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Hot streak could prompt Blackhawks to stand pat at deadline

Nick Schmaltz has three goals and six assists in nine games since becoming Jonathan Toews' left wing. (AP Photo)

Hockey players tend to be hockey fans, too. So as the March 1 trade deadline approaches, many Blackhawks players are just as curious as Blackhawks fans about who’s going where, who’s all in, who’s standing pat. Every rumor seems to find its way into the dressing room.

And players, like seasoned fans, know to take every bit of gossip with a grain of salt.

“With social media, you always see the stupid rumors that come out — this guy’s going here and this guy’s going there,” rookie Ryan Hartman said. “But there’s so much back and forth that you don’t really know what to believe until it actually does happen. You can’t believe everything.”

The question is, can they believe their own general manager? Stan Bowman has said repeatedly that he’s not looking to make a big splash at this year’s trade deadline, that he likes the progression of the Hawks’ rookies, and that he thinks they can make a run at another Stanley Cup as currently constituted.

If Bowman means it, and if nothing changes his mind in the next five days, that’s great news for the Hawks rookies. It means Nick Schmaltz will get a real chance to prove he’s the left wing Jonathan Toews has been waiting for since the start of last season (he has three goals and six assists in nine games in that spot so far). It means Vinnie Hinostroza has a real chance to be in the lineup every day once the playoffs roll around. And it means defenseman Michal Kempny can stop shuttling in and out of the lineup down the stretch. Hartman and Tanner Kero, meanwhile, are locked into spots regardless.

“When you hear something like that, it’s nice, because you want to help the team in whatever way you can, and I think we’ve done a good job of that,” Hinostroza said. “Our goal this whole year as young guys was to get better every day, and stick around the whole year.”

The Hawks’ outstanding play in recent weeks has lessened the pressure on Bowman to make a big move. Since Bowman said on Jan. 31 that he wasn’t expecting to make a big trade, the Hawks have won eight of nine. And after myriad combinations, Joel Quenneville finally has found a balanced lineup that’s getting goals from all four lines, and averaging 4.1 goals per game since the All-Star break.

The players don’t get to decide these things, of course, but they seem inclined to make a run at it as is, without potentially disrupting team chemistry by bringing in unknown commodities.

“I think we have a good team,” Kane said. “They’re happy with the young guys, as they should be. These guys are playing great for us right now and bringing a lot of energy. And sometimes [when] you trade for a player, it’s not so much an upgrade. … Let’s see how good we can be with this group in here. And if they make a move or two, we’ll see what happens.”

For Hartman, Hinostroza and Kero, it’s been interesting being on the other side of the trade deadline. Now they’re NHL players, and relatively secure. But for the past couple of years, they’ve been prospects at best, “assets” at worst. Trade-deadline time in Rockford can be unnerving, with some players worried they’ll get dealt away, and others hoping they get moved.

Over the years, Bowman has had no compunction about trading away promising minor-leaguers on the cusp of the NHL — the likes of Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck, Jeremy Morin, Brandon Pirri, and Marko Dano, among others — leaving players wary for weeks leading up to the deadline.

This year, however, everyone’s looking forward, not over their shoulder.

“You’re never too sure what’s going on,” Kero said. “You’ve got to control what you can control and just worry about yourself and coming to the rink every day and trying to prove you belong, to earn your spot and keep your spot. It’s the same thing up here, though. You never want to get too comfortable.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus