The Chicago Blackhawks have a defined set of offseason priorities, highlighted by a desire to bring back Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but GM Stan Bowman has also said he’s open to strengthening areas of weakness on the roster as they prepare for the 2014-15 season.
One of those weaknesses is their second line center slot, which has been a consistent position of under-production for the Blackhawks. Whether it was trying out wingers like Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad in the role or elevating players like Dave Bolland, Marcus Kruger, and Ben Smith to the position, the Hawks consistently have been inconsistent in that department.
While some focus this offseason has been on the trade demands of Ryan Kesler and the possibility that Joe Thornton could be dealt by the San Jose Sharks, another player could potentially be hitting the trade market, as Ottawa Senators center Jason Spezza has reportedly told the team that he wants to be traded before next season. Spezza is heading into the final year of a contract that carries a $7 million cap hit, and even though he wouldn’t be the cheapest of options, his skill set and desire to play for a contender could make him an attractive commodity.
Several teams have been mentioned as being in the market for his services, including the New York Islanders and the Vancouver Canucks, but could the Blackhawks be one of those teams? After all, they will have a bit of cap flexibility to play with next season, especially if they can shed Johnny Oduya’s contract, and as a one-year rental, Spezza wouldn’t eat into the cap space required to re-sign Kane and Toews after next season.
Another reason Spezza could potentially fit into the Hawks’ plans is that they are wanting to eventually slot Teuvo Teravainen into the second line center spot, but they may not be ready to do so when the puck drops in October. If they are dedicated to getting him more seasoning in Rockford, or if they want to give him third line winger minutes to start out with, then Spezza could be an attractive stop-gap option, whereas guys like Kesler and Thornton would be more long-term assets in nature.
Ultimately though, the big question will be what the Senators are willing to take in exchange for Spezza. It’s unlikely that they’ll pick up any of the salary cap hit from Spezza’s contract to move him (especially with a number of teams interested in him), and if they’re demanding NHL players and prospects in the deal, it might be too rich for Bowman’s blood for a one year rental player.
If the Blackhawks decide that Spezza would cost too much, then it’s hard to fault them for not pursuing the deal. If they do explore it however, it’s a move that could really help their offense next season, and will allow a guy like Teravainen to develop at his own pace.