Blackhawks

Three (months) down, three to go

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Three (months) down, three to go

The Blackhawks put together a very good first half, but the very end of it has raised a couple of red flags.

Between the leadership in the dressing room and the coaching staff, this team has a history of finding ways to right its ship when it shows signs of listing. Every team has its rough patches as it goes through a season, and the Blackhawks have matched their season-high three-game losing streak with none other than Detroit coming to town - trying to make it four (especially after losing here last Friday). After riding high through December, one has to wonder if the Dog Days surrounding the All-Star break have come a bit early for this team since that last meeting with the Wings that closed out 2011. We've been hearing "outworked" from players after recent losses. It's nice of them to admit it, but that doesn't really fly with the fans who show up. It's the bar they've set for themselves.

Aside from finding ways to become consistently good on the special teams that have been a roller coaster the first half of the season, allowing the fourth-most goals in the West has to be one of Stan Bowman's and Joel Quenneville's biggest concerns. Heading into the weekend, only the 12th, 14th and 15th teams in the conference (Calgary, Anaheim and Columbus) had allowed more.

It goes beyond the group that has "D" listed next to their names, because there have certainly been enough breakdowns that don't rest solely on their shoulders. The second pairing will be watched closely over the next few weeks, and judging by the revolving door, none of the three candidates to join Steve Montador on the third pairing has consistently distinguished himself. Barring any injury-related needs that must be addressed, that's certainly what Bowman will be shopping for, trying to outbid other teams looking for the same thing as he seeks a trade partner.

The other tough deal he'll seek to find ideally involves finding a second-line center. Short of that, though, just finding a player who'd provide consistent production beyond Toews, Hossa, Sharp and Kane would be a bonus. That quartet has been tremendous through 41 games, even with Patrick Kane not scoring goals at his expected rate. But they can't do it all themselves, all the time. The occasional offensive involvement from the blue line is always welcome. But if you look at the first half numbers of some of the players Bowman and Quenneville have been counting on to raise their stats, it makes you wonder how long the team is willing to wait for something that hasn't happened yet. Sure, the primary roles of some of those players isn't necessarily offense. But you'd have to believe the bosses are looking for more - earning Quenneville's trust, and allowing him to get four lines rolling without having to turn to The Big Four.

In dropping four of these last five games, those four individuals have combined for four goals and 11 points. Recent call-ups Jimmy Hayes and Andrew Shaw and defenseman Brent Seabrook have combined for five of their other six goals in that stretch. Of the seven assists compiled by the other forwards in those five games, Jamal Mayers and the now-suspended Daniel Carcillo have two apiece.

These Blackhawks remain better than a lot of teams in the West. There are a handful of clubs certainly playing better than they have these last ten days, and it doesn't take a long slump to shift the standings and potential playoff seeding. As they showed for most of October and December, they're capable of being the best, even when they feel they're still not playing up to their potential. Who knows - maybe they have issues with odd-numbered months.

Now we get to watch whether this is as challenging as it gets for this team and they again show their resiliency. If that defense and goaltending tighten up again. Whether the special teams get consistent and climb the rankings. If they can get the offensive balance the brass envisioned. And if not, how patient, or bold, management will be with the roster in order to become the best team when April rolls around.

What to make of Blackhawks moves on NHL trade deadline day

What to make of Blackhawks moves on NHL trade deadline day

ST. LOUIS — The Blackhawks were always going to be sellers leading up to the NHL trade deadline, but the real question was to what degree? Chicago got its answer on Monday.

After a quiet morning, the Blackhawks struck two deals in the final hour: Erik Gustafsson to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a third-round pick in 2020 and, more notably, Robin Lehner to the Vegas Golden Knights for a second-round selection in 2020, goaltender Malcolm Subban and defenseman prospect Slava Demin. The Blackhawks also retained 50 percent of Lehner's salary in a complicated three-way deal that saw Toronto eat 44 percent of that for a fifth-round pick in 2020 to help Vegas become cap compliant.

And the immediate impressions on the return? Pretty underwhelming. But, at the same time, the market played a big role in that and it didn't favor the Blackhawks by any stretch.

The Carolina Hurricanes had two first-round picks and were as desperate a team as ever to acquire a goaltender at the deadline after relying on a 42-year-old Zamboni driver to get them through their last game. No doubt the Blackhawks were hoping to land at least a first-rounder for Lehner, but if the Hurricanes weren't biting on that price tag, neither was anyone else.

Six first-round picks were traded in February and not one of them was moved for a rental player. Five of those skaters had term left on their contract and the other signed a long-term extension after the trade, which helped justify it.

[MORE: Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Trade deadline recap plus Stan Bowman 1-on-1]

The reality is, the decision came down to whether the Blackhawks wanted to risk letting Lehner walk for nothing this summer or take the best offer on the table and just accept they won't get 100 cents on the dollar, especially if they weren't seeing eye to eye on a potential extension, and they chose the latter. Whether the Blackhawks should've re-signed Lehner is a separate discussion, but both sides could always revisit things on July 1 if they choose.

It's also difficult for Chicago to get excited about the return for Gustafsson after several similar-type impact defensemen were traded last week for more than that, and rightfully so. Did the Blackhawks wait too long to move him? Probably. But he wasn't going to fetch much on his own to begin with, and you have to wonder how hard the Blackhawks tried to package Gustafsson with another asset to help sweeten the deal and get the first-round pick they were looking for.

There's a large portion of the fanbase that felt Gustafsson should've been dealt in the summer when his value was highest after he turned in a breakout 60-point campaign. And that's fair. But the Blackhawks were hoping to make the playoffs this season and subtracting a key piece from their roster wasn't something that would've aligned with those goals.

In the end, the Blackhawks went into trade deadline day hoping to recoup some draft picks and prospects and continue building from within. They did that.

But the expectation in Chicago was this could've served as a prime opportunity to restock the pipeline with future assets and get fans excited about the retooling process. And while the Blackhawks didn't exactly strike out, they didn't hit a home run, either.

"The goal was to try to get some asset value in return for them and we certainly did that," GM Stan Bowman said in a conference call. "Going into a period like this at the trade deadline, you have to try to manage your assets going forward. When you have expiring assets and you talk around the league to teams and find out if there’s interest in them, then you do your best to try and get the maximum return you can. "

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Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Trade deadline recap plus Stan Bowman 1-on-1

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AP

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Trade deadline recap plus Stan Bowman 1-on-1

The Blackhawks traded goalie Robin Lehner and defenseman Erik Gustafsson ahead of Monday's NHL trade deadline. Pat Boyle discusses all that went into the trades with Steve Konroyd, Jamal Mayers, and NBC Sports Chicago Blackhawks writer Scott King.

To further provide details on the trades, Blackhawks Insider Charlie Roumeliotis goes 1-on-1 with GM Stan Bowman on why he made the moves.

(1:00) - Blackhawks trade Lehner and never offered him an extension?

(5:30) - Could the Hawks sign Lehner in the offseason?

(10:12) - Why the Hawks had to trade Gustafsson

(14:07) - Stan Bowman 1-on-1 after the trade deadline

(19:42) - Reaction to Bowman 1-on-1 interview

(23:17) - Overall assessment of what the Hawks got back in the trades

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast

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