a deadline deal with the Arizona Coyotes last year (Antoine Vermette), and that ended pretty well. Could they strike gold (or silver as the case may be) twice with Boedker?
Boedker or Ladd would be my top picks at the deadline, but it is anyone’s guess which way the Blackhawks will go.
The Blackhawks have a pair of nearly ready prospects in Marko Dano and Ville Pokka. While Dano could draw some interest, Bowman is likely to want to hang onto the promising young forward. However, Pokka has dropped down the depth chart behind both Erik Gustafsson and Viktor Svedberg and could be in play at the Deadline.
Some other names likely to come up are Bryan Bickell, Jiri Sekac, Brandon Mashinter, Mark McNeill, Kyle Baun, Ryan Hartman, Vincent Hinostroza, Ryan Haggerty, and Tanner Kero. Though McNeill, Hartman, and Hinostroza seem to be the most likely to move from this group. With Quenneville’s early usage of Kero, it is more than likely that the Blackhawks would like to keep him within the system and see how his game evolves. Baun is another player that may warrant further evaluation from the Blackhawks as well.
They could also leverage some future picks though it would seem like that would be a smaller part of the deal since several of their picks are already off the table from prior trades. They do have multiple picks in the fourth and fifth round of 2016 and the fifth round in 2017, so one of those picks might be on the table as well.
A move is in the cards; The only question that remains is what will it cost the cap-strapped Blackhawks?
Kristi is a long time hockey fan who grew up in, and around hockey rinks across the United States and Canada. A native Chicagoan, Loucks has always been an avid Blackhawks fan. Kristi also covers the Chicago Cubs and writes suspense thrillers, when not covering the Chicago Blackhawks. Follow Kristi on twitter @louckske