Written by Taylor Giffin, who can be followed on twitter at @TOGiffin
Any Blackhawks fan will tell you the only real need for the team come the NHL Trade Deadline on March 5 is a second line centre. That’s the simple part. Just how the organization goes about making that happen is the tough part. A simple question but not a simple answer.
You can bet, however, GM Stan Bowman is trying hard to crack the case. He would love to be able to concoct a deal that would bring a defensively capable, yet offensively gifted centreman to the Blackhawks (as every team does).
Although the team is pushed right up against the salary cap, and has very little wiggle room, Bowman has been able to work some magic twice in the trade department already this year.
Back in November, you will remember, he sent Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen (both could not break the team’s deep roster; particularly Olsen on the back-end) to the Florida Panthers for former fan-favourite Kris Versteeg and minor-leaguer Phillippe Lefebvre. With the kicker being the Panthers retained half of Versteeg’s salary.
Then, in early February, Bowman sent a fourth round pick to the New York Islanders for both Peter Regin (a potential second line centre contender) and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Both of these players will add depth to the roster once the team heads into the playoffs.
As deadline day approaches it will be tough for Bowman to swing a substantial trade without moving a roster player. With the Blackhawks so tight up against the cap a trade will need to be made in order to bring in a player that could fill in as the second line centre.
One particular player that stands out this season is forward Bryan Bickell.
After an excellent playoffs last season, where Bickell took his game to a new level and showed everyone he could (surprise, surprise) use his big body, he has been exceptionally quiet over the course of this season. Leading to a frustrated head coach Joel Quenneville making him a healthy scratch in late January.
Would the Blackhawks consider moving Bickell, or better yet, would a team even be interested in taking him?
Bickell, who carries a four million cap hit per year until the 2016-2017 season, is anything but a washed-up player. He can provide a team with grit and size on the forecheck (when he wants to, that is), a big body to play down low and in front of the net, a great shot and raw offensive ability and, most importantly, a lot of heart.
Could the Blackhawks, yet again, look to the Florida Panthers as a possible trade partner? Would the Panthers be interested in Bickell and his four million cap hit?
If Bowman is somehow able to unload Bickell to the Panthers, or anywhere for that matter, it could open up a lot of room for the Blackhawks to make a move and acquire their coveted second line centre. Yes, they may be taking a big gamble losing a player like Bickell heading into the playoffs, but the team has been doing just fine without his contributions all season. And, if this is the way his production and style of play is going to be during the regular season for three more years, then moving him may be the right move now.
The Blackhawks could find themselves on the receiving end of a draft pick, if Bickell is unloaded, that they could then move in another potential deal (and package if need me with Brandon Pirri or another player in Rockford). Or, in the case of Bickell heading to the Panthers, a player like centreman Marcel Goc, who becomes a UFA after this season, could come the Blackhawks way. Goc, or any other UFA centre that comes in a straight up trade, would fill an organizational need and also allows freedom for next season when prospect Teuvo Teravainen is ready to make the jump across the pond.
Without moving a player from the roster to free up cap space, Bowman will struggle to make a move. Most likely, he will not be able to pull the trigger in a deal to find a centre. With many on the active roster having a strong season, and others with only minimal cap hits, Bickell seems like the odd man out should management decide to go down the seller route (to, perhaps, potentially become a buyer).
But again, it will up to Bowman to figure out a shifty way to solve the seemingly age-old question of the Blackhawks – who will be the second line centre come the playoffs?
Simple question but a tough one.