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Blackhawks should try to trade star defensemen

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The Athletic’s Scott Powers dropped an interesting report today (sub required): Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman realizes that he’ll have a glut of defensemen soon, so he might need to make a move.

To be more specific, the impending return of Connor Murphy could make for quite a crowd. Powers notes that Bowman acknowledged that much a couple weeks ago, albeit while also resisting some of the perceived pressure to make a move.

” … Murph’s a good player, so we want to get him back as soon as we can to help our team. What that means for the other guys, we’ll sort that out,” Bowman said on Nov. 24. “If there’s a surplus and everyone’s healthy, then there’s always needs around the league for defensemen. We can maybe make a move at that point.”

Now, Powers points to Bowman trying to move a depth defenseman such as Brandon Manning or Jan Rutta merely to open up a modicum of space … but that honestly might be thinking too small.

Right now, the Chicago Blackhawks are on a six-game losing streak. They’re not technically in last place in the West with 23 points, yet they’re sagging with 30 games played already, so they’re awfully close to that mark. Maybe playing five of their next six games at home will help them save a little face, but just about every projection should hammer a painful reality home: the 2018-19 season is as good as shot for Chicago.

With that in mind, the Blackhawks should begin preparing for the future, and that means acknowledging – not continuing to ignore – the elephant in the room: it’s time to strip away significant portions of this core group.

It’s tough to imagine the Blackhawks parting ways with the $21 million duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and in all honesty, those two could still conceivably help a team contend.

Instead, it’s time for Bowman to hit the “reset” button on an ailing defense, and he’d be foolish not to explore every avenue in doing so. Yes, that means doing whatever he can to a) convince Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to waive no-movement clauses and b) finding trade partners for one or both of those defensemen.

The risks that come with keeping Keith

At 35, Keith isn’t at that Norris Trophy level any longer.

Defensemen aren’t always sniping machines, yet it’s troubling that he’s failed to score a goal in 2018-19, and only has two over his last 112 games. He’s not quite the source of offense he once was, and while his possession stats are respectable, they won’t knock your socks off.

Keith is still a very useful defenseman, however, and one can bet that he still enjoys a high standing in the NHL … for now.

Let’s face it; as times go on and Keith’s team declines further from past successes, his stature is likely to tumble. It doesn’t help that his average ice time is down considerably this season (22:36), and last season’s 23:50 TOI average was already a significant step down from his workhorse, 25+ minute days.

The Blackhawks need to be weary of Keith’s $5.54M cap hit, which lasts through 2022-23. Yes, it carries the scent of obvious cap circumvention, as Cap Friendly lists his salary diving from $4.5M to $3.5M next, and so on until it sinks all the way to $1.5M in 2022-23. In my opinion, Chicago would get a much better return for Keith if they traded him before he became, essentially, Marian Hossa-like contract fodder.

(Sure, the Blackhawks moved Hossa’s deal, but they had to give up a helpful, affordable, and not-yet-optimized player in Vinnie Hinostroza.)

If the Blackhawks wait too long, they might be stuck bribing a team to take the last, empty cap years of Keith’s deal, rather than getting assets that can truly help them in the future. That’s not exactly an ideal scenario for a franchise that sorely needs to restock its prospect cupboard beyond Adam Boqvist.

Finding a taker for Brent Seabrook

While Keith could conceivably fetch an interesting offer, it’s difficult to picture GMs lining up to land Seabrook, a 33-year-old with a horrendous $6.875M cap hit that doesn’t expire until after 2023-24.

On the other hand, we’ve seen some surprising trades over the years that force you to never say never.

The Habs didn’t just absorb a nightmare Scott Gomez contract, they also sent Ryan McDonagh to the Rangers. A contract Roberto Luongo despised didn’t keep him in Vancouver forever. Chris Pronger eventually drew checks from the Coyotes.

Seabrook will be easier to move in time, as his total salary goes from $9M in the first three seasons (ending in 2018-19) to $7.5M next year, and lower as the years pass. That’s a comforting thought, but are we totally certain that Bowman has been practicing due diligence to get rid of that deal as soon as possible? You never know if an old-school team might want to take Seabrook off of Chicago’s hands sooner.

All it takes is one GM/front office to think that they’re seeing something no one else understands. Unfortunately, it’s fair to wonder if Bowman is too close to the situation, and thus overrates his own players to his own detriment.

One to keep

If there’s one defenseman I wouldn’t take many trade calls about, it would be rookie Henri Jokiharju. The 19-year-old is already showing serious promise, and maybe just as importantly for the cap-challenged Blackhawks, he’s only in the first season of his three-year, entry-level, rookie deal.

Which brings us to some optimism:

If they can only stomach a short rebuild …

Normally, I’d refer to this idea as a “soft rebuild,” but let’s be frank: it won’t be easy for Bowman to swallow his pride and, ideally, trade Keith and/or Seabrook. Management probably wouldn’t even enjoy moving a more obvious cap-filler like forward Artem Anisimov.

Could there be some light at the end of the tunnel, though?

It certainly stings that Chicago lost some quality, affordable players in recent years because of the cap crunch and some general errors (Hinostroza, Ryan Hartman, Teuvo Teravainen, Nick Schmaltz, etc.).

They still might have some help thanks to certain cheaper options. As mentioned, Jokiharju could be part of a solution. Rising star Alex DeBrincat‘s rookie contract won’t expire until after next season. If Dylan Strome can at least bring more pros than cons, then he’s another guy who is cheap through at least 2019-20. Depending upon how he develops, Boqvist might be able to add to that group of cheap, competitive players.

According to Cap Friendly, the Blackhawks currently have 15 players carrying $62.21M in cap commitments heading into 2019-20. If Chicago moved Keith or Seabrook for futures and/or expiring contracts, they could push that number closer to $56M or so (considering overages and other cap quirks).

Suddenly, things could look more interesting with a salary cap estimated around $83M.

Perhaps the Blackhawks could right a wrong by bringing back Artemi Panarin, giving them more of a chance to outscore their problems? Maybe they could lure Erik Karlsson away from San Jose and other suitors? They could also target mid-level free agents in pursuit of depth, or extend their rebuild window by taking on some contracts from other teams (maybe they should “help out” the Maple Leafs?).

Things can start to change quickly once you gain some flexibility, with some ideas being wiser than others. Most of the bolder ideas sure beat sitting idly by, risking waiting too long to make much-needed changes.

For the sake of Blackhawks fans, here’s hoping Bowman agrees, even if it means painfully saying goodbye to some of the icons of a fading era.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks visit Ducks on NBCSN

The NBCSN Wednesday night doubleheader continues with the Anaheim Ducks hosting the Chicago Blackhawks at 10:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

Not that long ago, the Blackhawks and Ducks ranked among the biggest heavyweights in the West, if not the NHL.

For the Blackhawks, their hopes are now fading. The Ducks, meanwhile, are fighting to maintain their spot.

[WATCH LIVE – 10:30 P.M. ET]

It hasn’t always been pretty with Anaheim, but the Ducks are picking up steam. Remarkably, they ended a five-game road trip by rattling off four consecutive wins, and now they begin a four-game homestand. The Ducks are currently in playoff position (second in the Pacific with 33 standings points), and making the most of this stretch could really cement their position.

With that in mind, they’ll need to take care of business against the Blackhawks. Chicago isn’t the team it once was, yet with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, and Corey Crawford on their roster, the Blackhawks can’t be taken lightly.

[EXTENDED PREVIEW]

What: Chicago Blackhawks at Anaheim Ducks
Where: Honda Center
When: Wednesday, Dec. 5, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blackhawks – Ducks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

BLACKHAWKS

Brandon Saad / Jonathan Toews / Brendan Perlini
Dominik Kahun / David Kampf / Patrick Kane
Alex DeBrincat / Dylan Strome / Alexandre Fortin
Chris Kunitz / Artem Anisimov / Marcus Kruger

Duncan Keith / Henri Jokiharju
Brandon Manning / Brent Seabrook
Gustav Forsling / Jan Rutta

Starting Goalie: Corey Crawford

DUCKS

Rickard Rakell / Ryan Getzlaf / Pontus Aberg
Nick Ritchie / Adam Henrique / Daniel Sprong
Andrew Cogliano / Ryan Kesler / Jakob Silfverberg
Kiefer Sherwood / Carter Rowney / Ondrej Kase

Brandon Montour / Hampus Lindholm
Jacob Larsson / Josh Manson
Josh Mahura / Jake Dotchin

Starting goalie: John Gibson

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Golden Knights go for fourth straight win vs. Blackhawks

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and Chicago Blackhawks with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The defending Western Conference champion Golden Knights seem to have righted the ship with three straight wins, while the Blackhawks have dropped 11 of their last 14 games (3-8-3) over the past month and find themselves sixth in the Central Division.

Vegas is 4-1-0 since defenseman Nate Schmidt returned from a 20-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. During that stretch, Schmidt has no points, but leads the team in ice time (21:36 per game). After a dreadful start in which Max Pacioretty tallied just four points in his first 16 games, the former Canadiens captain has started to take off with six goals and an assist in the past five games.

In the the nine games since Jeremy Colliton replaced Joel Quenneville, offense has been hard to come by. The Blackhawks are scoring 2.11 goals per game during that span and their power play is just 2-for-21.

“We wanted to buy into the system,” said forward Alex DeBrincat. “We want to have a good team. The core group, they got our attention and told us to really buy in. They were preaching: ‘Forget about the past and move on.’… it was probably a lot tougher for them to move on from that after 10, 11 years, but we’re playing a team sport and they obviously want to win, too. The past is the past.”

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Vegas Golden Knights at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Tuesday, Nov. 27, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Golden Knights-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLACKHAWKS
Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsJohn Hayden
Alex DeBrincat – Artem AnisimovPatrick Kane
Alexandre FortinDavid KampfDominik Kahun
Brendan PerliniDylan StromeMarcus Kruger

Duncan KeithGustav Forsling
Erik GustafssonHenri Jokiharju
Brandon ManningBrent Seabrook

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith
Max Pacioretty – Cody EakinAlex Tuch
Daniel Carr – Tomas NosekRyan Carpenter
William CarrierPierre-Edouard BellemareRyan Reaves

Brayden McNabb – Nate Schmidt
Shea TheodoreDeryk Engelland
Nick HoldenColin Miller

Starting goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury

MORE: Fleury’s shutouts earning donuts for Golden Knights fans

Domingue, Kucherov lead Lightning past Blackhawks

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Look, when Andrei Vasilevskiy went down with a broken foot, most people would have expected a bit of a downturn in the crease.

Underestimating Louie Domingue? Guilty as charged.

Dominique’s save percentage won’t woo the masses, but he’s made enough key saves enough times in between the pipes for the Lightning that he’s won four of six starts since Vasilevskiy went down on Nov. 10.

That’s all he’s really been asked to do given the rate the Lightning put pucks past opposition goalies.

Domingue was stellar in Friday’s 4-2 win for the Lightning against the Chicago Blackhawks on NBCSN, stopping 30-of-32 for his seventh win of the season.

Tampa had three goals in the first 10:05 of the opening frame on Friday against Chicago, helped on each one of them by an assist from Nikita Kucherov.

Tyler Johnson fired home back-to-back markers and Brayden Point notched his 15th of the season before the Blackhawks could even get into the game.

Point finished with a goal and an assist in the game and is now on 28 points, two back of Kucherov for the team lead.

Point would have eclipsed Kucherov if not for the latter’s continued dominance on the scoresheet. No. 86’s white-hot run extended with his hat trick of apples. He now has two goals and 10 helpers in a five-game point streak.

Artem Anisimov injected a bit of life into Chicago just 1:05 later, but the Lightning would respond through Ryan Callahan just before the 15-minute mark to regain the three-goal cushion.

Callahan’s goal was especially filthy, as you can see here:

Jonathan Toews, who is on a bit of a tear recently, made it 4-2 with his 11th goal of the season, extending his own point streak to five games.

He’s now up to 20 points in 23 games so far and is one pace to hit the 60-point mark for the first time in four years.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Lightning host Blackhawks on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Friday night’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning with coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Improvement has been there, but there’s plenty of work to do for new Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton. Since the 0-6-2 slump that led to Joel Quenneville’s firing, Chicago is 2-3-2 under the new bench boss, which has featured the team’s top line providing a big offensive push.

In Colliton’s seven games behind the bench, Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have scored six goals and recorded 16 points. The rest of the Blackhakws have totaled six goals and 20 points.

“If we play them together, they’ve got to produce. But sometimes when you spread them out, no one produces,” Colliton explained about putting the three together. “By loading them up, it puts some pressure on them. But hopefully they play so well, it doesn’t matter who has the puck — they’re making plays, they break through anyway, no matter who they’re playing against. That’s what we ask of them, and so far they’re coming through for us.”

The Lightning beat the Florida Panthers Wednesday to move to within two points of the top spot in the NHL. The dynamic offense scored seven goals for the third time this season, keeping them atop the league with a 3.73 goals per game average.

Goaltender Louis Domingue has made five starts since Andrei Vasilevskiy broke his foot last week. Tampa has won three of those games with the netminder posting a .939 even strength save percentage.

“He’s winning hockey games for us,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. “[H]e’s given us a chance to win games and he’s played well.”

[WATCH LIVE – 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Chicago Blackhawks at Tampa Bay Lightning
Where: Amalie Arena
When: Friday, November 23rd, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blackhawks-Lightning stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLACKHAWKS
Brandon Saad – Jonathan Toews – Patrick Kane
Nick SchmaltzArtem AnisimovAlex DeBrincat
Alexandre FortinDavid KampfDominik Kahun
Chris KunitzLuke JohnsonMarcus Kruger

Duncan KeithGustav Forsling
Erik GustafssonBrent Seabrook
Brandon ManningJan Rutta

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

LIGHTNING
Yanni GourdeSteven StamkosJ.T. Miller
Tyler JohnsonBrayden PointNikita Kucherov
Alex KillornAnthony CirelliMathieu Joseph
Adam ErneCedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Victor HedmanDan Girardi
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Braydon CoburnMikhail Sergachev

Starting goalie: Louis Domingue

Rick Peckham (play-by-play) and Brian Engblom (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Blackhawks-Lightning from Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule