Tommy Wingels is an eloquent, insightful player who can speak at length on just about any topic you throw at him, whether it’s killing penalties, line chemistry, or fighting homophobia in sports. But when asked last week if the trade deadline was on his mind, Wingels cut off the question before it was even finished.
“It’s not,” he said. “No. No.”
Jan Rutta said he wasn’t thinking about the deadline, either. Artem Anisimov hadn’t given it a passing thought. Ryan Hartman wasn’t sweating it. Neither was Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Lance Bouma or anybody else in the Blackhawks’ dressing room.
That’s what they’ve been saying, at least. The reality is, Monday’s 2 p.m. trade deadline has been hovering over the Hawks like a dark cloud for weeks.
“As a coach, you live in fear of the word getting out that one of your players is available because it is a total distraction,” Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said. “When the word is out in your locker room that this guy might be moving, or this guy might be moving, it is really difficult to keep the players focused.”
To their credit, the Hawks haven’t let the trade deadline become too much of a distraction. In fact, they’ve been playing their best hockey in weeks lately, winning three of four before a strong, but ultimately futile, effort in Columbus on Saturday night.
But for the first time in a decade, the Hawks are sellers. And any veteran without a no-trade clause could be on the move. It began with Michal Kempny being sent to the Capitals last week for a third-round draft pick. It continued Sunday when Bouma was put on waivers. The veteran forward didn’t draw much interest on the trade market, and the Hawks would rather call up a young player — perhaps John Hayden (five goals and nine assists in 19 games since being sent to Rockford) or Matthew Highmore (21 goals in 56 games) —for an otherwise meaningless stretch run.
“It will be a different situation,” Patrick Kane said after the 3-2 loss to the Blue Jackets. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, if there are going to be moves made or not. But you have to figure, one way or another, this is probably the last time this group’s going to be together.”
Regardless of who gets traded, the Hawks clearly have shifted their focus to next year. Veterans Sharp and Bouma have been healthy scratches the past three games, with the Hawks getting a longer look at — and perhaps showcasing — younger players in more prominent roles, such as Tomas Jurco, who has been on Kane’s line for three games and who scored his first goal of the season Saturday night. Wingels, meanwhile, has been on the top line and on the power play for the past seven games, increasing his visibility for other teams.
The focus over the last six weeks will be on youth, with younger players getting larger roles and Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman getting a better idea of how they fit into next season’s roster.
And Quenneville said that even if the Hawks get scorching hot and somehow start making a highly improbable run at a playoff spot, that won’t change. In fact, he credited the kids with helping to spark this modest resurgence.
“Maybe that’s the reason we get on a roll,” he said.
In the meantime, when the Hawks practice Monday morning at MB Ice Arena, there could be a few guys packing up for good. It’s tough, but in a lost season such as this one, it’s inevitable.
“This sport’s a business,” said Vinnie Hinostroza, an increasingly significant part of the Hawks’ future. “It’s not something we haven’t seen. And it’s not like we don’t have cell phones and stuff; we can keep in touch. Everyone in here is a great guy, a great teammate, a great player. But things happen in this business. I guess we’ll see what happens.”
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