As the bye week ends, the Blackhawks are in an interesting spot with less than a month until the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
They're three points out of a wild card spot as of Thursday and have won five of their past six games. With the team showing signs of improvement, it's best for GM Stan Bowman to wait until the deadline and see where they're at in the standings, which is what he said he plans on doing.
Given the tight wild card race in the Western Conference, one bad stretch could have them changing from buyers to sellers. Keep in mind Chicago also has $13.8 million in cap space (according to Cap Friendly) and has the option of taking on bad contracts to acquire draft picks.
The season had been up and down, which is why the Hawks have been usually around a .500 team, until the recent five-game winning streak.
The Blackhawks have gotten great goaltending from both Robin Lehner and Corey Crawford in the last stretch and for majority of the season. With the way Lehner has played and what he's meant to Chicago, he could be a Vezina Trophy finalist for the second straight year.
Lehner and Crawford both become unrestricted free agents after this season. Robin has said he enjoys being with the Blackhawks, but doesn't want to take a discount. It's possible that if the Hawks are out of the playoff picture at the deadline Lehner could be dealt.
It was reported the Carolina Hurricanes, a past trade partner with the Blackhawks, were very interested in Lehner and you can bet they're not the only ones. Crawford has a modified no-trade clause this season and believes he can still be a starter moving forward.
With how well Lehner has played for the Blackhawks, it's likely they'll hold onto him at the deadline and do what they can to keep him after this season. They have been thinking about their goalie depth for the future and handed Rockford IceHogs (AHL) goalie Matt Tomkins a two-year, two-way contract.
Brandon Saad's name always seems to come up around the trade deadline. Saad, who has a modified no-trade clause before becoming an unrestricted free agent after next season, has been one of the Hawks' most consistent players this year. The winger has 21 points (13 goals, eight assists) in 39 games and has proven to be effective anywhere in the lineup with no signs of slowing down. I expect those number to increase; it would be wise not to trade him away again.
The likeliest trade bait remains defenseman Erik Gustafsson. Rookie Adam Boqvist has shown he's capable of being Chicago's puck-moving defenseman of the future and has shown glimpses of how effective he can be quarterbacking the power play.
The Blackhawks' offense, led the always reliable Patrick Kane, a surging Jonathan Toews and a red-hot rookie in Dominik Kubalik, doesn't need much help. As mentioned, the goaltending is solid; so the area to improve is on defense.
A lot of teams would trade for a puck-moving D-man with a scoring touch like Gustafsson. The 27-year-old's production is down a tad from last year's 60 points (17 goals, 43 assists). He has 24 (six goals, 18 assists) in 50 games this year.
Defenseman Slater Koekkoek, who was in and out of the lineup earlier this season, has looked solid in seven consecutive games. Prospect Ian Mitchell recently told the Chicago Sun-Times he plans on signing with the Hawks after he finishes with the University of Denver this season.
That being said, the defense has shown signs of improvement since losing Brent Seabrook (right shoulder, right hip) and Calvin de Haan (right shoulder) for the rest of the season.
The stability a top-four defenseman could provide is still something the Hawks need. We'll see if Bowman and Co. try to make it happen, which would command more than just Gustafsson or another lineup player, or stand pat at the deadline.
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