Blackhawks

A potential trade candidate, Erik Gustafsson trying to block out rumors as deadline nears

A potential trade candidate, Erik Gustafsson trying to block out rumors as deadline nears

Erik Gustafsson knew going into the 2019-20 season that this was an important year for him personally. He was coming off a campaign in which he scored a career-high 17 goals and was one of six defensemen to hit the 60-point mark.

And that was just his first full season in the NHL.

Gustafsson emerged as a breakout star, but he felt the pressure heading into the season. He was entering the final year of his two-year contract with the Blackhawks that carries a $1.2 million cap hit and is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer for the first time in his career.

But Gustafsson, who turns 28 in March, wasn’t stressing too much about what his next contract could look like. He’s going to get a nice pay raise. It’s whether it’d be in Chicago or elsewhere that’s weighed on his mind.

"I don't know how I can't block it away," Gustafsson told NBC Sports Chicago. "At the start of the year I was nervous going in, if I'm going to sign here or if I'm going to be traded or something like that. I think that just affected my game and I was thinking about that instead of thinking about my game on the ice."

With five defensemen (Calvin de Haan, Duncan Keith, Olli Maatta, Connor Murphy and Brent Seabrook) under contract through the 2021-22 season and Adam Boqvist making the jump to the pros, there’s a logjam on the back end for the Blackhawks and it’s difficult to see where Gustafsson fits into the long-term puzzle.

During the three-day holiday break in December, Gustafsson had a little bit of down time to take his mind off the game. That’s when he had a conversation with his dad about his uncertain future that helped him refocus.

"He told me to not worry about it,” Gustafsson said. “If something happens, it's going to happen. You can't control it. And whatever you can do to help it, it's going to be on the ice, so I kind of felt like I was blocking that out just not thinking about it. It's easy to say but that's kind of what I did and focused on my game. I think I've played better this half of the year than the first half."

It's unclear what the Blackhawks are going to do ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline, but if the team continues to trend in the wrong direction leading up to it, Gustafsson's name will surface as a potential candidate to be moved.

If the Blackhawks can turn things around and put together a run that would help their chances of keeping the group together for a playoff push, perhaps GM Stan Bowman will be inclined to do so. That’s the ideal scenario — at least this season — for Gustafsson, who’s made it known he doesn’t want to go anywhere.

"Try to help the team win all the time," Gustafsson said smiling. "I want to stay here, I want to be a part of this team, I want to win a Stanley Cup here. Of course, this month is the deadline, but if I can do what I can do to help this team win I'm going to do it all the time."

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

Lucas Carlsson out to prove he belongs with Blackhawks

Lucas Carlsson out to prove he belongs with Blackhawks

DALLAS — The Blackhawks have gotten extended looks this season at two of their coveted defensemen prospects in Adam Boqvist and Dennis Gilbert, the latter of whom is better known for his defensive game than offensive prowess. 

On Sunday, it was Lucas Carlsson's turn.

With Erik Gustafsson being held out of the lineup for precautionary reasons ahead of Monday's trade deadline, the Blackhawks called up Carlsson for their four-game road trip that kicked off in Dallas. They wasted no time in throwing their 2016 fourth-round pick into action despite having no practice session or a morning skate for him to get acclimated to the group.

"Maybe it's easier for me to just get right into it, I don't know," a smiling Carlsson said following a 2-1 loss to the Stars. "It was fun, obviously. I was a bit nervous at the start, but I think I got into it pretty quickly. I just try and play my game, don't change anything. Obviously you have to adjust a little bit, everything's much faster here, so it's good."

Head coach Jeremy Colliton said before the game he wanted Carlsson to be clean with the puck, have a tight gap and be physical when he needed to. And Carlsson did exactly that.

The 22-year-old Swedish blue liner had one shot attempt, one blocked shot and three hits in 14:55 of ice time while playing on the second pairing with Connor Murphy. He wasn't too noticeable, but that's not intended to sound negative. He kept it simple, played his game and didn't make any glaring mistakes in his NHL debut.

"I thought he was good," Colliton said. "He was assertive, physical, made plays, skated the puck. He did well for himself, so [I'm] happy for him in his first game."

The one noticeable offensive play Carlsson did make came in the third period when he delivered a nifty backhand pass between his legs in the slot to Dominik Kubalik, who looked surprised it even got to him. It nearly created a prime scoring chance, but the puck got away from Kubalik.

Carlsson clearly wasn't lacking confidence, which is always a good thing as younger players tend to play timid while they try figuring out the league. He's a sound defender with some offensive upside — he led all Rockford IceHogs defensemen in goals (five), assists (21) and points (26) — and is out to prove he belongs at the NHL level.

"Of course," Carlsson said. "I still have one more year on my contract, so I want to show what I can do and hopefully play a few more games here and see what happens."

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

Will Brandon Saad be traded by Blackhawks again? He hopes not

Will Brandon Saad be traded by Blackhawks again? He hopes not

DALLAS — Brandon Saad knows what it’s like to be traded. He’s been moved twice in his NHL career — once from Chicago to Columbus and then again from Columbus to Chicago. Both of those deals were made in the summer, though, and they were also unexpected.

With the NHL trade deadline on Monday at 2 p.m., Saad knows his name is out there and admitted the possibility of being dealt is on his mind.

"A little bit," Saad said following a 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars on Sunday. "That's part of the business, right? Love it here in Chicago but it is what it is. You wait for tomorrow and there's always rumors floating, but at the end of the day, you just focus on hockey games and winning here with the Blackhawks and see what happens."

The Blackhawks aren’t necessarily shopping Saad, but they are listening to offers. The return would have to start with at least a first-round pick for the Blackhawks to even consider that possibility, and it’s unclear whether anybody has gotten close to meeting their demands.

What makes Saad an attractive trade piece is the fact he has one year left on his contract after this season at a $6 million cap hit. General managers across the NHL have been reluctant to give up first-round selections for rentals, and it’s hard to blame them. Giving up a king's ransom for pending unrestricted free agents, historically, backfires more often than not.

Jason Zucker, Blake Coleman and, most recently, Ondrej Kase were all moved and fetched first-rounders because they have term left on their contract. Chris Kreider and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, both of whom are at the top of TSN’s trade bait list, have not been traded with less than 20 hours to go until the deadline and you have to wonder how much that has to do with contending teams not being willing to meet the high price tag for a rental.

The Boston Bruins reportedly expressed interest in Saad, but that was before they acquired Kase. The Edmonton Oilers have also checked in, but would they be willing to part ways with their first-rounder? How about the Colorado Avalanche?

GM Stan Bowman's phone line is going to be busy in the coming hours as teams start to put together their final offers, but Saad is hoping he remains with the Blackhawks.

"It's just part of the business, right?" Saad said. "At the end of the day, you're a hockey player, so you're going to play hard for whoever you're with and take it as it comes. The other ones were in the summertime, so I've never dealt with it at the deadline, so that's always a new experience. But hopefully I'm here in Chicago."

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.