Bears

Is that just a draft, or are trade winds picking up?

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Is that just a draft, or are trade winds picking up?

A year ago at the NHL draft, Stan Bowman made a couple of moves with the trades of Brian Campbell and Troy Brouwer that began a roster domino effect when free agency began on July 1.

The Blackhawks missed Campbells game this past season - if not his Cap hit. And Brouwer had the kind of season closer to what the Hawks were hoping hed have given them in 2010-11.

By this time next week, following the draft Friday and Saturday in Pittsburgh, we should have a better idea of how much more change his roster for 2012-13 will go through, if the vice president and general manager arent closing in on moves already.

The last time Bowman spoke publicly, following the re-signings of Johnny Oduya and Jamal Mayers, he indicated he wasnt done - even though it appears he already has more candidates than actual roster spots. The organizational meetings with Joel Quenneville, scouts and the personnel department have been completed, and that group should know by now what theyre looking for, how they can get it, and who is potentially expendable in order to get the team they want in place.

Right now, he has a lot of the same type of defensemen. The Bowman Way is certainly the puck-moving way with his D-men, but he said he wouldnt rule out searching for more size on the back line to join the only sure thing who provides that in Brent Seabrook. Thats where his faith in Dylan Olsens readiness comes in, because the former first-rounder has the body for it, if not the NHL seasoning.

The same can be said for his faith in his other young players whove had spoon-fed experience the past couple of seasons. Should he put his trust in Jimmy Hayes and Brandon Saad now and stand pat with them, hoping they can grow into roles next season with their size and skill, similar to what Dwight King and Jordan Nolan provided the Stanley Cup champion Kings? Maybe he keeps one and packages another?

There is also the Jeremy Morin and Brandon Pirri to decide on, and down the road, last years two first-rounders -- Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault. Does he keep them, or even the 18th-overall pick Friday night, or can he get something valuable now for one or some combo package?

Most interesting of all will be if he swaps a familiar face or two off the current roster - not necessarily one of the core guys, but some others weve become familiar with who would have value elsewhere. They would bring something in return in the form of a veteran, or cap space to shop elsewhere.

The center position remains most intriguing between Dave Bolland, Marcus Kruger and Jamal Mayers (who could play wing) if the commitment to Patrick Kane in the middle is still in place. Make no mistake, Bowmans been on the phone measuring and gauging what it takes to make certain moves with other GMs. Now its a matter of what hed be sacrificing for what hes getting in return.

He doesnt have much more money to spend under the current salary cap, which many believe might come back down below last seasons number (64.3 million) once a new collective bargaining agreement is in place after a temporary rise to the 70 million range. If there are moves Bowman wants to make, that cap management means lateral moves, contract-wise. The 2012 free agent class is nothing more than ordinary, with that labor deal hovering over any spending sprees.

Bowman cant come out and tell us how much change he wants, other than change is needed. No specifics are ever provided, and very rarely whispered outside those office walls. After two years of first-round exits, no matter what the excuses or reasoning, hes faced with moving forward with basically the same roster he had last season. That would pin his hopes on a couple of kids growing up quickly and Corey Crawford needing to rebound in a big way on his own.

Of course, he can tweak some more.

Im thinking we might see some of the latter between now and this time next week.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?