Blackhawks

Blackhawks mailbag: Trade assets and free agent speculation

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks mailbag: Trade assets and free agent speculation

Every Friday this offseason, Charlie Roumeliotis will look to answer your Blackhawks and hockey-related questions. Be sure to chime in using the hashtag #HawksMailbag on Twitter for a chance to have your question answered in the next edition.

Are there any pending free agents in particular that the Blackhawks have their eyes on? Obviously people will say Panarin, but that's pretty unrealistic. I was just wondering if there are any realistic options that the 'Hawks seem to have their sights set on.

It's been reported that the Blackhawks have been doing their due diligence center Kevin Hayes, giving us a good indicator of which kind of players they're targeting — the middle tier, not the upper. 

Hayes was a first-round draft pick in 2012 by the Blackhawks but did not sign a contract with the team. He went to free agency and inked an entry-level contract with the New York Rangers.

Where he would fit in is the interesting question, especially if the Blackhawks draft a center at No. 3 overall. There are only four spots available, so it would require moving things around.

To what degree do you think the Hawks' third overall selection will influence who we target in free agency? i.e. If we draft Turcotte, we won't pursue someone like Kevin Hayes.

We touched on this in last week’s mailbag, but should clarify or expand a little bit: Who the Blackhawks select at No. 3 will not and should not directly affect who they target in free agency. But there could be some ripple effects. 

The example used was that if the Blackhawks draft one of the top available centers, they will be adding that player to a group that already includes Artem Anisimov, David Kampf, Dylan Strome and Jonathan Toews. And if Hayes is a potential target, as mentioned above, then there needs to be some maneuvering — i.e. a trade or a center moves to wing. 

It’s a good problem to have when you have an overload at the center position, but it's still somewhat of a problem because you can't keep everyone happy. 

If the Blackhawks don't make the playoffs next year and end up in the same draft spot this year (12th), do you think Stan Bowman will trade the pick for immediate help?

https://twitter.com/Vis23089/status/1133797644231499785

If the Blackhawks don't make the playoffs next year, a strong argument could be made that Bowman may not be the one making that pick. The organization can't go three straight years without making the playoffs and five years without winning a playoff round. Progress needs to be made next season in the form of a postseason berth.

But to your actual question: The reality is, it’s easier said than done to trade a first-round pick for an immediate impact-type player. It just doesn’t happen frequently if you look at the history. The Blackhawks would only explore that option if they feel they’re filling a hole both in the short term and long term. They’re committed to their vision of building a contender for years to come, not just the next one or two.

Who do you think is the biggest trade asset this summer?

Duncan Keith and Brandon Saad are probably the two players that could fetch the biggest return, but Keith has a full no-movement clause and isn't going anywhere unless he wants out. And the only way Saad is moved is if the Blackhawks are filling other holes on their NHL roster by doing so. Draft picks and prospects won't cut it at this stage of the "reload," and a team that would be interested in Saad's services likely won't be interested in subtracting from their roster either because it means they're looking to make a playoff run.

The one player that is worth monitoring this summer is Artem Anisimov. He has two years left on his contract that carries a cap hit of $4.55 million. He’s still a useful player, but maybe not at the price anymore.

There are two things that could make him expendable: 

1) Anisimov's no-trade clause will be lifted on July 1, giving the Blackhawks full control on where he could potentially be moved to.

2) More importantly: the Blackhawks owe Anisimov a $2 million signing bonus on July 1. After they pay that, his actual salary owed over the next two years is only $5 million total. That could be a relatively attractive piece for a smaller market team looking to add some center depth but not pay the full price for one.

Do you think the Hawks will have the depth/consistency next season to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference?

Hi Jeremy Colliton's burner,

We will obviously have a better idea by July 2 after we see what the Blackhawks do at the NHL Draft and how Day 1 of free agency unfolds, but they will have every opportunity to fill out their depth this summer, particularly up front.

The consistency part is unknown. It doesn’t matter how the roster looks on paper. Next season will be about execution. Fortunately for the Blackhawks, they will be going into training camp knowing exactly what to expect from Colliton and will have several weeks of practice to hit the ground running come October.

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How Blackhawks physicality is adding new dimension to style of play

How Blackhawks physicality is adding new dimension to style of play

The Blackhawks turned in their best 60-minute effort of the young season in Monday’s 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. They controlled the pace of play, got terrific goaltending from Corey Crawford and tightened up defensively.

But they also showed that they added a new layer to their team game this season.

The Blackhawks registered 36 hits against the Oilers, one of which was thunderously delivered by Andrew Shaw, sparking a scrum. Brent Seabrook led the team with six hits, Calvin de Haan had five and Drake Caggiula and Olli Maatta each had four. Heck, even Alex DeBrincat (three) and Patrick Kane (one) got in on the action.

It’s an element of their game that’s been missing the last few seasons and something they feel is important to their overall team success because it keeps other teams honest.

"I don't know if it's because of the personnel we have or the way we want to be strong and competitive and win battles, but obviously the other night we had a lot of finished hits and a lot of physicality that brings up the morale on the bench, which is a good thing," Kane said. "You look at Shawzy's hit, the stuff he's been doing early in the season — whether it's scoring big goals or sticking up for guys after they get hit — it's been awesome for the team. That's something that can really help us. We also need to play a little bit more with the puck, but it's a way we can get the puck back."

The Blackhawks don’t necessarily want to lead the NHL in the hits category, but they do want to establish an identity centered around being a difficult team to play against and adding that dimension is part of it. So is team unity.

"I don't think it's going to be our go-to in the way we're going to beat teams," Jonathan Toews said. "There's no doubt we've got guys that can mix it in. We saw last game with Shawzy and Murph, and [Ryan Carpenter] and [Zack Smith] and go down the list of guys. Even [Caggiula] and [DeBrincat] were throwing the weight around a couple days ago. It's definitely part of our game — we can play with energy and I think it's going to be there when we're ready to go. But our game is puck possession and keeping teams in their end and outplaying them in that sense.”

Through four games this season, the Blackhawks are averaging 33.0 hits per game. The previous two seasons they averaged 16.5 and 16.8, respectively, which ranked 30th.

While it's still early, there's clearly an uptick in the physicality department and it's exactly what the organization was hoping for after bringing in players like Shaw and Smith to add some bite to the roster. The Blackhawks are focused on becoming a team that can win in several different ways and play any kind of style.

"There’s a difference between running around just trying to get a tick on the stat sheet," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "But we definitely want to be physical when we have the chance and force the opposition to make plays before they're ready, and we can create turnovers and transition and offense and get out of D zone. We have some guys who like to play that way and I think it helps our team." 

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Behind the Numbers: Blackhawks third line driving possession against top competition

Behind the Numbers: Blackhawks third line driving possession against top competition

During the Blackhawks' training camp festival on Sept. 15, coach Jeremy Colliton discovered a combination he's grown to like in David Kampf, Dominik Kubalik and Brandon Saad. And it's the only trio that's stuck together through training camp and into the regular season.

On paper, it's not a sexy line. But they all bring different elements and it's translating to on-ice success.

When the three of them are on the ice together at even strength, the Blackhawks are controlling 59.7 percent of the shot attempts, 68.6 of the scoring chances and 76.9 percent of the high-danger chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

When they aren't on the ice at even strength? The Blackhawks are controlling 47.6 percent of the shot attempts, 46.2 percent of the scoring chances and 41.7 percent of the high-danger chances. 

Those are ridiculous numbers for a third line, and they're doing it against top competition, too.

On Saturday against Winnipeg, the Saad-Kampf-Kubalik line was tasked with going up against the Jets' Big Three of Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler and held them to three shots on goal for and three against in 14:06 of 5-on-5 ice time together. And on Monday against Edmonton, it kept one of the best lines in hockey in check, with Leon Draisaitl, Zack Kassian and Connor McDavid recording a minus-6 shot attempt differential in 15:25 of 5-on-5 ice time together.

The biggest mistake Colliton has made this season was separating the trio in the home opener after Kubalik scored a goal and recorded five shots on goal in the first period. He wanted to get the first line going and provide a spark by rewarding Kubalik, but the third line was dominant in the opening 20 minutes — it generated 10 scoring chances at 5-on-5 in only 4:30 together — and moving Kubalik away from Kampf and Saad really affected both lines in a negative way.

But don't expect Colliton to make that same mistake anytime soon. He learned his lesson and that's the last line he's going to touch if he's looking for a shakeup.

"They all just got real big motors, big engine," Colliton said. "They work and compete and they all bring a little bit different ingredient. Obviously like Saad is an accomplished, proven performer. He takes the puck to the net. He's a horse there. He's really hard to get the puck off, he transports it from D zone to the offensive zone, he can make those plays.

"I think Kampy is a workhorse. He takes a lot of responsibility defensively and can transport the puck from one end to another. Then you got Kubby, he's got a bomb. I've been very impressed with his play away from the puck. That's been a surprise for me. So now he can play on that line because he does so many responsible things. He wins a lot of races, he's a great forechecker. So, pleased with that line."

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