WCC Notebook: Henri Jokiharju send to Rockford, Bulls looking to challenge Kris Dunn, and trade deadlines approaching

By Thomas Gibbons

In the coming days, the rumor mill will be at it’s peak in the NBA. Contenders will be adding pieces and the teams not so fortunate, like the Chicago Bulls, will be attempting to sell pieces for assets. The same goes for the NHL. We have already seen some moves go down, mainly Jake Muzzin to the Maple Leafs, and the Blackhawks are in the same position as their United Center counterpart. The phones will be ringing on Madison St. and we get to sit back and watch. So turn on those tweet notifications and enjoy.

A lot to talk about on a cold Thursday in Chicago so lets get started.

The Blackhawks have assigned Henri Jokiharju to the Rockford IceHogs

A puzzling move to many, the 19 year-old defenseman has been assigned to the AHL. Jokiharju enjoyed success early in the season but has dipped in production as of late. Jeremy Colliton has decreased his ice-time and has been a healthy scratch. Maybe sending him to the World Juniors was not the best move.

Joel Quenneville did it right. He paired the rookie with Duncan Kieth and Jokiharju held his own. Jokiharju and Keith are actually the second best pairing for the Blackhawks this season with 53.32 Corsi percentage (min. 50 minutes). So why change?

Jeremy Colliton had other plans. The defensive pairings have been fluid the past couple of weeks and Jokiharju has played some games on the left side, his off side. His ice time decreased and he has not been what we saw at the beginning of the season.

For a 19 year-old, Jokiharju has held his own. I like where he is at right now. While I’d like to see him in the lineup everyday, the Blackhawks are going a different route. I do not mind if he makes mistakes or has poor stretches. It is all part of the growing process. But down in Rockford, Jokiharju will have significant ice time and a chance to polish his game. This also gives the Blackhawks an opportunity to judge Gustav Forsling and Carl Dalhstrom and make a decision if they fit in their long-term plans.

From Scott Powers of the Athletic, the Blackhawks have been concerned with Jokiharju getting burned out, and they plan on minimizing that by not playing him in every game for the remainder of the season. That is a reasonable approach for a young kid. I can stand by that. And if the AHL is the answer, then so be it.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reported Thursday morning that the Bulls have been scouting veteran point guards ahead of the Feb. 7 deadline and are already doing their work heading into free agency this summer.

The Bulls have not given up on Kris Dunn. Averaging around 12PPG and 6ASG this season, Dunn has had flashes that he should be the guy the Bulls invest long-term. But they are still not convinced.

I am all for bringing in a veteran point guard not to just help Dunn but push him. There is plenty of good in Dunn’s game but we have yet to see that next step. He has dealt with injuries in Chicago and missing the first 24 games of the season did not help his cause. And some are still not convinced that Dunn, Zach LaVine, and Lauri Markkanen are the “big 3” people thought they could become.

I like Dunn. His mid-range game has improved and he’s active on the defensive end. I don’t think his three point shooting is ever going to be a factor in his game but that can be worked on. I would like to see him get to the line more often too. But his vision is solid and coach Jim Boylen speaks highly of him as a team guy. That is all good and well but the Bulls need to see more in the final 30 games or they will let him sign somewhere else.

If Dunn is not getting it done with the starters, what is stopping Boylen from putting Shaq Harrison or Ryan Arcidiacono back in the starting lineup? Let’s see how Dunn does with the second group. Dunn, Jabari Parker, and Bobby Portis could produce some positive results. The Bulls are rebuilding and you have to experiment with every possible scenario.

I think the Bulls can win with Dunn. I can handle the starting point guard averaging 12 and 6 if he plays defense and keeps the turnovers low. And if the Bulls continue to surround Dunn, LaVine, Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., then everyone’s numbers will improve. It’s another rough season in Chicago but there is still plenty to watch and everyone will be keeping a close eye on Dunn.

Alright, time for some deadline talk.

The Bulls have obvious candidates who can be moved between now and next Thursday afternoon. Parker and Robin Lopez will draw some interest from playoff teams looking for bench help but their contracts stand in the way. While both are expiring deals, it’s quite a bit of money to take on the books this season. Parker sits at $20 million and Lopez at $14,357,750. Teams would rather wait until they were bought out but the Bulls usually do not go that route.

Both players could very well land the Bulls some second round picks but the money is tight. The Bulls will be asked to take on some bad contract but any money after this season will hurt their future plans. There have been some rumors of a Parker-Enes Kanter swap with the Knicks but that does not do anything for the Bulls. They want assets. I think you could get a second round pick for Lopez. At one time there was even rumors that Lopez was worth a first round pick around last year’s deadline but the Bulls decided to keep him as a veteran presence.

The Bulls also have the option to be a third team in a blockbuster deal and acquire a bad contract for this season and that comes with a pick and or a player. We shall see what unfolds.

Onto the Blackhawks, Stan Bowman already made some significant moves to better the franchise on the ice and financially. Sending Nick Schmaltz to Arizona for Dylan Strome has been a win-win so far and getting Brandon Manning off the books fixes his free agency mistake. And he shipped Jan Rutta to Tampa Bay.

The Blachawks more assets that teams could be interested in. Elliotte Friedman of SportsNet has written previously that a few contenders are considering Chris Kunitz and said John Hayden is another name to watch. Powers of the Athletic also reported recently that the Blackhawks have made Kunitz, Andres Martinsen and Marcus Kruger available. All these players do not have much value attached but if the Blackhawks could pick up a draft pick or two, it would be worth it.

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