As the owners and players sort through the legal details of getting hockey back on the ice, fans are left to wonder which players will be playing somewhere else in the next couple weeks. And, with a very small window of time before the 2013 regular season begins, the trade market could open up fast and furious.
In Chicago, the Blackhawks have two major needs: a second line center and a confident starting netminder. While all signs indicate the organization will give Corey Crawford the opportunity to fulfill the latter, a trade might be the best place for the Hawks to go for the former.
Who are some options the Hawks might consider if GM Stan Bowman goes shopping? Let’s take a look.
Frans Nielson, New York Islanders
Age: 29 (in late-April)
Contract: 4 years left @ $2.75M cap hit
Nielson would undoubtedly be harder to acquire. He just signed a four-year, $11M deal before the lockout and is slotted to skate as the Islanders’ second line center moving forward. He posted 47 points (17 goals, 30 assists) last year.
There are a few drawbacks when considering Nielson. First, he won only 45.2 percent of his faceoffs last year, and isn’t bigger (6-0, 185) than Marcus Kruger. Also, the remaining years on his current deal might not be ideal in the eyes of the Hawks’ front office if they feel a prospect would be ready before the term is up.
However, Nielson did average over two minutes per night on both penalty kill and power play duty for the Isles last year and was credited with 66 blocked shots. His ability to help on both special teams units would make him a valuable asset, and his offensive production would be an improvement from Kruger instantly. He’s a solid two-way center.
What makes Nielson an interesting possibility is the news that Lubomir Visnovsky will be staying in the KHL for the rest of this year. With that in mind, the Islanders might start desperately shopping for help on their blue line, and might consider moving Nielson if Niklas Hjalmarsson was involved.
Jason Arnott, free agent
Arnott’s age might be the biggest negative on his resume, but it also makes him more likely to take a one-year deal. He had 34 points (17 goals, 17 assists) and won 50.3 percent of 769 faceoffs in St. Louis last year.
The lockout-shortened season makes Arnott a more intriguing player, and his effective work on the power play with the Blues last year could make him a valuable asset for the Hawks. He wasn’t a factor on the penalty kill unit for the Blues last year, though.
It is hard, however, to get over the fact that he was the seventh overall pick in 1993… roughly six months after Brandon Saad was born. As an unrestricted free agent, it obviously wouldn’t cost the Blackhawks any assets to add Arnott, but they would need to make room on the roster somehow; they’re already at/near a full roster heading into training camp.
Shawn Horcoff, Edmonton Oilers
Contract: 3 years left @ $5.5M cap hit
Horcoff is older and not likely the ideal long-term fit as a second-line center for the Blackhawks. But he would be a better fit there over the next 48 games than Marcus Kruger, and the potential to move him over the next two summers in the new CBA makes him a rental the Blackhawks might consider.
Where Horcoff would help the Hawks most might be special teams. He averaged well over two minutes per night both on penalty kill and power play duty, and was effective at the dot in both scenarios. Indeed, he won just under 50 percent (49.4) of 1,475 faceoffs last year, another area in which the Hawks need improved performances this year.
While Horcoff’s offensive production has been trending the wrong direction (34 points in 81 games), skating next to either Marian Hossa or Patrick Kane could improve his production. Reality in Edmonton is that he’s an old man on a young team, and the organization’s best interests are for their kids to get the bulk of the available ice time. But over a 1-2 year time frame, he might be able to adequately fill a need for the Hawks.
What would it cost to get him? Considering the Edmonton Journal wondered on Sunday if the Oilers might consider their captain a buyout candidate, it likely wouldn’t take a king’s ransom to get him (and his cap hit) off the books.