Is Cam Barker Being Phased Out?

The Blackhawks captured nine out of a possible twelve points on their long circus road trip. After thumping the San Jose Sharks, an emotional let down and fatigue did appear to set in during the final two games.  I heard Jesse Rogers from Espn Chicago.com mention on the radio the other day the best circus road trip record ever was 5-1 back in 1991. The Hawks ended up 4-1-1 this time,  which was a special accomplishment as well. 

Give the Ducks and the Kings credit as they were able to limit the Hawk chances and not allow the Chicago offense to get going.  After all the different time changes and almost 5900 miles of air travel the Hawks are glad to be home. 

Things could set up nicely in the next few weeks as the Hawks have eight of their next ten games at the United Center. They must adjust better to trapping teams as well as clubs from the Eastern Conference they don’t often face. Less sizzle and more shots from the offense is needed as well as fewer turnovers. 

John Madden said it best in a quote from today’s Chicago Tribune….

We have to bring it every night,” center John Madden said. “It’s not always going to be tic-tac-toe passing plays. We have to get a little greasy and start getting in the trenches a little bit. Teams are prepared for us. If we keep winning, they’re going to keep preparing harder and harder, so we have to bring it together and everybody has to contribute

The Hawks are one of the better clubs in the NHL but to be the best, consistency is most important. It will be interesting to see how the Hawks will fare against a team with big forwards, like the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

Here are a couple of observations about the road trip as well as the last month of Blackhawk hockey. 

To start, it appears the last thing Joel Quenneville wants is a goalie controversy. 

Not often do you see a goaltender earn a shutout and not start the following game. But Antti Niemi didn’t get the start in San Jose after blanking the Canucks and also sat the bench for the last half of back to games over the weekend.  My thinking was Niemi should have started against the Ducks, but not starting him in LA was most surprising. 

Cristobal Huet is the number one and should be given the majority of the starts unless he plays himself out of the starting role. But Niemi needs to play more often. 

The Hawks have 12 back to back games left, so maybe that will translate into another six starts for Niemi. If Niemi is only used in those occasions he will start a total of eleven times this season. 

That’s not enough. 

I expect Niemi to get additional playing time because Huet starting 70 games might not bode well for his playoff stamina. Huet has never played in more than 42 regular season games at any level of competition. Quenneville knows best, maybe Niemi had a slight injury and that was the reason he didn’t start over the weekend. It will be interesting to see how Niemi is worked into the lineup. 

After coming off a sparkling shutout performance, Niemi likely won’t start again until Friday night versus the Predators at the UC. That would be 14 days after he blanked the Canucks. 

In any event Quenneville’s influence is also part of my next observation. 

Is Cam Barker being phased out? 

Except for one or two games in November, Barker has been completely unnoticeable.

Sometimes not being noticed is a good thing for a number five or six defender. 

Judging from Barker’s playing opportunities it appears Quenneville doesn’t believe so.

In my view Barker needs to be a difference maker. He was a former number three overall draft pick who now makes a hefty $3 million dollars per season. 

Brent Sopel who was considered by many as an after thought for this year has proven to be more valuable than Barker. 

Did Barker or Sopel have more points and a better plus-minus for November? 

That was not meant to be a trick question but they were both exactly the same. Each player had one goal and three assists while achieving a plus two rating for the month. 

The main difference is Sopel is on the ice more often while the Hawks are short handed. He also blocks more shots than Barker. Their total on ice time for the month is similar  but Sopel plays the harder minutes. 

Who has more trade value? 

Barker for now but…. 

Quenneville unlike previous Hawk head coaches, Denis Savard and Trent Yawney, has complete say so as to who plays and how much. 

Barker’s best attribute is an accurate shot from the point. He also has good vision and has a nice touch on his passes. Barker’s strong suit is providing offense. These days Barker is not among the first two point men to jump over the boards when the Hawks are on a power play. 

Actually many times Barker isn’t one of the top four power play point men. This is especially true when Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg or Dustin Byfuglien is used at the point. Even Niklas Hjalmarsson has been used ahead of Barker on the power play and that could be a meaningful sign. 

Barker’s team ranking has slipped quite a bit. Quenneville doesn’t have to say so; he makes his intentions known by his choices for playing time. Barker is in a tough spot because he can’t prove his worth without getting power play minutes. Quenneville is only concerned, as he should be, with which  combinations work best. 

Stan Bowman understands about diminishing returns. So don’t be surprise if Barker is the first player to go. 

Recently I wrote a blog around the theme the Hawks shouldn’t force a trade, and that is still true. What has changed for me is the player which should be dealt sooner than later is not Sopel. Barker’s trade value is higher now than it will be in coming months if Quenneville uses him in the same way. 

Quenneville is not concerned with preserving trade value and Barker may likely see less ice time, not more. If he can’t get meaningful power play minutes…… 

Why is Barker on the roster at all? 

A deal can be constructed with a familiar Blackhawk trade partner. 

The Carolina Hurricanes are in a world of hurt. They keep losing hockey games and with every failure there is less fan interest. The Hurricanes have to be thinking about a high draft position for next year. This season’s outlook is dismal and it could be time to rebuild and shuffle the deck. They may be anxious to trade defensemen Joe Corvo or Aaron Ward, both of whom will be unrestricted free agents on July1. 

The Hawks can trade Barker to the Canes for two defensemen with close to the same cap hit. The salaries of Joe Corvo and big Andrew Alberts together would be about $600,000 more than Barker.  So the Canes actually would save some money this year. The key for Chicago is Corvo is signed only through this season and Alberts will earn a modest $1,050,000 for the 2010-2011 campaign. 

Bowman should be able to figure out a scenario with Carolina to acquire a decent prospect or a lower round draft pick back in return as well. The Hawks would open up $2 million in cap space for next year and gain an experienced right handed shooting defender in Corvo and some considerable size for their blueline in the 6’5” Alberts. 

By acquiring both defensemen the Hawks get better and also gain cap room for next year.  Bowman can then look to deal Sopel for another player to help for a long playoff run and once again accomplish additional cap space for next year. 

The Kris Versteeg/Patrick Sharp at center experiment may not be the answer. There are some experienced pivots who will be upcoming UFA’s and Bowman will still have Sopel and some Ice Hogs to use as trade bait. 

Corvo was born in Oak Park, Illinois and should welcome being part of the team he once rooted for. He would probably only be here for the rest of this season but the Hawks can provide Corvo a nice temporary home. Alberts could be a six or seven dman depending on what happens with Sopel. 

Those who believe there is something else in the works by Hawk management in the way of acquiring a defenseman who will be under contract for three or four million dollars for next season….I say no. 

The Hawks have to cut salary not add to it. One obvious imbalance is with Barker and Sopel; they make too much money for third pairing defensemen. 

Sopel is playing well and his value won’t diminish, if anything it could go up. The less term left on his contract the better for the acquiring team. 

Barker could be worth his salary to another club more so than with the Hawks. His trade value definitely won’t increase the way the Quenneville is using him. 

It would be best to trade Barker before everyone in the NHL notices what I have. 

Most nights he isn’t noticeable. 

Al’s Shots 

If Barker and Sopel are both dealt there are two things that should happen quickly. 

One is the re-signing party can begin because the CBA tagging issue will be dealt with. 

The second item on the agenda would be to re-sign Hjalmarsson

If there is any chance the Hawks could extend his contract before this summer they would be much better off. 

Hammer deserves a big raise from his $643,000 salary but he is not a $3 million player….yet. 

Young Nik has not put up the offensive totals to put him in line for a Barker like contract. Actually Barker wasn’t in line for a $3 million contract until the Hawks qualifying offer snafu. 

Players have to be evaluated with others with comparable achievements but Barker and Versteeg were overpaid. The Hawks duo was measured against players with comparable stats. But the real issue was the others didn’t have only one good season as was the case with Barker and Versteeg. 

Both were highly paid for their potential. 

Versteeg still has a lot of upside, he could be a steal if he continues to progress. 

Barker is never going to be a top four defender in Chicago if the same blue liners remain here. 

Hjalmarsson is a number three or four defenseman now and it is better to get him signed sooner than later. Hammer is a RFA and is not eligible for arbitration so he may opt for some immediate security. His biggest paydays will come later when he can completely control his contract rights. 

The Hawks need to lock Hammer up in a similar way Dale Tallon did with Duncan Keith a few years ago. 

If Hammer gets more power play time his stats may bolster an even bigger payday. 

How much money do you think Barker or Versteeg would have re-signed for if they were offered extensions prior to the end of last season?   

I think you get the point. The Hawks turned too many $2 million dollar players into $3 million dollar performers…Byfuglien is in that group as well. 

A million dollars here, a million there and before you know it….salary cap trouble. 

The Kings Alexander Frolov has to drive a head coach crazy.  All kinds of talent but so many mental mistakes. His inconsistency could mean a new home for next season….maybe the KHL? 

blackhawkswin@comcast.net

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  1. Dave Morris says:

    Al, another first rate analysis.

    Barker for Corvo/Alberts certainly helps both teams. I wonder if Jack Skille might be part of such a scenario as well.

    Thanks.

    Dave

  2. Al Cimaglia says:

    It is not time to be frantic but there is a need to be realistic…Skille is in that group too.

  3. John Jaeckel says:

    Al,
     
    Spot on, amigo. I have been saying for a while as well that Barker might well be the trade fodder instead of Sopel. Not only are their stats similar, most nights Sopel is getting more ice time. And Barker is young enough and promising enough that a lot of teams will chump up for him. So that said, I might look for a more significant return than the Caroline deal you propose, or perhaps packaging Barker with something else for something more significant.
     

  4. Al Cimaglia says:

    John,

    I agree Barker should be worth more on the suraface but Bowman can’t take any money back in return. The $5.3 he is spending on Barker and Sopel has to turn into about $1.5 mill next year.

    I just don’t see a higher profile dman coming back unless he is signed for only this season. Even if Bowman made the deal I suggested he is still at least $7 mill short on what is needed to re-sign the Big # 3.

    Players that don’t get icetime eventually don’t stick here….Johnson, Skille and now Barker is falling into that same category.

  5. MTH says:

    Good post. I kind of like this trade.
    I just have  another trade you Chicago bloggers might consider.

    Its between Montreal and Chicago.
    Im a swedish Blackhawks fan (which also watch SEL fanatically – brynas fan) and this I think is a good move in both the short term and long term for Chicago at least – probably so for Montreal fans too.

    To Chicago: Plekanec (2.6M this year), O’byrne (0,9M to 10/11) and Andreas Engkvist (a MTL prospect)
    AE is with Djurgården in SEL mostly in the same line as Markus Kruger and they fit together real well. This is clearly a move for the 11/12 season when Kruger might take the step over if he has improved enough.
    To Montreal: Barker(3.1M), Skille(1M) OR another prospect OR (if not mouthwatery enough for MTL) maybe even one of Versteeg(3.)/Buf.(3.0M)/Sopel(2.3M).
    What do you think of this?
    MTH

  6. Al Cimaglia says:

    Interesting…. except no Versteeg.

  7. Dave Morris says:

    Al, with the apparently serious leg injury (a deep cut from a skate) suffered by Corvo last night, is the prospect of an imminent trade with the Hurricanes scuttled or enhanced?

    Regarding Barker, I still have to wonder if his limited playing time simply isn’t just a function of Quenneville going with his best players. Barker’s actually been productive, and reliable, especially given his minutes. 

    The Blackhawks not being under any pressure to make trades–and as you pointed out, nor should they be–staying the course with Barker through the playoffs unless a can’t miss deal comes around would seem to be the wisest course.

    Looking at the situation regarding a 2nd line center, do you see Bowman addressing that–or is he waiting to see if Bolland CAN come back this year? Frankly, I have my doubts Bolland will be ready to jump into the action after back surgery.

    In terms of potential replacements, Doug Weight, Mark Cullen, Tomas Plekanec have all been mentioned; Matt Stajan’s name has come up, but he doesn’t fit the Hawk profile in my opinion.

    I see the Rangers’ Christopher Higgins as being a player to consider as well–Higgins has trouble fitting in with Tortorella, but his skillset would be an asset in Chicago. Watching Higgins recently, he is skating as well as ever and working the PK effectively. He’s also shown himself to be a good scorer. Sather might take Skille in a swap, as Skille could thrive under Torts, and Slats can then divest himself of Higgins’ 2.25 cap hit. For Bowman, Higgins’ expiring contract is a net gain. 

    What are your thoughts on the above, and especially, the ‘center situation’?

    Cheers

    Dave

  8. Al Cimaglai says:

    Dave,

    You said it best…. I still have to wonder if his limited playing time simply isn’t just a function of Quenneville going with his best players.

    This why he has to go if he is not going to be played…while he still has value.

    Corvo’s injury???…we will see.

    Other have some cap issues like Weight…Little is the best cap fit and I like Stajan.

    Soon The Leafs and others  will start planning for next year.

  9. Dave Morris says:

    Al, thanks for your thoughts.

    I must admit I haven’t seen as much of Stajan over the past few seasons as I have of players like Weight, Plekanec and Higgins–but I will look more closely at his game tonight when Toronto plays Montreal.

    What I have seen, is that Stajan is not strong in the corners nor particuarly combative, which leads me to think he’s not a Quenneville type of player. We saw how the Ebbett experiment went…not very successful. Stajan’s 1.75MM hit might make him more attractive than Weight’s 2.2, Plekanec’s 2.75 and Higgins’ 2.25, but in principle Bowman would have that replacement salary room available.

    As you say…we shall see.  

    FYI Corvo is out 8-12 weeks due to that laceration… 

    Cheers<
    Dave

  10. Dave Morris says:

    Well, Al, maybe Matt Stajan knows he’s being looked at…he scored a very impressive goal tonight.

    ;-)

    Cheers.