Blackhawks: Dialing for D-Men?

Then and now, the saying holds: you can never have too much 'd'.

As the Pre-Olympics roster freeze and March trade deadline get ever closer, there is debate about the Hawks’ perceived need on defense. From the Chicago hockey media to Blackhawk fan boards, the questions are being asked: does the team need a d-man; what kind; who; and how much should they pay for this rental player?

While Chicago leads the league in goals against average, the concern appears to revolve around the Hawks’ blueline depth. Keith, Seabrook, Campbell and Hjalmarsson are as good a top 4 as any. Sopel and Barker make for a reliable 5/6 pairing, and Jordan Hendry has been a capable substitute when called on.

However, the ready talent stops there. The Hawks lost Matt Walker, James Wisniewski, who brought toughness, and Aaron Johnson, who offered versatility at defense and forward, from last year’s team. There is no identifiable blueliner in the system, who can be called up if the situation presents itself.

So what should Hawk GM Stan Bowman do?

As of February 7th, Bowman had the cap room to take on an additional $3.2 million prorated cap hit without having to clear salary (source: Cap Geek.com).

By March 2nd, that amount increases to $5 million.

If Bowman were to trade a player or players, that amount is increased accordingly. If not, the price range to go shopping with, sits at around $3-5 million, which is a fairly broad range.

Much has been written about Cam Barker being a likely piece in trade talks, and Kris Versteeg’s name is dangled frequently.

Bowman has implied in recent interviews that there is cap space for the Hawks to acquire another player in that price range without subtracting from his roster.

As to what might be offered in trade, the San Jose Sharks set a precedent of sorts by sending a draft pick to Carolina for pending UFA blueliner Niclas Wallin.

While there are varying opinions on the candidates, there appears to be a consensus among Chicago’s hockey writers as to the qualities required for a suitable defenseman as an addition to the team for the stretch run and the playoffs.

The Daily Herald’s Tim Sassone and Barry Rozner, the Tribune’s Mike Kiley (Blackhawks Confidential), ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers, the Sun Times’ Len Ziehm, and NHL On XM Radio/Hockey Independent’s own Al Cimaglia, all appear to agree on ‘veteran’, ‘physical’, ‘stay-at-home’, ‘value-priced’ as being key ingredients—though not necessarily all of these in one player— in getting the Hawks further along in their Cup quest.

It’s presumed for the most part, that the acquisition would be a player who is a pending free agent.

However, some names who are signed beyond June 2010 have appeared in reports from a variety of hockey media sources in the U.S., and Canada. These include ESPN, TSN, The Sporting News, Sun Media, The Fourth Period, and Lyle Richardson’s esteemed SpectorsHockey.net.

Let’s take a look at the potential candidates, by Conference. The descriptions of the players mentioned here, include observations of their play over the past few seasons, and summaries of their scouting reports which can be found at Faceoff.com.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlanta: Pavel Kubina, Christoph Schubert, Mark Popovic, Boris Valabik

Thrashers GM Don Waddell says they are going to be buyers at the deadline, but how realistic are their playoff chances? They have cap room to extend Cup winner Kubina, a robust veteran who has added stability to the D in Atlanta, but will they trade him instead for a younger, less expensive player, or scoring help? Would Waddell consider swapping young monster and former first round pick Boris Valabik? Schubert, can play forward, and hits, but has a history of ill-timed errors. Popovic is a reliable depth d-man.

Boston: Derek Morris

If the Bruins drop out of the playoff race, Morris, logically, could become available. With a good point shot, Morris is a tough, steady player with some offensive upside. With their win Sunday, the Bruins can still salvage their season, so B’s GM Peter Chiarelli may want to hang on to him.

Buffalo: Toni Lydman, Henrik Tallinder, Nathan Paetsch

Why does Buffalo make a trade now, as they drive for a Division title and a playoff spot? Well, they have eight d-men on their roster, led by rookie phenom Tyler Myers; and GM Darcy Regier is apparently looking for scoring help. Lydman’s name has been floated in the rumor mill by ESPN Insider.com, as has Paetsch’s.

Carolina: Joe Corvo, Aaron Ward

Canes GM Jim Rutherford is in full selling mode. He moved Niclas Wallin, formerly reported to be of interest to the Hawks, to the Sharks Sunday mid-afternoon, taking him off the market. Corvo and Ward have been mentioned as players of interest for Chicago. the Hawks. Corvo is an area native who is combative and a strong power play presence with a very accurate shot. Ex-Wing/Bruin Ward is strictly a reserve guy nowadays, but he’s a big, tough and a Cup winner.

Florida: Dennis Seidenberg, Jordan Leopold

The Panthers are another bubble team who appear to be wavering between buyer and seller mode. Ex-Hurricane Seidenberg is a German Olympic pick and a strong, big-minute player. Ex-Avalanche Leopold also fits the transition game well.

Montreal: Paul Mara

Mara was a solid contributor for the Rangers last year: he provided steadiness and rugged reliability in New York. He’s been a UFA disappointment in Montreal this season, though this may be a reflection of the Canadiens’ larger weaknesses rather than his shortcomings.

Ottawa: Anton Volchenkov

Volchenkov is a Russian Olympian who has been a Senator since his arrival in the NHL. He’s a highly respected shot blocker and sometimes devastating hitter. But GM Bryan Murray reportedly wants to extend him; unless contract talks are stalled, Volchenkov may stay the rest of the season as the Senators are focused on a return to the playoffs after last year’s miss.

New York Islanders: Andy Sutton

Sutton is huge (6’ 6”), plays the body well, and has a good point shot. Is he mobile enough for the Hawks? The Islanders’ playoff chances look iffy; so, Sutton could be on the market.

Pittsburgh: Jay McKee

The Penguins have had all kinds of injury problems on defense, so it’s surprising to read that McKee might be traded in March. That said, McKee is a physical, reliable, veteran d-man, and bargain-priced as only $800K remained this year from his original multi-season pact with St. Louis, since bought out. I have my doubts though, that Ray Shero will shop him.

Tampa Bay: Andrei Meszaros

Meszaros is an anomaly in this group, being a young talent signed long term. Without specifying, TSN’s Darren Dreger said the Hawks have interest. It’s difficult to see why, as Meszaros’ contract is a $4 million hit and runs through June 2014.

Toronto: Tomas Kaberle, Garnet Exelby

Brian Burke insists he’s not trading Kaberle this year; and the desirable defenseman being signed through next year, one wonders how such a trade—if it happened–could impact the Hawks’ already complex cap situation.  Exelby hasn’t been much of a factor in Toronto, but he’s shown in the past he can bring some useful nastiness to a defensive corps—and he is affordable.

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

Anaheim: Scott Niedermayer, James Wisniewski

For all the talk about the presumed availability of Stanley and Norris-winner Niedermayer, Ducks GM Bob Murray has insisted Scott isn’t moving, so whether he does hit the market is speculation at this point. Niedermayer is a high-ticket item with a 6.750 annual cap hit, so he’s out of budget range unless the Hawks send salary the other way. Another defenseman, former Hawk, local favorite, and certified warrior Wisniewski, is more affordable, and seems more likely to be available—whether the Ducks continue their playoff push or not.

Edmonton: Denis Grebeshkov, Jason Strudwick, Steve Staios, Sheldon Souray

Oilers GM Steve Tambellini has announced he’s ready to move bodies. Grebeshkov is an RFA, and Russian Olympian; he’s mobile and can play a mean style. Strudwick, a UFA, is a tough, depth d-man. Staios is signed through next year, but fits the budget and can probably be had for prospects, or as part of a salary dump. Souray has a long term deal, but is ready to move, and arguably has the best point shot in the game.

Los Angeles: Sean O’Donnell

An aging vet who still goes to war every night, big, mean, wily O’Donnell’s been mentioned by ESPN Insider.

Minnesota: Kim Johnsson, Marek Zidlicky, Shane Hnidy

Johnsson and Zidlicky could be key to the Wild’s playoff aspirations, so one wonders if Wild GM Chuck Fletcher may just roll with them, their UFA status notwithstanding. Hnidy, described by Faceoff.com as a d-man who can play an in-your-face style with intimidation and poise, might be available.

To recap: based on observing the players mentioned here, the visible logic of their being traded, and their likelihood of being a ‘fit’, in terms of skill and price-value relationship, I’ll suggest Corvo, Seidenberg, Wisniewski, Hnidy or Sutton, and even Exelby would all be credible acquisitions. I think there is an outside chance at Kubina; and Niedermayer or Kaberle are long shots, for reasons previously cited.

With the countdown to March Trade Deadline accelerated by the Olympic break, the anticipation level is rising among hockey fans and especially those with high hopes for the 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks.

And considering some of the surprise moves we’ve already seen so far (like the Phaneuf blockbuster), some players mentioned here might already be traded by the time you read this.

 

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About the Author: David Morris' hockey writing has been featured at KuklasKorner.com and Chicago Sports Then & Now. He is also the North American correspondent for leading Swiss hockey site, Planete Hockey.

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  1. Dave Morris says:

    As a footnote, the figure of $3-5 million refers to the annual value of the contract. Capgeek.com does a very good job of tracking the teams, their salaries and changing cap space. Highly recommended:
    http://www.capgeek.com/tracker/

  2. vito says:

    great post dave, i agree with you the more the better why trade barker now when he can help with his shot i know he’s struggled this year but there can be alot of reasons but he’s got the talent to make a difference in the playoffs he did last year with some big goals why subtract one d man when they need two dmen now if he is traded then we need three

  3. Dave Morris says:

    Thanks Vito> with so many teams close to playoff spots, there actually may be very few defensemen available if clubs like Florida, Atlanta, Montreal, Tampa, Ottawa, Anaheim, etc all decide they need to hang on to their guys.

    I didn’t mention Dan Hamhuis because Nashville seems committed to keeping him through the end of the season.  

    If Stan Bowman can do what Doug Wilson did–get a reliable 7th d-man without giving up a roster player–that might be the best move.

    I do think Corvo could be interesting though…he would definitely add to the PP.

    But if it’s toughness, guys like Sutton or Hnidy might work. 

  4. vito says:

    its a bummer that bowman could not get the same deal doug wilson got for wallin i wonder why but we defenitely need physical players on d but that being said i see these group on d getting more physical in the playoffs and do well with it but some size needs to be added for a little bit of intimidation on their opponents BTW can any team beat the capitals in a 7 game series? i cant believe what they are doing lately is it because of a weaker conference?

  5. Dave Morris says:

    Vito> the Capitals have been on a very good run lately, but there are still twenty games to play after the Olympic break. The last quarter of the season will tell us where teams are, playoff-wise.

    A Hawks-Caps Cup final appears to be favored by the Vegas oddsmakers right now.

  6. Dave Morris says:

    Update: with Barker (coincidentally, pictured above) now traded for Kim Johnsson, I’ll be doing a follow-up article looking at more possible transactions before March 3rd.