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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

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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

PHT Morning Skate: Nylander close to returning; Sabres winning tight games

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

William Nylander and the Toronto Maple Leafs are close to agreeing on a new contract, but there’s only one week to go before they can sign a deal. (Sportsnet)

• Mike Babcock believes that his team is getting Auston Matthews and Nylander in their lineup next week. (TSN)

• The chances of the Ottawa Senators moving to a downtown arena are slim to none now. (Silver Seven Sens)

• What can the issues be between Eugene Melnyk and his partner John Ruddy? (Ottawa Citizen)

• The Sabres have found a way to win a lot of late games during their current nine-game winning streak. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

Carl Hagelin, who was acquired from Pittsburgh last week, is already on the shelf. (NHL.com/Kings)

Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak have given the Bruins a solid one-two punch in goal this season. (Bruins Daily)

• It’s time for the Hurricanes to give up on Scott Darling as a starting netminder. (Canes Country)

• The Washington Capitals will give Barry Trotz his Stanley Cup ring prior to their upcoming game against the Islanders on Monday night. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• The Florida Panthers have had a hard time executing this season, and that’s why they’ve had some so-so results in 2018-19. (Panther Parkway)

• How far are the Flyers from hitting rock bottom in GM Ron Hextall’s mind? Here’s a weekly observation on what’s going on in Philly. (NBC Sports Philly)

• Jaromir Jagr will be a key ambassador for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. “Jaromir Jagr will be the face of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022, and will help in the preparation and development of Chinese hockey.” (ESPN)

Matthew Tkachuk continues to get better and better as he gains in experience. (Flames Nation)

• The next wave of young Finnish defensemen are going to be special. Just take a look at Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen, Chicago’s Henri Jokiharju and Calgary’s Juuso Valimaki. (EP Rinkside)

• The Winnipeg Jets have claimed Marko Dano off waivers. This is his second tour of duty with the team. (Jets Nation)

• Randy Carlyle hasn’t been fired by Anaheim yet, but some Ducks fans are ready to name his replacement. (Pucks of a Feather)

• The Vancouver Canucks are hiring big head mascots to skate on the ice during games. That’s just what they needed to break out of their funk. (Daily Hive)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

WATCH LIVE: Blues visit Blackhawks on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blackhawks and Blues find themselves at the bottom of the Central Division eneytering Wednesday’s meeting. Chicago took the first two meetings in overtime, but St. Louis got one back with a 7-3 victory on Oct. 27.

New Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton is still looking for his first win since replacing Joel Quenneville. Chicago is 0-2-1 under Colliton, which has extended their losing streak to eight games. That loss to the Blues was the game that started this current slide. They’ve not had a nine-game losing streak since the 2011-12 NHL season.

“I believe we’re on the right track. I believe we will turn this around. I think we’ve got really good players,” said Colliton. “When things are going against you over a long period of time, it’s not easy to get out of it. The circumstances are what they are. We’ve got to find a way to get it done. We can and we will.”

The dark clouds that were above the Blues earlier this season have brightened as they’ve won four of their last six. During that six-game stretch they’ve sliced their goals against per game from 4 to 2.5. Ryan O'Reilly is also excelling with eight goals and 17 points during a 10-game point streak.

Jake Allen‘s play was a factor in the Blues’ slow start, which opened the door for Chad Johnson, who’s played well in net for the last three games. He’s stopped 86 of the last 90 shots he’s faced and will get his chance to continue to shine during this current three-game road trip. Tonight, however, it’s Allen’s net versus the Blackhawks.

“He’s been our best player. You’ve seen countless times the big saves he’s making that are giving us a chance to win,” O’Reilly said about Johnson. “He’s stood on his head and it’s helped a lot. It’s helped us find our groove and do some good things. We have to be better in front of him, though.”

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Wednesday, November 14th, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUES
Jaden Schwartz – Ryan O’Reilly – Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby FabbriTyler BozakAlexander Steen
Zach SanfordRobert ThomasDavid Perron
Patrick MaroonIvan BarbashevOskar Sundqvist

Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo
Vince DunnJordan Schmaltz
Joel EdmundsonJay Bouwmeester

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

BLACKHAWKS
Nick SchmaltzJonathan ToewsPatrick Kane
Brandon SaadArtem AnisimovJohn Hayden
Alex DeBrincatDavid KampfDominik Kahun
Chris Kunitz – Luke Johnson – Andreas Martinsen

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook
Erik GustafssonHenri Jokiharju
Brandon Manning – Gustav Forling

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule