As the NHL trade deadline continues to come closer, the bi-polar Blackhawks aren’t making the decision(s) of GM Stan Bowman any easier. What do they need? How will they get it? And, perhaps most important, who is available?
One player that might be part of the answer to all three of those questions is Viktor Stalberg.
First, let’s look at Stalberg’s season to date:
Most of these numbers reflect career-highs for Stalberg, who has one season left on his contract carrying a $875k cap hit. Just for perspective, let’s look at a few players that have scored fewer goals than Stalberg this season:
Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche
Mike Cammalleri, Calgary Flames
Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings
Devin Setoguchi, Minnesota Wild
Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
Danny Briere, Philadelphia Flyers
Derek Roy, Buffalo Sabres
Some other familiar names that appear further down the list include Dallas’ Mike Ribeiro, San Jose’s Joe Thornton, Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec, Boston’s David Krejci and Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler.
What do all of the players I’ve just named have in common? They’re all making millions of dollars more than Stalberg per season, including Brodiak’s new extension that carries a cap hit of $2.83M for the next three seasons.
Of course, we’re not saying Stalberg is anywhere close to being as accomplished as some of the players on this list. But when you consider that Grabner signed a five-year, $15M deal after his rookie season, and Oshie is making $2.35M this year and hasn’t scored more than 18 in an NHL season yet, Stalberg is having a career-year in a season that has seen the production slip from a lot of stars around the league.
Also keep in mind that only seven players in the NHL have more game-winning goals than Stalberg’s six so far this season. Indeed, Pavel Datsyuk, Corey Perry and Daniel Sedin are just a few of the players with fewer game-winning strikes than Stalberg.
So should the Hawks explore trading the inexpensive and surprisingly-effective Stalberg?
Considering he landed a first round pick for Brouwer, who was a free agent walking out the door, there’s something to be said for Bowman’s ability to turn nothing into something (the pick acquired from Washington for Brouwer was used to select Phillip Danault).
In a market with a lot of teams looking to make a desperate move to bolster their lineup, the Hawks certainly have some pieces they would like to move.
Brendan Morrison has been nothing to the organization, and might hit waivers before the Hawks host the Leafs on Feb. 29 if he can’t find a new home in a trade. Similarly, Michael Frolik has found himself frozen out of the lineup for the last couple weeks and is available to just about anyone who’s interested.
But the piece that undoubtedly would receive the most interest, and bring back the best value in a trade, could be Stalberg.
The statistic that could hold the most intrigue for another general manager, and is cause for considering Stalberg’s availability, is his average ice time.
Looking at the Hawks’ roster this year, Stalberg’s average ice time ranks behind names like Kruger, Shaw and even Frolik. Despite showing flashes of great ability, he has only skated more than 15 minutes twice in February (at Calgary and at Columbus). What’s more, Stalberg has only skated more than 15 minutes in one of his seven multi-point games this year.
What we have seen, both from Stalberg and coach Joel Quenneville, is that the realistic ceiling for him on the current Blackhawks roster is as a third line player. Much like Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd were good players that found their niche among Chicago’s bottom six forwards, Stalberg is best when playing fewer minutes.
Yet only three regular Hawks forwards (Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews) have a lower production time (average ice time per point) than Stalberg (23:55).
At 26, Stalberg is young enough that there could be a lot of great hockey to come from him. And considering his cap number, he could be considered one of the better value forwards in the NHL this season.
Which is why the Hawks should consider moving him now.
Based strictly on contracts coming off the books in July, the Hawks will have nine forwards returning (including Stalberg). Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Saad, Jeremy Morin, Brandon Pirri and Andrew Shaw will compete for a roster spot in Chicago next season, and the Hawks will certainly have cap space to add a veteran or two.
So, if the market is desperate for a talented young player with a low cap number, and the Hawks could conceivably replace Stalberg in the lineup soon (read: Hayes now, others next year and beyond), why not try to use him to improve the team?
Looking at teams in the hunt for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, there are few that could use a player like Stalberg.
Winnipeg only has three players with more than 16 goals on their roster, and (shockingly) Stalberg has more points than Ladd entering Monday.
Toronto, from whom the Blackhawks acquired Stalberg in the 2010 trade of Versteeg, has four players with more than 16 goals, but only five players on their roster have scored more than 10 this year. They’re a top-heavy team looking for depth, and Burke might have interest in a guy that can fly up and down the ice (see Kessel, Phil for a reference).
Pittsburgh has two players that have already scored 30 goals, but only three that have more than Stalberg’s 16 goals. They’re in a fight with New Jersey, Ottawa and the newly-improved Philadelphia Flyers to end up anywhere between the fourth and seventh seed in the Eastern Conference (only two points separate the four teams now). Adding a good depth forward, especially in light of the defensive moves made by Philly, might make sense to the Pens as well.
If the Predators are willing to move one of their top forward prospects and a second round pick for Gill, could the Hawks expect similar return for Stalberg? Should the opportunity present itself to sell high on Stalberg, Bowman would certainly have to entertain offers.