As deadline nears, Blackhawks have holes to fill, questions to answer

SHARE As deadline nears, Blackhawks have holes to fill, questions to answer

A little less than three weeks ago, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said it was difficult to get a feel for who might be available at the Feb. 29 trade deadline because of how many teams were on the playoff bubble.

“The biggest thing is, you’re not quite sure what’s available around the league,” Bowman said. “At this point, there’s a lot of clustering in the standings. And in order for trades to happen you have to have teams that are willing to look toward next year.”

Two weeks away from the deadline, not a whole lot has changed. Is Carolina willing to part with pending unrestricted free agents Eric Staal and Kris Versteeg when they’re just three points out of an Eastern Conference wild-card spot? Is Arizona looking to move talented winger Mikkel Boedker while in a three-way tie for ninth place, just five points out? Has Winnipeg finally given up on a disappointing lost season, and do the Jets have no choice but to move Andrew Ladd after signing Dustin Byfuglien to a five-year, $38-million contract?

These are the questions other teams must answer heading into the deadline. As for the Hawks, they face different questions: What do they need? What can they afford? And what are they willing to give up?

As currently constituted, the Hawks have the talent and the experience to win their second straight Stanley Cup, and their fourth in seven years. This isn’t even a question. As dominant as the Washington Capitals have been, as proven as the Los Angeles Kings are, as impressive as the Dallas Stars are, the Cup is the Hawks’ to lose until someone knocks them out.

But the Hawks are far from a perfect team. They don’t have the depth they had in 2010, 2013 and 2015, with their third line sputtering offensively and their fourth line a rotating cast of rookies and journeymen. They don’t have the blue-line depth, either, with three rookies in the mix, and a pair of aging veterans in Michal Rozsival and Rob Scuderi. And they’re still lopsided, with only one high-end left winger in Artemi Panarin (trading away Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg, and demoting Bryan Bickell will have that effect).

The Hawks need a top-six left winger to play alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa (assuming he comes back relatively soon from the apparent left leg injury he suffered on Saturday). Seeing how lost the Hawks offense looked without Panarin for two games this week underscored just how shallow they really are —one injury away from disaster. How they play in Hossa’s absence for the next few games will be telling, too.

And given Erik Gustafsson’s suddenly inconsistent play (Joel Quenneville scratched him on Saturday, an alarming sign of trouble), the Hawks also could use a veteran No. 4 defenseman. But even with a little more than $2 million in cap space thanks to Marcus Kruger’s wrist injury, they probably can’t have both.

The smart move would be to get a winger. Seemingly half the league is in the market for a defenseman, and the price could be too high for the Hawks to compete for the likes of Vancouver’s Dan Hamhuis, Edmonton’s Justin Schultz, or Calgary’s Kris Russell. But there are wingers to be had. Ladd is particularly tantalizing given his Hawks history, but his $4.4-million cap hit complicates matters. Would Bowman be willing to part with pending-UFA Andrew Shaw to make it work? Would he (foolishly) give up 21-year-old Teuvo Teravainen if the Jets would take Bickell’s contract off their hands? It’d be a big splash. And a big risk, either way.

Tampa Bay would want at least one high-end young player back for disgruntled 20-year-old Jonathan Drouin. Arizona might want a bounty for Boedker. Calgary might ask too much for a 32-year-old Jiri Hudler. Besides, Bowman tends to make savvy lower-profile additions, like Michal Handzus in 2013 and Andrew Desjardins last year. The Antoine Vermette trade last year was an exception, necessitated and facilitated by the cap space freed up when Patrick Kane broke his clavicle. So maybe an under-the-radar veteran such as Versteeg or Toronto’s P.A. Parenteau can be had on the cheap. Or maybe Bowman stands pat, and hopes Kruger’s pending postseason returns makes the difference.

Bowman has options, and he has a little cap space. But he also has holes to fill, and some important questions to answer. And he’s got just two weeks to do both.

NOTE: The Hawks recalled center Vinnie Hinostroza on Sunday and put Hossa on injured reserve (not long-term IR). Hinostroza leads the Rockford IceHogs with 10 goals and 17 assists in 41 games.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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