- Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer
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The culmination of something that started on June 24, 2011, will take place between now and Monday at 2 p.m. CST. That’s when NHL teams are no longer allowed to trade players and the real playoff push begins. The players a team has in the organization, at that point, are essentially what they’ll go to the playoffs with.
The Chicago Blackhawks traded defenseman Brian Campbell on that day in June, finally releasing themselves from the salary cap stranglehold that had plagued them since winning the Stanley Cup in 2010. General manager Stan Bowman did not instantly spend the money he saved on Campbell. He indicated there would be a time for that.
“Everyone puts their team together in the summer and everyone is excited about how their team is going to play out and then probably by the second week of the year there are lots of teams who realize ... it just didn’t work out,” Bowman said following the trade of Campbell back in June. “And at that point you want to have some flexibility.”
We’re at that point. The Hawks are not an elite team right now. They sit 8-12 points behind the top teams in the Western Conference. Despite a nice run of four wins out of five, no one can be completely convinced they can play defense well enough to win a championship. They didn’t spend then so they could spend now, but it hasn’t happened yet.
“You saw our cap situation over the last couple years and that’s how it’s going to be for a while,” Bowman explained in June. “We have some really good players signed to big tickets and we’re always looking to the future. Obviously, Brian’s contract was one of the largest ones on the books for us. In our team structure the contract made it very difficult.”
Money isn’t the issue, and neither is a lack of viable trade commodities. The Hawks are rated as one of the better organizations in terms of prospects. They’re not slim on draft picks to trade either.
So Bowman has little time to act on a struggling power play, an offense which is short a top-six forward and, of course, a defense that is employing a 20- and 21-year-old on its top two pairs right now. Yes, injuries have played a part, but the Hawks weren’t playing great defense when all were healthy. They’ve languished near the bottom of the league all season in most defensive categories, including the penalty kill which, is just now getting better.
Simply put, if Bowman can upgrade any of those areas, he’ll go a long way toward making the Hawks a real Stanley Cup contender. So far, he’s either been beat to players he likes or has chosen to sit out while many contenders fortify their rosters.
Kyle Quincey, Hal Gill, Nicklas Grossman and Jeff Carter are just a few of the names that could have helped. Not everyone is going to be a perfect fit, but at this rate slight upgrades in certain areas are better than nothing. Is Bowman lying in the weeds for something big or is he just scrambling to get something done? The good news for Hawks’ fans is most of their past trades were negotiated very quietly. Chris Campoli, Nick Leddy and even Nick Boynton were acquired without much fanfare around the deadline. Of course, those weren’t big names anyway. The Hawks have the wherewithal to get a bigger one this time around.
Sources indicate they have interest in Anaheim’s Lubomir Visnovsky, who would instantly help a power play that is 0 for its last 33. They need a shooter or a pilot on the blue line thus Visnovsky fits, although he has a salary cap hit of $5.6 million through next season. And it will cost the Hawks a good prospect. But that’s the price of trying to win a Stanley Cup.
There are others who could be available, including Campoli for a second straight year. Though Dallas might be a buyer after its win on Thursday, there is interest in Adam Burish around the league. The problem is anyone the Hawks are interested in -- like Grossman or Quincey -- will have other suitors as well. And now that the Los Angeles Kings have traded a defenseman, they’re in the market to get one. Bowman has competition everywhere he turns. He might have the means to get a deal done, but, apparently, so do a lot of other teams.
Bowman didn’t like the free-agent class of centers this past summer once Brad Richards came off the board, so he held onto his money and said he would be spend it when he needed to. Several weeks ago, he said there was a logjam in the trade market, but that has long since opened up. The time for talk is finally over. The team needs help and fans want to see their general manager do everything he can to improve the club, which has fallen from the elite. In this case, trying won’t be enough, though. Not when Detroit, Nashville and Los Angeles have tried and succeeded. Bowman has to hit a homerun -- or come close to it.
The one move Chicago made -- acquiring Brendan Morrison from Calgary -- hasn’t worked out. So what, if anything, is going to happen? If they don’t even get one depth defenseman it will be a shock to Hawks’ observers. Even if years with a better blue line the Hawks have fortified the position. But will the player or players they pick up be the right ones to help take the team to another level? When a team has so many potential needs, helping one area out shouldn’t be that hard, should it?
Up until this moment, the only assessment of Bowman that can be made is that he’s been beat by other quality teams to some decent players. By Monday at 2:01 p.m., we’ll know the whole story. Until then, one thing is for sure, Stan Bowman is going to have a very busy weekend -- or at least, he needs to.