The best time to make a big trade in the NHL is when you don’t have to. You’re negotiating with leverage. If you have a weakness you’re trying to fill, it’s either not obvious or not urgent.
And so, it makes sense that the worst time to make a big trade is when you’re desperate. Other teams can see how badly you’re doing and why, and they will stick you up. Making a trade when you have to make a trade usually requires overpaying for the honor.
The Blackhawks cannot make a big move.
The Hawks need help at center behind Jonathan Toews. Heck, they have needed help at center since Patrick Kane started the season there. They switched out Kane when he started getting abused in road games, and since then, Marcus Kruger had been barely OK before suffering a concussion, and Michael Frolik is useless.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville always had the option of moving Patrick Sharp back to the middle and then finding wings to give the Hawks six top forwards who could play like top forwards.
But now, that’s not an option. Sharp is hurt. How badly? The Hawks haven’t said yet. But after his 20th goal of the season put his team up 2-0, the Hawks never scored again and gagged at home in overtime against the evil Red Wings on Sunday.
The loss was the Hawks’ fourth in a row. They plummeted from the top of the Central Division to third and from one of the top spots in the Western Conference to being a road team if the playoffs opened today. That’s how tight things are. That’s how quickly it can change. That’s how much the Hawks need to make a big deal.
And that’s why they can’t.
I imagine a lot of Hawks fans will scream for general manager Stan Bowman to bring in a top-six forward or a top-four defenseman.
Oh, and Gretzky or Lemieux and Orr or Potvin in their primes would be good, too. Work on that and get back to us, would you? Thanks.
It’s not that people calling for such things are wrong. In fact, Bowman would agree with them. Problem is, you can’t make those deals when everyone knows you have to make those deals. I mean, if Anaheim GM Bob Murray was of a mind to deal Ryan Getzlaff, he might start his list of hostage demands with Nick Leddy. Click.
Ditto Calgary if you’re talking Jarome Iginla and Columbus if you’re talking Rick Nash.
I can’t see Bowman finding a sucker for a big deal before Valentine’s Day, but there is a way the Hawks could help themselves for a reasonable price now: Deal for a third-liner. If you’re smart and your scouting is sharp, you can find a responsible winger with speed and some touch that would make Dave Bolland’s line more dangerous, and you could do it cheaply.
That, see, was a big key to the Stanley Cup run: Bolland between Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg. The line combined smarts, toughness and speed to check the opponent’s top line and still contribute offensively. In fact, that line has to contribute because it’s on the ice so much.
Bolland scored Sunday, but it was on the power play. The Hawks need his line to contribute five-on-five. At times, Bolland looks like the old hockey joke that he’s on the “helicopter line’’ because it has no wings.
The Hawks were going to have to address their depth before the trade deadline anyway, so they might as well make the small move now while everyone is expecting the bigger one.