This past summer, especially after Marian Hossa signed with the Blackhawks, the team became a favorite in everyother trade rumor. A young team with lots of good players, both in Chicago and not yet in the NHL, that also happens to be suffocating on the salary cap is prime for speculation, and the Hawks have certainly had their share.
As the issues in goal and injuries started to hit the Hawks in October, the whispers again began. On November 3, we reported that there were a number of trade rumors swirling around with the Blackhawks involved. The next day, a response from a Blackhawks’ beat writer, ironically one that had printed rumor mill material back in August, brought further speculation to whether or not Stan Bowman would make a move before Christmas.
Over the last couple weeks, the Hawks have settled their goalie situation and the full return of Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Ben Eager have brought the mojo back to the Blackhawks.
Their mounting concern over the power play has subsided, their PK has stayed among the best in the league, and the Hawks rank third in the league in their ability to win faceoffs. So why would the Hawks start popping up in trade rumors again?
When Dave Bolland had surgery on a herniated disc in his back, it presented the very real possibility that he won’t be back at 100 percent this season. The doctors have estimated a three to four month recovery, which (counting on my fingers) puts him back on the ice in the middle of March.
Looking back at the summer, and the early parts of this season, Bowman did a nice job of presenting coach Joel Quenneville with options to fill in for faceoffs. Toews currently ranks third in the NHL in faceoff win percentage, and John Madden is also in the top ten. After that, the Hawks have added Tomas Kopecky (as a free agent with Hossa) and Andrew Ebbett (off waivers from Anaheim early in the regular season).
Kopecky, Ebbett, Kris Versteeg and Colin Fraser have all spent time in the circle in the past couple weeks, each with varied levels of success.
Versteeg has not only the best ability on the ice, but the biggest price tag among the group. He figures to best serve the team from his natural wing position.
Fraser has had some stretches recently where he’s been incredible in the circle. On November 6 in Denver, Fraser won nine of his 10 faceoffs.
The problem with Kopecky, Fraser and Ebbett is that none of the three has established a firm niche with the offense yet this year. Fraser, for all of his success in the circle and quality work on the PK, has taken some stupid penalties and is seen sprinting for the bench after many even-strength faceoffs. Kopecky has started to find a role in front of the net, but hasn’t been effective yet anywhere else on the ice.
Which makes the great question mark Ebbett. On a number of occassions in the last couple weeks, Ebbett has centered between Patrick Kane and Versteeg. That line is as fast on their skates as many of the fastest lines in hockey, but none of them is taller than 5’10; the obvious concern is that they can be pushed around the ice because of their size.
Ebbett’s ice time has drawn some speculation that the Hawks might make a move to bolster the center position via trade. And, circling back to the rumors from early November, the Carolina Huricanes are coming up again.
The ironic thing, again, is that the columnist that called out the rumors as being pure fancy on November 4 is now the one claiming there’s some validity, and potential, to a Hawks deal with the Canes.
In Sunday’s edition of the Daily Herald, Tim Sassone writes that the Hawks might have interest in Canes center Matt Cullen. A couple weeks ago, Hockey Buzzreported that the Hawks and Canes had spoken about trade options; Sassone quickly called these rumors false and dismissed the reports within hours of their publication. Yet now, just ten days later, it’s Sassone apparently confirming such a conversation between Chicago and Carolina.
Whether or not the Hawks make a move likely won’t happen until after Hossa returns to the ice, and Quenneville is able to feel comfortable with his bounty of forwards. Hossa, for what it’s worth, has spent some time at center in practice since he started skating with the team last week, but seems to be a distant option to play the position at length in games.
If Cullen were considered, there would need to be some salary concessions made to fit his $2.875 million salary onto the roster. Rumors out of Carolina have been that the Canes are looking for a defenseman to quarterback their power play. A logical fit with a similar salary would be Cam Barker, who has a cap number of $3 million; Barker’s name has been mentioned in previous rumors with Carolina.