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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.

No change in Chicago: Blackhawks bringing Quenneville, Bowman back

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The Chicago Blackhawks won’t be overreacting to one bad season after a decade of success. On Thursday, team president John McDonough announced that both head coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman will return for the 2018-19 NHL season.

“I believe in continuity [and] they’ve had an incredible body of success,” McDonough said via the Chicago Sun-Times. “We’re not tethered to the past. This has been a very disappointing year and our expectations are incredibly high. We’re not going to deviate from those expectations. But I believe both Stan and Joel are the guys that are going to bring this back.”

[Which NHL teams will make a coaching change after the season?]

The Blackhawks will finish last in the Central Division and miss out on the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The biggest blow to their hopes was losing Crawford, who has been out since December with an upper-body injury. “We expect him to be fine” was the line from Quenneville this week about the goaltender’s status.

Quenneville still has two years and $12 million left on his contract, and if he would have been canned his unemployment wouldn’t have lasted very long considering the number of potential coaching changes that could happen around the league. Bowman, meanwhile, will have a busy summer with plenty of decisions to make. Chicago doesn’t have many contracts to deal with in the off-season, but Bowman’s focus could be trying to find ways to get out from some heavy contracts to bring in some new faces and hope it’s a different outcome next season.

Alex DeBrincat, Vinnie Hinostroza, Dylan Sikura and Nick Schmaltz represent some of the fresh blood that’s been productive this season, and the hope is they can be part of that next core in Chicago. In the meantime, the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brandon Saad and Crawford are taking up nearly $40 million cap space. Those seem like the safest bets to remain on the roster. So will Brent Seabrook and Artem Anisimov find themselves available? Are there any untouchables beyond Kane and Toews?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Sharp says so long to Chicago with heartfelt ad

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Food for thought: maybe newspapers are the true winners of each offseason.

It’s almost a cliche at this point: when someone spends a long time in a city, that player (or even coach) will take a full-page newspaper advertisement out to say goodbye and thank you. Considering his lengthy stay with the Chicago Blackhawks, it’s no surprise that Patrick Sharp did just that, placing an ad with newspapers including the Chicago Tribune:

(Sharp must have at least 1,000 photos of himself with the Stanley Cup, right? It must have taken him a while to choose the right one for this spot …)

During Saturday’s introductory press conference, the 33-year-old said he wasn’t sure when he would touch base in Dallas, but he noted that his wife has never been to Texas. One can only imagine the conflicting emotions Sharp must be dealing with at the moment, as a long journey comes to an end … but at least the Stars show interesting promise.

Here’s the full text of his lengthy letter:

I arrived in Chicago in 2005, not knowing the journey that the Blackhawks would take me over the next 10 years. This team gave me an opportunity to play, to grow and become the person I am today. I will always be grateful for the time I spent here.

Winning the Stanley Cup once was a dream come true; winning it three times, with three different groups of teammates, coaches and trainers, was the ultimate privilege as a player. I feel an overwhelming sense of pride when I look back on all that we’ve accomplished together.

Thank you to Rocky Wirtz, John McDonough, Stan Bowman and the entire Blackhawks family for allowing me to be a part of a world-class organization on and off the ice. Thank you to the fans for embracing me as a player and accepting me as a part of Chicago.

This city has meant so much to me and my family: Three Stanley Cup victories. The birth of Madelyn Grace and Sadie Ellen. Endless memories from the fans, my friends and teammates. For the Sharp family, Chicago has become home.

Thank you,

Patrick, Abby, Madelyn and Sadie Sharp

Bowman on Oduya returning: ‘It’s still sort of a fluid situation’

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With the Blackhawks acquiring veteran defenseman Trevor Daley from the Dallas Stars in the Patrick Sharp trade, it appears Johnny Oduya’s days in Chicago are over.

According to the sources of Adrian Dater from Bleacher Report, the Blackhawks will not retain Oduya.

During a conference call to discuss the Sharp deal on Friday night, Hawks GM Stan Bowman didn’t close the door on Oduya re-signing in Chicago.

“I’m not going to rule anything out or in,” said Bowman per CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers. “It’s still sort of a fluid situation.”

On Friday afternoon, Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Oduya plans to make a decision on his future next week. The 33-year-old has been waiting for the Blackhawks to clear cap space in order to re-sign in Chicago.

Oduya has spent parts of four seasons with the Blackhawks winning two Stanley Cups.

His three-year, $10.1 million deal expired on July 1 making him an unrestricted free agent.

Change of Heart: Stars acquire Sharp from Blackhawks

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Just prior to last month’s NHL Draft, a Dallas Stars official told The Dallas Morning News that Patrick Sharp was “not what we need right now.”

That was then.

On Friday, Dallas acquired Sharp along with defenseman Stephen Johns from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt.

Prior to the trade, the Blackhawks were $718,460 over the cap for next season.

Sharp, who was a member of all three of Chicago’s Stanley Cup wins, has two years remaining on his existing deal with a $5.9 million cap hit.

“On behalf of the entire Blackhawks organization, I’d like to thank Patrick for all that he helped our franchise accomplish during his time in Chicago, especially serving an integral role in bringing us three Stanley Cup championships,” said Hawks’ GM Stan Bowman said in a statement. “He was one of our leaders on the ice, most notably as an alternate captain for several seasons, as well as off the ice with his countless contributions and volunteer work with team partners, sponsors and Blackhawks fans everywhere.

“He will forever be a Blackhawk and we wish him and his family nothing but the best in Dallas and beyond.”

Johns, 23, has yet to make his NHL debut.

The 6-foot-4, 233-pound blue liner registered a career-high four goals and 21 points in 51 AHL games with the Rockford IceHogs last season.

“Stephen adds to the corps of young defensemen that we have coming up in our system,” said Stars’ GM Jim Nill. “He brings an element of size and physicality to our mix and we look forward to him coming in and competing.”

Garbutt has spent parts of the past four seasons in Dallas. The 29-year-old scored eight goals and 25 points in 67 games last season.

Daley has two years left on his deal with a $3.3 million cap hit. The 31-year-old scored 16 goals and 38 points to go along with a minus-13 rating in 68 games last season.

“We want to thank both Trevor and Ryan for their contributions to the Dallas Stars,” said Nill. “Trevor has been an important piece of the Stars organization for many years and we could not be more grateful to him. The strong leadership he displayed both in the locker room and in the North Texas community has created a lasting impact on everyone around him. We wish them both the best.”

Related: Toews admits Chicago’s cap crunch feels ‘a lot like 2010′