With mere days left until the NHL trade deadline on Monday at 2 p.m. CT, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has been talking “regularly” with other GMs around the league about trade possibilities.
“I’ve touched base with nearly everybody, just getting an idea of what they’re trying to do and understanding what their needs might be,” Bowman said earlier this week.
He’s considering three types of trades.
But there’s one type he’s explicitly not considering: bringing in a pending unrestricted free agent as a rental. Although the Hawks are in the playoff race, their focus remains squarely on the future, and they’re not going to swap any future-oriented assets for present-oriented assets.
“We will not be in the market to trade away draft picks or young players to acquire a veteran UFA,” he said bluntly.
Last week’s trade for Vinnie Hinostroza, who will be a UFA, was an exception because the Hawks only had to give up a player (minor-leaguer Brad Morrison) who “really wasn’t in the plans for us in Chicago,” Bowman said.
But Bowman will consider playing the opposite role, dealing away one of the Hawks’ own UFAs — of which they really have just two, forwards Mattias Janmark and Carl Soderberg — in exchange for a pick or prospect. That’s the simplest type of trade he’s open to.
“Right now, they’re part of our team and…there’s a scenario where they would remain with us,” he said. “[But] when we’re in a position like we are and they’re not signed beyond this season, sometimes in those cases teams are actively pursuing those guys. There’s been no definitive decisions made on them.”
Janmark’s analytics are poor but his counting stats are decent, having scored 19 points in 40 games. He’s only 28 years old, so a GM could look to acquire him as a rental then re-sign him this summer. He could be worth a second- or third-round pick or B-grade prospect.
Soderberg (14 points in 33 games) is less appealing as a 35-year-old who has been scratched twice lately, but center depth is valuable enough that he could fetch a late-round pick.
The second type of trade Bowman is considering would entail taking on another team’s overpriced contract and receiving supplementary assets for doing so.
With the Hawks possessing more than $22 million in cap space this year (per CapFriendly) due to their many players on long-term injured reserve — and on track for lots of cap space again next season — at a time when so many other teams find themselves pressed up against the cap, this kind of move makes perfect sense.
“People are throwing out concepts, but at this point nobody is that interested in paying a price that I think would be necessary,” Bowman said. “We do have the ability to take on a player, but it’s got to be [with] something that we deem worthwhile, whether it’s a draft pick or young player.”
A trade like this will only happen once a contender tight on cap space decides to acquire a player and needs to free up more space to fit them in. Bowman described it as a “chicken and egg” situation.
So the dominoes around the league need to start falling to initiate the process. The Islanders finally jumpstarted that Wednesday, acquiring Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the Devils, but Anders Lee’s recent LTIR designation and the Devils retaining 50% of Palmieri and Zajac’s cap hits allowed the Isles to fit them in without having to jettison an albatross contract like Andrew Ladd or Leo Komarov.
Ideally for the Hawks, another team looking to make a splash before Monday afternoon will actually need to discard someone. Conceivable possibilities include the Oilers and James Neal, the Hurricanes and Jake Gardiner or the Capitals and Richard Panik.
“For them, it’s like a two-step process,” Bowman said. “‘I’m going to unload this player and pay a price to do it, and then I’m going to pay a price to get this other player. Do I want to do all that? And in what order?’ Those conversations are in the early stages but I have had them with some teams.”
The third type of trade under consideration — and the type that would be most exciting for Hawks fans — would bring in a young player with contract term who fits into the Hawks’ long-term plans.
Bowman realizes the Hawks, despite their youth and potential, remain far from returning to the top of the mountain. Outside help could accelerate that climb.
“Our team is not where we want it to be, meaning we’re not a finished product here and we need [help in] areas up and down the roster,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’re targeting one position, but there’s areas at forward and defense where we need to improve.”
Conversations with various teams about all three types of trades have been steadily ongoing for 10-14 days now, Bowman said, but are expected to strongly increase in intensity and urgency over the weekend.
Many have speculated that this season’s flat salary cap, COVID-19 quarantine rules, all-divisional playoff format and reduced revenues could create a quieter-than-usual trade deadline around the league, but Bowman said his conversation frequency has been “pretty consistent with past years.”
The coming days will determine if those conversations lead to actual trades for the Hawks.