By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) It’s time for the first Blackhawks mailbag of the offseason. There were so many great questions this time around, so thank you for contributing.
Before I begin answering questions, there are a few small points that need to be addressed. While it’s certainly possible that the Blackhawks will trade a high-profile player, many are talking as if it’s a done deal. Stan Bowman has never shown much willingness to deal from the top of the roster. That’s why I pause when I hear the names of Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook as “assumed” trade bait. I believe it’s pretty unlikely either of those players are moved. A more likely scenario would be a trade involving either Johnny Oduya or Nick Leddy, but even that seems like a sort of long shot knowing Bowman’s history.
Secondly, please be mindful of where you get your rumors and “inside info.” There’s been a lot of chatter recently about Bowman and Joel Quenneville “not being on the same page.” While their professional relationship may not be all sunshine and rainbows, it’s important to remember that most teams have the occasional disagreements at the top. The sources I trust haven’t suggested that the Bowman/Quenneville relationship is toxic or even strained in any way.
Now to the mailbag…
Dave G: Do you think Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck or Stephen Johns are prepared to step in if Stan Bowman trades Oduya or Seabrook?
JZ; If Bowman does trade a top-four defenseman, it’s safe to assume he feels one of those players you mentioned are close. Which player gets a look would depend on who’s traded. If it is Seabrook, I’d expect Johns to be a strong candidate. He brings the size and physicality that a Seabrook trade would remove from an already small defenseman corps. If it’s Oduya (or Leddy), Clendening or Dahlbeck would be the candidates because of their offensive abilities.
Phil M: Do you think the Blackhawks can come back with guys they’ve developed and compete in the West?
JZ: Absolutely. The Blackhawks were one shot away from a trip to the Stanley Cup Final and a likely third championship in five years. The issues during these playoffs weren’t with the core players. The likes of Kris Versteeg, Michal Handzus and Brandon Bollig were the issues. It wasn’t even so much their play, but the fact that their existence forced the Hawks to only roll three lines. If Teuvo Teravainen, Jeremy Morin and the newly signed Dennis Rasmussen can make an immediate impact, it’s hard to believe Chicago will be worse than it was with the three players I mentioned. That’s what made the playoffs so frustrating. Morin or Joakim Nordstrom could certainly have given what Versteeg offered during the playoffs. If only the best players had played …
DC: What are options for second-line center?
JZ: The most likely scenario would be filling the job internally. The Blackhawks truly believe Teravainen can jump in and provide solid play next season. Andrew Shaw may be Quenneville’s first choice, based on the performance of the Shaw-Patrick Kane-Brandon Saad line. Of course, if the Blackhawks do deal a top-four defenseman, it can be assumed they’ll be looking to acquire or free up the space to sign a center.
DC: What should the Hawks do with Antti Raanta? He needs ice time.
JZ: I totally agree. Raanta barely played after the Olympic break, and that’s not how you develop a goaltender. I’d expect him to be Corey Crawford’s backup next season, but he needs to play more than he did this season.
Gilette: How would you rate Bowman’s year?
JZ: While we’ve all practiced the mantra “Believe in Bowman,” this was certainly a rough year for him as general manager. None of his moves really worked out. Let’s start with bringing back Handzus. He caught lightning in a bottle in 2012-’13. To sign him again was a mistake. Nikolai Khabibulin was terrible from Day 1. The Blackawks actually got lucky when he was injured. Signing Michal Rozsival to a two-year deal also looks bad at this point. He took a huge step backward in his overall play and consistency this season. Now Chicago is stuck with him for another year. Obviously, you could do much worse for a sixth/seventh defenseman, but that $2.2 million of cap space would look really nice this summer.
Bowman also let Ryan Stanton walk, and he went on to have a solid rookie season in Vancouver. Then, there’s the Versteeg trade. Bowman sent Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen to the Panthers for Versteeg. At the time, most Blackhawk fans (myself included) loved the deal. Versteeg was pretty much terrible from Day 1. He can only get better next season, right?
Then there’s the deadline deal for David Rundblad. It’s obviously too early to pass judgement on that trade, but he only appeared in five games with Chicago this season. He’s hardly even mentioned when the future is discussed.
I still think Bowman is a great general manager, but this year’s moves didn’t work out as planned. Even so, the Blackhawks were a shot away from the Cup Final.
Robert G: Are Toews/Kane better off waiting until summer 2015 to sign a new deal? Are Bowman’s hands tied until they sign?
JZ: Waiting really wouldn’t change anything. They’re going to get their identical, 5-to-8 year deals. Expect the cap hit to be close to $10 or $11 million for each. If they do sign this summer, the deals don’t effect the salary cap until 2015-16, as their current deals expire after next season.
Scott K: Which kids should Q be forced to have on the roster next season ? Have we seen the last of Bollig and Versteeg?
JZ: “Forcing” might not be the best choice of words. If Bowman is looking to strain a relationship, by all means, he should go rogue and force Quenneville’s hand. Teravainen, Dahlbeck, Clendening and Morin should get the first considerations to crack the roster. If Teravainen isn’t in the lineup for close to 82 games, it’s a disappointment.
As for Bollig and Versteeg, the Blackhawks just signed Bollig to a new three-year deal. He’s not going anywhere. Versteeg has another year on his deal. The Blackhawks can’t just cut or demote guys anymore. If they can find a taker for Versteeg, they’ll happily deal him, but I’d expect him to be around, at least in some role, next season.
Sarcastic Mike: How would you evaluate the progress of Nick Leddy?
JZ: “Progress” is an interesting word to use with Leddy, because I haven’t seen much. For the most part, he’s been the same player he’s been since he debuted in Chicago in 2010-’11. Obviously we’re seeing him get stronger and bigger, but aside from the natural adjustment that comes with that physical growth, his game hasn’t changed. I feel he should be further along at this point. He’s been in that fifth defenseman spot since the beginning.
That said, I like what he’s brought to the power play. He’s a capable quarterback for the unit. Maybe it’s just time we realize he’s a one-dimensional defenseman. But even as I write this, I have to remind myself he’s only 23. It’s tough to give up on a kid with this much experience and potential so early. If he’s not traded this offseason, it’s safe to say the Blackhawks are believers and think he can take that next step.
Speros T: There has been a lot of talk about a trade to bring Ryan Kesler from Vancouver. He’s been injured, but could he work with Patrick Kane?
JZ: Yes, it’s likely the 29-year-old Ryan Kesler is traded somewhere this summer. If I’m Bowman, I make a strong effort to acquire him. Yes, it will take either Patrick Sharp or Brent Seabrook, but I think it’s worth it. Too much has been made of Kesler’s injury history. If you take away his 2012-’13 season, he’s only missed 12 games since the start of the 2007-’08 season. He’s a natural center. He’s a power forward. He’s a “north/south” player. He’s feisty, and he’s just what the Blackhawks are missing.
I do believe Kesler can work with Kane. Kane can work with anyone. I think he’d be thrilled to have an actual, real-life top-two center on his line. You’d see Kane’s numbers explode.
Joe Thornton from San Jose is also on the trading block. While he’s six years older than Kesler, I’d try to swing a similar deal for Thornton; his 65 assists would look nice on the Blackhawks’ line. He also brings the physical, power forward element that Chicago lacks.
Again everyone, thanks for contributing to the mailbag and for all your support during the season. It means the world to have 15,000-plus Twitter followers and countless Score listeners trust me for my hockey thoughts. I’m humbled by the kind words and support.
Jay Zawaski covers the Blackhawks for CBSChicago.com and 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.