It’s been a question that started being asked the moment the Chicago Blackhawks were knocked out of the playoffs last month in the first round for the second consecutive season. Should they trade from their core group that helped them win a Stanley Cup in 2010?
Before addressing that question a definition of the core group is needed. It consists of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland on offense. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are part of the core on defense while Niklas Hjalmarsson is on the edges as well.
These are mostly popular players who helped end a 49-year championship drought in Chicago. But when Wayne Gretzky can be traded it means no one in sports is untouchable, especially from a team that underachieved.
General manager Stan Bowman said after the season he wasn’t “fixated” on trading from that core group, but that doesn’t mean he won’t or shouldn’t. He would be foolish not to consider any avenue which might improve his team.
So to be clear, you don’t trade from the core group just to make a trade. You do it to get better, knowing that as magical as they were two years ago, they haven’t been able to repeat that magic.
So who goes?
Bowman was mostly right about at least one thing in shooting down the idea of trading from the core.
“It’s really difficult to remove one of those pieces, unless you have somebody that can fill that person’s spot,” he said days after the end of the season.
And it would be difficult to replace the skill of Kane or the two-way prowess of Hossa or the sharp-shooting of Sharp. But there is one player who could be considered redundant on the Hawks roster.
This isn’t a criticism of Bolland. This is about trying to get better as a team, and Bolland might be expendable in that regard.
A case can be made that Bolland, who turns 26 on June 5, has shown the type of player he will be: a great defensive guru come playoff time who never realizes his offensive potential. His high point total of 47 was achieved four seasons ago. And he doesn’t seem like the player dying to move up in the pecking order of centers. He had 130 points (for the London Knights) the year before turning pro.
There is little doubt he would be missed, especially after considering his incredible defensive performance that Stanley Cup postseason, but it also means he has value outside the market.
The reason Bolland might be expendable comes down to one person -- Marcus Kruger, who could fill that third-line role though he was asked to play above his head on the second line most of last season.
To be clear, Kruger is not close to the player that Bolland is, but he is smart and can play defense and is getting better. If Kruger can be 70 percent of what Bolland is and Bolland can help you fetch a player who is 100 percent better than what they had, say at second-line center, then that’s where the math of the deal favors the Hawks.
Speaking of that second line, Joel Quenneville has had every opportunity to make Bolland a fixture as the center there. Yet it hasn’t happened. Kruger played there as did a myriad of other forwards including, of course, Kane. Bolland has actually had a few turns as the second-line center, but he never grabbed hold of the job. In fact, if Kruger can do a decent job on the third line, why didn’t Quenneville just make that move within his team?
Play Bolland on the second line and Kruger on the third. The reason is it would have hurt both lines instead of helping them. Bolland is not a second-line center and may never be, and he doesn’t seem to be a player who cares if he is. He’s content where he is.
So what could the Hawks get back for Bolland? There are rumors which seem to have some basis coming out of Pittsburgh that 6-foot-4, 220-pound center Jordan Staal will be available via the trade market. He has one year left on a deal with a salary cap hit of $4 million. He’ll be an unrestricted free-agent after next season as will teammate Sidney Crosby. Staal, 23, had 25 goals and 25 assists in 62 games last season and would be a perfect fit for the Hawks.
He can be a net presence on the power play, something the Hawks sorely lacked, and he’s one of the premier penalty killers in the NHL as well. He was a Selke finalist for best defensive forward in 2010, and of course he’s a Stanley Cup winner with Pittsburgh in 2009. So he fills 3-4 needs for the Hawks starting with a role as that elusive second-line center.
Bolland alone won’t get Staal. Not even close. But Bolland and hot prospect Brandon Saad might get the Penguins to the table. Saad is a Pittsburgh native and very popular in that area. A package of Bolland, Saad, another prospect and a first-round pick or two might get Staal to Chicago.
The Penguins undoubtedly would want to trade Staal to a Western Conference team and the Hawks likewise, with Bolland heading the other way. Maybe it takes another player from the Hawks roster but the Penguins might not want that kind of salary additions assuming Crosby gets big dollars. If they insist on including Nick Leddy or Niklas Hjalmarsson, the Hawks should still do it.
Chicago would undoubtedly want to sign Staal to an extension and could do so after July 1, but they might have their own money issues in trying to get that done. At least they would have up to a year to accomplish it though a perfect scenario would be to have him sign just after trading for him. In fact, he would probably have to for it to be worth it for the Hawks.
The icing to the cake of this trade is the Hawks and Penguins could announce such a deal at the draft in late June. It just happens to be in Pittsburgh.
Remember, it wasn’t long after Gretzky was traded from Edmonton, the Oilers won another Cup. The Hawks could move closer to another one if they can max out the value of Bolland starting with a call to the Penguins.