By Thomas Gibbons
The Blackhawks are tied for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.
It you were to tell me in December that they would be in the playoff conversation heading into the final stretch of the season, I’d call you crazy. And after Corey Crawford went down with another concussion, there was not a lot of optimism that Cam Ward and Colin Delia could hold down the fort until Crawford would return. Well, they did.
Ward and Delia have held down the fort and for Delia, he earned himself a nice pay day out of it, keeping him in Chicago through 2022. Ward is a polished veteran and knows how to get the job done. He has been a huge part of the Blackhawks going 11-2 in their last 13 games. But having Crawford back for the playoff push puts them on another level.
It is going to be a tight race until the very end. For example, look at the last week of the season for the Blackhawks. They’ll have home games against Winnipeg, St. Louis and Dallas before finishing the season in Nashville. Now, the Jets, Stars, and Blues looked primed for the postseason, so they could be resting player and that would play in the Blackhawks favor. But the Stars will be fighting to hold onto their Wild Card spot. I know the Blackhawks are a totally different team since December but they still struggle against the better teams in the league. Boston and Columbus are great example of their two losses during their 11-2 run. So there is worry about the last week of the season that the Blackhawks could lose it all and play themselves out of a playoff spot. But we will cross that bridge when we get there.
One thing to point out is even though the Blackhawks are playing well, it does not mean they are buyers at the deadline. This team is far away from contending for a cup. Patrick Kane is unreal and should be in discussion for the Hart Trophy. Jonathan Toews is having a great bounce back year after working to improve his game. Alex DeBrincat is one of the hottest goal scorers in the game and his chemistry with Dylan Strome is something the Blackhawks are going to have for a long time. Also, do not forget about Brandon Saad and the quietly good season he is having. The goal scorers are there but the defense is far behind them. While making the playoffs would be a testament to Jeremy Colliton and the work he has done, the Blackhawks are going to make it or not by sticking the course. What does that mean? Let’s get into it.
The biggest rumor surrounding the Blackhawks earlier in the year was the possibility to shopping Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Both have no-movement clauses and right now, they have no interest in waiving them. But once the Blackhawks started to play better, those talks diminished.
Elliotte Friedman of SportsNet said on his latest podcast that the Blackhawks are indeed trying to move Artem Anisimov. Anisimov has a modified no trade clause meaning he has submitted a list of ten teams he would like to go to if he were to be moved. And that hurts the Blackhawks right out of the gate because of that limitation.
Anisimov has been a fine player for the Blackhawks since coming over in the Artemi Panarin trade. He has scored twenty of more goals in the past three seasons with the Blackhawks and has provided much needed depth at the center position. But the Blackhawks are going in a different direction in trying to get younger and faster on offense and defense. Anisimov is 30 and with a cap hit of $4,550,000 AAV, it’s a hefty cost for nothing more that a third line center on this roster. If the Blackhawks are able to move him, the return may be small but it clears up more cap space for the summer.
Other players such as Jon Hayden and Marcus Kruger may have some interest out there. Hayden has been brought up in the past by Friedman as teams have shown interest in the forward. He is not going to put up huge numbers but will be aggressive and can handle the puck. Hayden would give you something in your bottom six and playoff teams could come calling. He has one more year left on his deal at $750,000. As for Kruger, he would be a rental if moved. Kruger will help you kill off penalties and occasionally show some offensive spark.
Outside of these three players, I do not see the Blackhawks doing much of anything. It is best to stick the course right now because giving up prospects for rental players is not the direction they should be going. They are in no shape or form a cup contending team, especially defensively. If they sneak into the playoffs, great. But one player is not going to change much to turn this team into something that could beat the top teams in the West.
The NHL trade deadline is Monday, February 25th at 3pm ET.