The Blackhawks and Penguins made the first trade of the 2015-16 season Monday night when they swapped Trevor Daley for Rob Scuderi. Yes, Daley is a more serviceable player at the moment even though he’s not a great fit here in Chicago. Rob Scuderi is kind of a hockey Stephen Hawking at this point. Highly functional brain and a wealth of experience with a body that needs a wheelchair. Maybe Scuderi can be okay in a limited role as a 6th or 7th defenseman. Or maybe Stan made this trade simply to put Scuderi on waivers and net an additional $950K in Cap savings. Either way, the front office made their first move towards improving the roster for the playoffs. And when you’re a dynasty, the playoffs are the only thing that really matters. This is a good time to take a step back, look at the team, and try to project how things will shape up come April.
If Stan Bowman were to put Scuderi on waivers and replace him on the NHL roster with Erik Gustafsson, the Hawks would be left with $2,479,040 in cap space to work with between now and the deadline. So what should the Hawks do with that 2 million and change?
I said yesterday that I believe the Blackhawks are two players away from being a serious Stanley Cup contender again.
1) Another Center: The Blackhawks are arguably more solid at center now than at any other time during this run. Toews, Anisimov, and Kruger give the Hawks a strong spine, but it’s been a rotation of AHL players in the final center spot. Hinostroza, Kero, and Rasmussen have all had their moments where they looked good, but it’s asking a lot of a rookie to be a top 9 center on a Stanley Cup team.
2) Top Four Defenseman: Keith, Seabrook, and Hjalmarsson are as good as any in the league. TVR has been slotted into the top 4 and has played well. He’s very steady. A legitimate top 4 defenseman in the NHL. However, there’s a difference between being a top 4 DMan on a good team like say…the Islanders and being a top 4 Dman on a team that wins the Stanley Cup.
Guess what every team in the league needs at deadline time? Centers and defense. It’s way too early to speculate, but I would keep an eye on Kris Russell. Expiring contract. Gets top 4 minutes. His possession numbers aren’t good, but he’s a pretty good skater and puck mover who also blocks a TON of shots. He’s also on a bad possession team. Maybe not a true top 4 defenseman, but if the Hawks went into the playoffs with Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, TVR, Russell, Rozsival, Scuderi, and Gustafsson, I think Coach Q could cobble together an effective 3rd pair if he had one more legitimate NHL defenseman.
The Hawks biggest problem in the first third of the season has been balanced scoring. Last night was a microcosm of that issue. Kane’s line didn’t score so the Hawks got shut out. In the season preview blog I said that the key to the Blackhawks being serious contenders would be the development and production of Panarin, Teravainen, and Dano. So far only Panarin has come through.
I couldn’t be more disappointed in Teravainen so far this year. It’s important to remember that Teravainen is only 21, but he hasn’t produced consistently enough to date. The Coaching staff has tried just about everything to get him going. He’s been on the 3rd line, he’s been on the 4th line, and now he’s playing with Hossa and Toews. He’s even been a healthy scratch for a few games. Coach Q always tries to have a balanced line up. Ideally, Teravainen would carrying the 3rd line. The Hawks’ depth and secondary scoring has been what sets them apart from other teams. Right now they don’t have the ability to come at opponents in waves because Teravainen isn’t consistently dangerous. I don’t have any stats to back this up, but he leads the league in turnovers around the bluelines. Teravainen also just doesn’t battle as hard as some of the depth scoring the Hawks have had in the past. Patrick Sharp flat out competed. He’s a son of a bitch to play against. Brandon Saad, Andrew Ladd, and even Kris Versteeg were tough guys to play against. They all had an element of bite to their game that Teravainen just doesn’t have. He is an easy guy to play against. Now, there are multiple ways to make your opponents uncomfortable. Teravainen doesn’t have to be physically confrontational to be effective, but he needs to use his strengths to pressure people. Too often the play dies when the puck comes to him. When Teravainen is at his best, he is moving his feet and making deft plays with the puck. This year he seems to stop moving with the puck and waiting for the ice to open up, rather than creating plays by attacking with speed. He needs to be more assertive with and without the puck.
Now you’re probably thinking “Chief, you’re really rambling here, get to the fucking point”. You’re right. This blog went off the rails a bit. The point is, I don’t think the Blackhawks have enough cap space or assets to trade in order to get both a top 9 center and another defenseman. I prefer another Dman which means the Hawks will have to find a solution to the scoring depth/center issue with what is currently in the organization.
Bickell isn’t getting nearly enough credit for his play since coming back from the AHL. He’s been competing hard every shift. As a result his line with Rasmussen and Shaw has been very good. Bickell wasn’t himself during the playoffs last year as he battled a knee injury and vertigo, but if he can turn into playoff-Bicks again in this year’s playoffs the Hawks will have a great top line
This has been not only the Hawks best line but the best line in hockey. Don’t touch it.
I like Shaw better on the wing, but the Hawks don’t have any better options. Shaw will still compete hard and this line should theoretically have enough speed, skill, and grit to be a good playoff line. Like I said, they need more from Teravainen, but hopefully he will get better as the season goes a long. Dano has all the physical tools. He strikes me as the type who will thrive in playoff hockey. I think he will be back up with the team soon. I think his cap hit of $925K is at least a partial factor for him being in Rockford right now. Mashinter is significantly cheaper.
I really like Rasmussen. He’s strong on his skates, has good hockey sense, and competes hard. It’s a small sample size, but he’s been solid on faceoffs winning 50% of his draws so far this year. You can never have too many guys capable of winning a draw in the playoffs. I would also think about putting Rasmussen at center of the 3rd line and moving Shaw to 4th line wing, but an all-rookie line scares me a bit.
The talent level for the 2015-16 Blackhawks isn’t on par with the teams that won in 2010 or 2015, but that’s life in the salary cap era. Sometimes I think we, as a fan base, have horse blinders on. We only look at the Hawks, see mixed results during the regular season, and don’t realize that just about every team in the league would trade rosters with the Hawks without blinking. The core of the Hawks is still stronger than any in the league and if Teravainen, Bickell, and TVR can perform in the playoffs then the Hawks have a real chance to repeat.
PS: I’ve seen a lot of people being critical of the Sharp trade because Garbutt and Daley haven’t worked out. I don’t really understand that. Everyone knew the situation. The league had Stan Bowman over a barrel. There wasn’t a scenario where he was going to get fair value for Sharp. I’m sure the last thing Stan wanted was to trade a proven leader and winner to a team in his division for Trevor Daley. The Hawks had to get Cap compliant.