The NHL trade deadline is coming up in two weeks, and with the Chicago Blackhawks still in the thick of a playoff race, questions remain on whether the team will try to bolster their roster for a postseason bid, or sell off assets to try to build for the future.
As things stand heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Blackhawks are tied with the Nashville Predators for fourth place in the Central Division. They are currently behind in the all-important tiebreaker of regulation and overtime victories, meaning that they are effectively in fifth place in the division.
With the top four teams making the postseason in each division, it’s becoming clear that the Blackhawks could be involved in a heated battle with four other clubs for that final spot. In addition to being tied with the Predators, the Blackhawks are currently three points clear of the Columbus Blue Jackets and six points clear of the Dallas Stars, with the defending Western Conference champions currently holding four games in hand over their Central Division rivals.
With so many teams bunched up, the Blackhawks will have to work hard to separate themselves from the pack, and an upcoming stretch of games will hold the key as they aim to do so.
After two games against Carolina, the Blackhawks will play five straight games against teams they are battling in the Central Division standings, with a road tilt against Nashville, two home games against the Stars and two games in Columbus against the Jackets.
The second game in the Columbus series will be played on April 12, the day of the NHL trade deadline. That means the Blackhawks effectively have six games remaining to help GM Stan Bowman determine his course of action prior to that fateful day.
If the team’s recent run of play is any indication, then a massive buying spree likely isn’t in the cards. The Blackhawks have lost nine of their last 12 games, including back-to-back games against the Predators, and they’ve seen what was once a decent lead in the race for the fourth playoff spot completely dissolve.
That being said, the Blackhawks have also welcomed back center Kirby Dach to the lineup, as the second-year forward continues to work his way back from wrist surgery. That addition should seemingly give the team’s lineup some stability up the middle, and head coach Jeremy Colliton has been aggressively tinkering with his lines to figure out the best group of 12 forwards moving forward.
Add to that the recent run of strong play by defensemen Nikita Zadorov and Adam Boqvist, and the Blackhawks clearly have begun to figure some things out in the season’s second half.
While it’s unlikely that the Blackhawks will be massive buyers at the trade deadline, a strong stretch of play could keep them from unloading assets that could potentially help them in a playoff run. That could mean players like defenseman Connor Murphy and forwards Carl Soderberg and Dylan Strome could come off the trade block, but a rough stretch could signal an opportunity for Bowman to send those players out in exchange for draft picks and prospects.
The Blackhawks are in an interesting spot, not bad enough to be competitive for a top pick in the upcoming NHL Draft but not good enough to be considered a true Stanley Cup contender. The team will have to determine whether it’s worthwhile to pursue a spot in the playoffs, and the valuable experience that comes with it, or whether it’s better to stick to the rebuilding plan and to ship off short-term assets in favor of making long-term gains.
That process will continue on Tuesday night when the Blackhawks play the Hurricanes in a nationally televised game. Puck drop is set for 6:30 p.m.