By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) As exciting as the Olympic tournament was, I think I speak for most of the hockey community when I say, “Welcome back, NHL.”
As the playoffs approach, everything the Blackhawks do will have an eye toward postseason success.
The first order of business is the March 5 trade deadline. Chicago general manager Stan Bowman has expressed his contentment with the Hawks’ roster as currently assembled, but he’s shown a willingness to tweak the roster with a small move here or there. Don’t expect the Hawks to make a play for big names like Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler, Tampa’s Martin St. Louis or Buffalo’s Ryan Miller. They don’t have salary cap space for any of those three players and likely wouldn’t be willing to trade what it would take to acquire such talent (Teuvo Teravainen).
The Hawks would like to upgrade their defensive depth. Michal Rozsival has shown steady improvement as the season has gone on, but at 35, his health will always be a concern. If he (or any defenseman) should go down, the Hawks would have to rely on Sheldon Brookbank as a playoff regular, which is far from ideal.
Of course, at every trade deadline, the issue of the second-line center comes up. When the Blackhawks acquired Peter Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard from the New York Islanders, it was with that position in mind. Regin centered the 2nd line in his first and only game with the Blackhawks this season, though Patrick Kane wasn’t in the lineup for that particular game. He skated on a line with Kane and Kris Versteeg at Thursday’s morning skate, and is expected to continue in that role, at least for the next handful of games. It be a short audition, however. If the Hawks aren’t satisfied with what Regin shows, they may resume the never-ending search for a “2C.”
Speaking of second-line centers, if I had to pick a candidate to be moved, it would be Brandon Pirri, who has been on an absolute tear in Rockford, scoring seven goals and six assists in his last 10 games. Despite his scoring pace, Pirri isn’t in the Blackhawks’ long-term plans. He’s achieved all he can in the AHL.
Pirri either needs to play for the big club or move on. Whether he moves on before March 5 or this offseason remains to be seen, but if the Hawks are to add a noteworthy piece, it will likely take Pirri and another piece or pick to get a deal done.
Once the trade deadline passes, the playoffs will be right around the corner. Coach Joel Quenneville has already said that Marian Hossa (and presumably other veterans) will get rest by skipping practices on an “as needed” basis. I’d also look for reduced ice-time totals for Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Preserving the health of their top three defensemen should be the Hawks’ top priority. They’re going to need all hands on deck for the potential (and likely) playoff meeting with the St. Louis Blues, who look to be the favorites to acquire goalie Ryan Miller.
The Stanley Cup playoffs begin on April 16. If the Hawks remain healthy, they should be primed for another deep Cup run.
Jay Zawaski covers the Blackhawks for CBSChicago.com and 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.