Blackhawk Summer Math Homework


As trade rumors, real and speculated, abound on Hawk Twitter, flavored with hypothetical free agency targets, let me try to bring the discussion back to reality somewhat.

First, if you haven’t read my “Let’s Make A Deal” blog from a few weeks ago, I’ll summarize: the Hawks have basically two clear choices, and one muddled one, this summer. They are: 1) go all in while there’s some tread still left on the core’s tires, 2) go full rebuild, or 3) continue on the “hybrid” path they’ve been on—which so far has led to disappointment.

All that said, my spidey sense today says the Hawks are at least leaning toward more of an “all in for one last run” posture this summer.

Setting aside my confidence (or yours) in Stan Bowman’s ability to pull that off, let’s pursue what that means.

It’s all about math.

First, the big variable: Corey Crawford must be healthy, and stay healthy, whatever that actually means. Without that, there is no point to anything but a full rebuild, unless a near equal or better goalie should fall into the Hawks’ laps. And no, that is not Scott Darling.

Second, it means Bowman must “add” to the core of a roster that was 13th in the West, rather than “replace.” And let’s put another silly interwebs truism to rest right now. The Hawks were not necessarily (or at all) a playoff team if “Crow” stayed healthy. They were out of playoff position when Crawford left the team on December 23. And even if he had stayed healthy and the Hawks somehow made the playoffs, they were getting smoked in the first round (again) by Winnipeg or Nashville.

And the interwebs speculation about “replacing” Jonathan Toews with John Tavares being the “answer,” needs to be regarded as foolish.

Tavares is a great player and arguably a marginal upgrade over Toews at this point. But marginal upgrades don’t get this job done.

As I was told by an impeccable source a few weeks ago, when all the (at that time anyway) silly Toews to Montreal rumors started, the only way Jonathan Toews, the cornerstone of this franchise for a decade and three Stanley Cups, with a full NMC, gets traded is if he asks to be traded. And at that point, I was told, he had not asked.

But if you can add a Tavares, or even just a really solid #2C who can play and win faceoffs 5-on-5, penalty kill and power play, now you have something. Because reducing the burden on Toews in those situations likely makes him a better player and the Hawks a deeper, better team (see Vermette, A, June 2015).

The Hawks need, as pretty much everyone agrees, to add another defenseman as well, The issue there is not Duncan Keith, who can, in fact, still play, or even Brent Seabrook, who seemed to recapture his game the latter half of the otherwise miserable 2017-18 season, It’s the complementary depth and quality minutes delivered by Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hhjalmarsson that are now gone from the equation.

So, sure, to the extent a John Carlson (or a serviceable 3-4 defenseman from somewhere) might “replace” Conor Murphy or Jordan Oesterle as a top 4 player, it’s really more about adding—because a Carlson (or near facsimile) allows you to slide a Murphy or an Oesterle down in your rotation, and put them in roles and minutes where they can be more successful and not hurt you against more challenging matchups.

Adding a solid #2 center, not relying so much on guys who might be better at wing (like Nick Schmaltz or Artem Anisimov) and a solid big-minute NHL defenseman, with a healthy Corey Crawford, suddenly vaults the Hawks back into the playoffs and possibly longer conversations in June of 2019.

But “adding” has a cost, doesn’t it?

One rumor I reported several weeks back was the Hawks intend to find a home for Marian Hossa’s contract. And my sense was, based on what I heard, they might even have a taker already lined up. That eventuality, coupled with an organic rise in the salary cap, and the work Bowman did last summer in the then unpopular Artemi Panarin and Hjalmarsson trades, might be setting the Hawks up for 1-2 bigger splashes in free agency this summer.

Realistically though, either Tavares or Carlson, if they even hit UFA July 1, will come at a high price. So maybe you only get one of them—and likely “overpay” to do so (a la Brian Campbell in 2008).

Then you may need to look at a trade. This is where the conversation gets dicey among Hawk fans and scribes.

So many on this roster are deemed untouchable—as if we’ve forgotten that this is not a very good team.

Again, you deal a Toews or a Duncan Keith and you better get a great player back—when what you will likely get are futures—picks, prospects and one of the other team’s bad contracts to make the dollars work. And again, if the goal is to make a serious attempt to get back in real contention this year, you need to add to those players, not just “replace” them.

Long gone are the days when a Dale Tallon, Don Maloney or Marc Bergevin would be ready and willing to take a big contract off the Hawks’ hands for draft picks or a young player. The Hawks now no longer need to offload big contracts for purely cap reasons (and Seabrook’s deal, by the way, may be untradeable at this point). But they may very likely need to make a value for value trade or two this summer.

This again, is something some Hawk fans seem to trip over. “How does that make the team better? You’re subtracting to add, right? DON’T TRADE DA CAT!!!”

Not necessarily. In sports, in hockey, the best deals are made when the GMs involved are dealing from their teams’ strengths in order to shore up areas of weakness.

For the Hawks, if there is an area of strength, it’s at wing. And if there’s a type of wing they seem to have in abundance, it is young, small, skilled wingers—especially if you include Nick Schmaltz along with Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Sikura as a wing. And there is a lingering argument that wing may yet be Schmaltz’ best position.

That’s leaving out the Anthony Duclairs and Vince Hinostrozas. And a 25 year old 2-time Cup winning, top 6 wing named Saad.

We can debate ad infinitum whether to deal Saad or Schmaltz or Sikura (and yes, at this point there is no evidence Sikura plays center over wing in the NHL either), but the larger fact is the Hawks have a lot of depth as far as young, actual or potential top 6 wings. In fact, you only really need 4, the Hawks may have as many as 6.


And math, by itself, can be a cruel taskmaster. Because the emotion-driven first speculation is always to give up your unwanted odd lots for a great player in return. Like the somewhat (completely) asinine trade proposal floated this week by a “legit” media guy that the Hawks could deal Hinostroza and the 27th pick overall for  . . . Erik Karlsson.

This is an extreme (and absurd) example of Hawk homer trade scenarios. The truth is, if you want a Justin Faulk (an actual trade target of the Hawks, as I first reported a couple of weeks ago) to upgrade your defense, you will likely have to deal a Sikura or a Schmaltz or Saad (though Saad is the lone top 6 power winger in the mix for the Hawks at this point). In any event, it’s give to get.

Value for value.

But, you may ask, who is your second line center (assuming you dealt Schmaltz)? That’s where signing a Tavares or center TBD comes in to play. Because a legit NHL center who can win 50%+ on draws in all situations, skate with Patrick Kane and add some dimension of offense, is, as a center, likely an upgrade over Schmaltz (as a center in all situations, this upcoming season, unless he makes a significant step up).

That’s where you get back to choosing a clear path: reload for a real run this year, or rebuild. Because sitting around lamenting “wasted” cap dollars for Toews or Keith or Seabrook and at the same time “building for the future,” waiting to see whether your draft picks will ever become legitimately productive NHL players in all areas required at their position, is a fool’s errand and a one-way ticket to mediocrity.

That way—the way the Hawks have gone about their business the last couple of years and that a lot of fans have bought into—the team will never be bad enough, or free enough cap-wise, to truly rebuild. And never good enough to contend—because it means relying so heavily on young, physically (and otherwise, in some cases) immature players, playing over their heads and/or out of position. Look no further than Detroit Red Wings of the last 8 years or so.

And don’t get me started on the faulty “math” of bringing Darling back at $4 million per year.

Finally, while all this math certainly makes sense to me, and may to most of you, there’s another potential outcome. And that is that Bowman will see it differently, and/or that the Hawks will continue to try to organically grow the next generation of talent (one-half rebuild) while “marketing” a legitmate shot to contend with an aging core (one-half reload). Which doesn’t seem to have worked.

So we can only hope, again, that Bowman and the organization bite one bullet or the other and make an actual choice. And they then execute the plan to perfection.

We will know a lot more sometime around or after 7/1.

Follow @jaeckel. Comment below.

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