If only Stan Bowman had advised Adam and Eve.
The Hawks had a great opportunity in the last week to acquire an elite scorer in a trade, but ended up not pulling the trigger. The Atlanta Thrashers instead dealt Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Johnny Oduya, forward Niclas Bergfors, prospect Patrice Cormier and the Devils 2010 first round draft pick. The teams also swapped their 2010 second round picks in the deal. (Side Note: Cormier is indeed the player recently suspended for the rest of his minor league season for throwing an awful elbow into the head of an opposing player. You have likely heard his name in the last month, and will again; he’s a pretty good prospect.) This is a nice haul for the Thrashers, but it likely could have been better if Bowman had wanted in.
Not making this deal is the right thing to do, though, and I applaud Bowman’s patience. Though some of my colleagues (John Jaekel for one) might have been at the head of the bandwagon to pull the trigger, my excitement over adding another all star was restrained by the reality that there’s only one puck on the ice at any time, and making a good team even better in once aspect of the game at the expense of others likely wouldn’t have solved the bigger issues for the Hawks, and ultimately not helped achieve the ultimate goal of a championship.
The Blackhawks are fourth in the NHL in scoring at 3.16 goals per game entering Friday’s action, and only San Jose and Vancouver are ahead of them among Western Conference teams. Three goals a night should be good enough to win, but the knee jerk reaction of many casual fans after a couple lazy losses is that something needs to change. Every team goes through stretches where the offense struggles; we’ve all forgotten the Blackhawks scored 43 goals in their first nine games after Christmas (4.78 per night). The Blackhawks offense is as deep as any in the NHL, and adding a player like Kovalchuk would almost be too many weapons.
In fact, if you watched Bowman’s appearance between the first and second period on Wednesday night, or listened to owner Rocky Wirtz’s appearance on ESPN 1000′s “Waddle and Silvy” on Thursday, it because pretty clear that the Hawks were looking to bolster their defense. Wirtz was asked point-blank whether or not the Hawks were in the mix on Kovalchuk, and while he didn’t dismiss the idea he did say the Hawks, if they made a move, would look to add players that added to the team’s overall mold of solid two-way players. The Cliff Notes: Kovalchuk doesn’t play defense, so we don’t want him.
There is little doubt that the Hawks will make a move at some point between now and the March 3 deadline, but the reasonable and logical move would be to bolster the blue line. Ecklund, who spins as many rumors as TMZ with less documentation, has picked up a rumor that claims the Blackhawks stepped away from the bidding for Kovalchuk to keep pieces, presumably Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker, available for a trade to acquire Scott Niedermayer. Niedermayer, who is the captain of Canada’s Olympic team (which will have three Blackhawks in uniform I might add), would likely mean more to the Blackhawks on the ice than Kovalchuk could have because of his experience and ability. He isn’t the only name being linked to the Hawks, though.
Dreger has the Hawks interested in Andrzej Mezsaros, Spector says Sean O’Donnell, and the rest of the blogosphere has pretty much any experience defenseman with an expiring contract coming to Chicago in exchange for Versteeg, Barker, Andrew Ladd, Patrick Sharp and/or Dustin Byfuglien. Reality is that the Blackhawks have players hypothetically available that every NHL team would want, and can afford to make a deal or two to improve the team.
The Eastern Conference has now become a three horse race it appears, with the Devils joining the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals at the elite level. This could certainly help the Blackhawks to make a deal into the East as teams will undoubtedly react to this bold move by New Jersey by trying to add players to combat Kovalchuk’s presence. After all, the Flyers brought in Chris Pronger specifically because of the big forwards in the East like Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh and Alexander Ovechkin in Washington, so seeing another move forced by reaction to Kovalchuk going to New Jersey isn’t far from happening.
So while the sexy move might have been nice, it wouldn’t have been the right move for the Blackhawks at this point. Yes, there are still some questions between the pipes, and the depth on the blue line could use some help, but the offense isn’t the issue. So before you throw your coffee mug across the room, be thankful Versteeg and Company will still be playing together against Phoenix on Friday night.