Last season was a wake-up call for the fans of the Chicago Blackhawks. In a sense, the golden age of the team was over. This was no longer the Chicago Blackhawks that would absolutely dominate the other NHL franchises. It was a phenomenal time, but nothing lasts forever.
Even though the team still has stars in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford, the defense is a shred of what it once was. The offense, once consisting of a great balance between the top six and bottom six, is now mostly a two line team with very little depth scoring. It’s not a formula for success.
Even though Toews looks revitalized, Crawford has returned from a 10-month absence, and Kane is scoring at a unseen pace, even for him, the team is still 6-5-3. It’s not a phenomenal record, but it does have the Blackhawks on the playoff bubble. Blackhawk Up, a popular Blackhawks blog, posted an intriguing question on Twitter: Should the Blackhawks look to make a trade to make the playoffs, or miss it completely and have a chance to develop their own prospects?
The fans were split pretty evenly, with 52% saying Chicago should make a trade to get to the playoffs. The Blackhawks do have a top 15 farm system, according to Corey Pronman of The Athletic. However, they don’t seem to have that many high-profile prospects. Yes, they have Adam Boqvist and Dylan Sikura, but outside of those two, the team has mostly depth players or AHL caliper players.
Given the state of the farm system, it’s unlikely that the Blackhawks are going to want to give up any of these highly talented prospects, or any of their draft picks. Not only that, but this team seems more than one move away from being competitive with the likes of Nashville, Winnipeg or San Jose.
Usually, teams that do make a trade to give them a final push towards the Stanley Cup are just missing one piece to finally push them over the edge. However, this Blackhawks team is more than one piece away from seriously competing for the Cup. It wouldn’t be the smart move in the long run to be as competitive as they can be, and trade away their draft stock to potentially lose in the first or second round of the playoffs.
The best thing for Chicago would be to do what they did last year; trade some of their younger guys on their last year of their contracts and obtain some more draft picks. Even an additional second round or third round pick can be beneficial. According to Cap Friendly, the Blackhawks have nice players on their last year of their contracts.
That being said, even if the Blackhawks miss the playoffs and have a high draft pick, this team isn’t exactly light years away from competing again. Some of their younger prospects are about the enter the NHL, especially on the defensive side of the rink. Players like Chad Krys, Ian Mitchell and Nicloas Beaudin could sign contracts with the team next year and possibly make the roster.
Given another top ten pick, the Blackhawks could jump right back into the competitive Central Division. It might not happen next year, but it won’t be too terribly long. Given the fact that Crawford has returned to his typical status as an elite goal tender, an improved blue line would have Chicago right back in the thick of of the playoff hunt.
As an important side note, the Blackhawks are set to have some significant money come off their books. A quick look at Cap Friendly has the team set to shed a little over $12 million if nobody resigns. In addition, the Blackhawks have a little under $5 million in cap space this year. However, Nick Schmaltz is going to be due a new contract, and early estimates could be in the $5-$6 million a year range. Even if that is the case, the Blackhawks would have around $11 million for free agency. With some key free agents (hello Artemi Panarin) on the horizon, the Blackhawks could make a splash. Time will tell.