BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — For nearly a decade, February has been a fanciful month for the Blackhawks and their fans, pondering all the possibilities as the trade deadline nears.
The Hawks always have been in win-now mode, and general manager Stan Bowman always has had a go-for-it mentality. And whether it was sneaky acquisitions such as Johnny Oduya in 2012 or Michal Handzus in 2013, or big-ticket guys such as Antoine Vermette in 2015 or Andrew Ladd in 2016, the Hawks always have been busy this time of year.
“We’ve been in acquiring-mode for probably nine straight years,” Joel Quenneville said.
But a little more than two weeks out from the Feb. 26 trade deadline, the vibe is drastically different. The Hawks are well aware that they’re more than one player away from making a run at a playoff spot, let alone a Stanley Cup. So while the Hawks surely need some scoring punch, they won’t be in the market for Buffalo’s Evander Kane. And while they desperately need some defensive help, they won’t be spending any assets for Detroit’s Mike Green. Montreal’s Max Pacioretty? Vancouver’s Thomas Vanek? The Rangers’ Rick Nash? They’re not in the plans. Not this year.
“I don’t think we’re going to be a buyer this season,” Bowman said on the NBC Sports Chicago broadcast Thursday night.
And that’s good. Eight points out of a playoff spot with 28 games to go, it’d be foolhardy to sacrifice picks, prospects or promising players for a useless rental. Besides, players around the league used to try to leverage their way to Chicago in hopes of making a Cup run. No Cup-chasing veteran is going to be looking at the Hawks as a destination right now.
“It’s definitely feeling different right now, where we have to win a couple hockey games to get the taste of thinking we have a legitimate chance of really closing the gap,” Quenneville said.
That said, the Hawks are not in all-out tear-down mode, either. On paper, moving Brent Seabrook would be an obvious — if difficult — option. But in reality, it’s not possible. First, Bowman has no real interest in trading away the team’s heart and soul. Second, Seabrook loves Chicago and has a full no-movement clause, and a team source said there’s “no chance” he waives it. And third, no team is going to take on the six remaining years of his contract at $6.875 million per season, certainly not without getting a significant young piece in the package.
Patrick Kane is still worth every penny of his $10.5-million cap hit. Jonathan Toews and his $10.5-million cap hit aren’t going anywhere. The value of Corey Crawford’s $6-million cap hit has been painfully evident in his absence. And Duncan Keith, despite taking a step back this season, is still a No. 1 defenseman on one of the most team-friendly deals in the league, signed for five more years at about a $5.5-million cap hit.
So even though the Hawks have about the same odds of making the playoffs as winning the draft lottery and the right to pick Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (very slim on both counts), there’s no tear-down possible here. No tank.
It’s more likely that Bowman will try to recoup some draft picks over the next two weeks. Maybe a contender would like a savvy, versatile veteran such as Tommy Wingels. Maybe free-agents-to-be Michal Kempny, Jan Rutta, Erik Gustafsson or Tomas Jurco could net a pick or a younger prospect. It’s unlikely but not unthinkable that the Hawks even dangle disappointing Brandon Saad to see what he could bring. Or maybe the Hawks just wait for the expected $5-million offseason bump in the salary cap to give them the flexibility to further retool around the aging core.
It’s a far cry from the dream-filled Februarys of recent vintage. But it’s the Hawks’ new reality. At least the Hawks seem to have accepted that fact, and that’s a good start to the long road back to being in the mix — in the playoffs, and at the deadline.
NOTE: The Hawks put Rutta on injured reserve and recalled 2013 second-round pick Carl Dahlstrom, a defenseman.
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