If you’ve been asleep for the last 60 days, here’s what you’ve missed: the Blackhawks are in the hunt for both the number one and number eight seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and are one defenseman away from either of those spots.
The best defenseman that could be on the market is inside the Hawks’ division. Ryan Suter of the Nashville Predators is an Olympian, an All-Star and, most importantly, an unrestricted free agent in July.
As the trade deadline gets closer, the Blackhawks will continue looking for a top-four defenseman in a market that doesn’t appear, on the surface, to have one available other than Suter. Here’s why, and how, the Blackhawks make a play to get Suter to the United Center.
There are two parts of the “why” equation, both of which are painfully obvious.
First, the Blackhawks could use an all-world defenseman. There would undoubtedly be a long-term financial consideration the club would need to make to Suter at some point in the not-too-distant future, but what Suter would bring to the Hawks isn’t on the current roster or in Rockford.
Secondly, which might be of equal importance when considering Suter, the unquestioned number one suitor for Suter (yes, suitor for Suter) is the Detroit Red Wings. With Nicklas Lidstrom potentially retiring this summer, and with a truckload of cap space opening up, the Wings are fully expected to make Suter a healthy offer if/when he hits the open market.
To be plain: if Suter doesn’t sign with the Preds before July 1, he’s expected to be in Detroit on July 2.
So not only should Chicago GM Stan Bowman be incented to make his roster better, but he should also consider keeping an All-Star out of Detroit. By landing Suter, Bowman could effectively impact three teams in the Central Division next year.
Of course, all of this discussion is great… but if the Hawks can’t get Suter, it’s all smoke and mirrors.
Could the Hawks make a legitimate play for Suter?
Earlier this week, TSN’s Darren Dreger indicated during an “Insider Trading” segment that the Preds would be looking for a package that included four pieces if they were going to move Suter: an NHL player, an “A” prospect, a “B” prospect and a first round draft pick.
The Philadelphia Flyers are said to have interest, and it’s doubtful that the Hawks could include a prospect that’s as well-regarded as Brayden Schenn. But Chicago could put together an outstanding package that could at least give Nashville a moment of pause when considering keeping Suter beyond the deadline.
Chicago could (and should) offer Nashville Niklas Hjalmarsson, Bryan Bickell, two prospects from a list including Jeremy Morin, Brandon Pirri, Ludvig Rensfeldt and Phillip Danault and their 2012 first round pick for Suter.
Hjalmarsson’s a “nice” player. He kills penalties and blocks shots, and that’s “nice.” But that’s pretty much all he does, and with two more years on a contract with a $3.5M cap hit, the Hawks have enough depth in the organization that he needs to be more than “nice” for that money.
Suter is an instant upgrade on the blue line from Hjalmarsson. Making the deal from a Chicago perspective, based on the impact on their 2011-12 roster, is a no-brainer.
For Nashville, there is a bigger need to fill than a roster spot if they decide to move Suter. Shea Weber is a restricted free agent this summer, and will want to see indications that the Preds are going to compete if he’s going to sign a long-term deal in Nashville. If the Preds ever moved Suter, they would do it for a package that enabled them to then sell the long-term viability of their roster to Weber.
Chicago has the ability to send two good forward prospects to Nashville, which would instantly upgrade their organizational depth. The Predators’ prospect depth is largely on the blue line; the leading scorer in Milwaukee, their AHL affiliate, is 25-year-old Chris Mueller, who has 30 points in 39 games.
Perhaps the top forward prospects in their organization not at the NHL level already are Michael Latta and Taylor Beck. Latta has 24 points (12 goals, assists) in 38 games in Milwaukee as a 20-year-old this year. Beck, 20, has 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) in 40 games with Milwaukee.
By comparison, Pirri, also 20, and has 45 points (19 goals, 26 assists) in 44 games with Rockford. But the Hawks’ organizational depth at center is such that they could move a player like Pirri and replace him with Mark McNeill, who is having a monster season in juniors.
The Blackhawks would absolutely have to spend the money to keep Suter in Chicago long-term if they considered making this deal, but that truthfully shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. More than enough cap space exists in Chicago to fit a 27-year-old in his prime. He is what Hjalmarsson has failed to be: a legitimate top-three defenseman in the NHL.
This would be a pretty substantial roll of the dice by Bowman. As we discussed earlier in January when we looked back at the lessons we can learn from the mid-200s Flyers prospect pool, dealing from a position of depth can backfire. Certainly there is every reason to think Pirri, Morin, Danault and Rensfeldt can be quality NHL players some day; that’s why the Blackhawks think so much of them, and why the Preds would view each of them as an “A” prospect in the deal.
But if the Hawks could improve their blue line, and, in doing so, take Suter off the 2012-13 roster of either the Preds or Red Wings at the same time, there is almost too much incentive to be ignored. And with the pieces to make a deal happen, Bowman should at least see if Nashville is interested.