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2010 Devils Offseason: Who on the Chicago Blackhawks Should New Jersey Target?

Let's think a little outside the box. For most of May and in the past week, I've been focusing on who the New Jersey Devils should sign as free agents; from explaining why re-signing Paul Martin is important to detailing why Ilya Kovalchuk may not be a good signing to looking at a number of unrestricted free agent centers by GVT and on-ice stats.  However, I've been thinking largely of free agents until ILWT user Zelepukin suggested to me by email about realistic trade targets, namely a center.  I started pondering it until a proverbial lightning bolt struck my mind today.

The Chicago Blackhawks are over the salary cap for 2010-11, with $57,598,003 committed to 14 players per CapGeek.   That's right. They're short at least 3 forwards, 2 defensemen, and a back-up goaltender. Even if the salary cap goes up a bit (say, $2 million), they'll likely be up against the ceiling;so much so that there wouldn't be any space to fill the whole roster with just league-minimum-paid players.   Chicago truly is a win-now team and if they win the Stanley Cup now - as I hope considering the opposition - then it would all be worth it.  Until management realizes all of their free agents, including their 15 restricted free agents (e.g. Antti Niemi, Nicklas Hjalmarsson, Andrew Ladd), can't be retained at all without clearing significant space.

Let me put it this way: It's a Western Conference team; they are already over the cap for next season right now; and they need to sign players just to have a full roster.  They need to dump salary and have practically no leverage.

What better trade partner for the New Jersey Devils?    I decided to take a look through CapGeek and did some quick research at Behind the Net to see who would be a good target should Lou want to make a deal this summer. I focused on defensemen and potential centers, as those are the Devils' needs.  Read on to see what I think of the possibilities of the Devils picking up a Blackhawk in a deal.

What about an offer sheet if they have so many RFAs?

The Devils don't have a first round draft pick, so any offer sheet the Devils would offer would have to be low so they could meet potential compensation.  If it's going to be a low amount, some other team with a first rounder could just offer more and beat the Devils to a signing.

Not to mention that offer sheets tend to burn bridges with other team's management; and if there's one thing that Lou does well, it's ensuring he has options at all times.

Besides, I'm more interested in the players the Devils could get via trade.  No offer sheet would be needed, no hope that Chicago couldn't qualify a player, and .  Sure, the Devils will have to take on some salary and possibly give up a few prospects.  Yet, known assets are better than unknown assets if only for knowing what you'll get in return.

Speaking of, just for reference, here's Chicago's GVT from this past season at Behind the Net.

Who the Chicago Blackhawks (probably) Won't Dump

I can't imagine the Blackhawks dumping any of their players who have no trade or no movement clauses.  You shouldn't hope that the Devils could somehow swing Jonathan Toews (NMC), Patrick Kane (NMC), Brian Campbell (limited NTC), or Duncan Keith (NMC).  They are Chicago's most important players and they're signed to huge deals anyway per the links to CapGeek in the prior sentence.  Blackhawks fans should be protesting if they go anywhere else - even if they do raise Lord Stanley's Cup this month.  The Devils don't even need Toews as Travis Zajac is the top center; and New Jersey really doesn't need another winger unless some other right wing is going the other way.

Personally,  I would love Keith in a Devils uniform, but he would bring a cap hit of roughly $5.5 million through 2022-23.  Really, the contract is that long.   Why not just re-sign Martin for that amount and not commit to such a long contract.  Campbell has a list of 8 teams he can be traded to, but who knows if New Jersey is one of them and I don't want the Devils to add $7.1 million to their hit in the season prior to a making a necessary Zach Parise contract extension.

The only other contract Chicago probably can't dump is Marian Hossa given that his deal is a $5.275 million cap hit running through 2021.   The Devils don't need a winger anyway and definitely not someone who's going to take up a large part of a team's salary cap for a decade.

Possible Targets: Who the Chicago Blackhawks Might Dump

Defensemen (CapGeek page in parentheses)

Brent Seabrook ($3,500,000 cap hit, RFA in 2011) - Keith's normal partner, the more defensive-minded Seabrook knows how to bring the pain and has some good offensive instincts.  His contributions on defense, by defensive GVT, was second only to Keith.  In 2009-10, the SA/60 and GA/60 increased when he came on the ice at even strength; but only 1.3 from 21.1 to 22.4 shots against per 60, and 0.09 in GA/60 to 2.45.   Not bad when you consider he had the highest quality of competition at even strength on the team per Behind the Net.  In 2008-09, the impact was only 0.3 more in SA/60 and 0.04 more in GA/60; an on-ice SA/60 of 25.0 and a GA/60 of 2.11.  Those are solid numbers that are even more impressive when you consider he faced the highest quality of competition in 08-09 too.  He's been great in Chicago; my main question is whether he would be as effective on a different team. He's talented, but how much of is his work due to being next to the amazing Keith?  My second question, how much better could he get on a blueline given he's only 25?

Probability: Somewhat low.  He'd help strengthen the backend of the Devils blueline, but perhaps not so much on offense. Still, he could still breakout.  In any case, Seabrook is going to look for more money, but after next season. If I were Chicago, I wouldn't mess with the Keith-Seabrook connection unless absolutely necessary.

Brent Sopel ($2,333,333 cap hit, UFA in 2011) - Sopel is a more experienced defenseman who had some nice offensive numbers.  In Vancouver.  As a Blackhawk, his production dropped largely because his ice time dropped. In this past season, he only averaged 14:51, the fifth most of Chicago defensemen who played at least 20 games. A positive for Sopel is that he's played 77 games in 09-10 as his player page has a long list of injuries for Sopel.  Durability is a concern on top of the fact that he's not really a two-way defenseman anymore. Maybe he would be if he wasn't on such a loaded blueline.

Probability: Below-average. Chicago could save some decent space by dumping Sopel. Would the Devils necessarily gain from having Sopel on their team?  I'm not so sure, but if his time in Chicago is evident of anything, then he'll probably not add many points to the Devils' defense.


Patrick Sharp ($3,900,000 cap hit, UFA in 2012) - Now here's a center - sort of.   He's taken 400-500 faceoffs for Chicago in recent seasons, so he's likely split time at wing and center; but he has been in both roles. He was primarily a center when he took over 1,000 draws in 06-07.  Since then he's broken out as a hybrid winger, but I'm willing to put him at center for New Jersey.  Sharp's been productive to the tune of 87 goals and 172 points in 223 games over the past three seasons.  In 09-10, only Kane and Toews has been on the ice for more even strength goals than Sharp, who was present for 61; and Sharp did it with a lower quality of competition than both per Behind the Net.  In fact, a quick look at the past three seasons finds Sharp outscoring opponents at even strength in all three, and against a quality of competition around zero (average) in the last two.  Plus, his defensive GVT of 5.5 last seasons suggests he knows how to play a little defense too.  Speaking of GVT, his shootout results is the only reason why his total GVT is fifth on the team instead of fourth.

$3.9 million is a little pricey, but I think he would be excellent as a #2 center behind Zajac.  Zajac can take the tough minutes, Sharp can clean up behind him, and that Sharp has two seasons on his deal provides some stability at the position. 

Probability: Above average.  Clearing close to $4 million would help Chicago out, and the Devils could use Sharp at center on a scoring line.   Provided Chicago doesn't ask for too much in terms of prospects, I would definitely be interested in trying to get him if I were Lou.

Dave Bolland ($3,375,000 cap hit, UFA in 2014) - Bolland is tough to figure out.  In 08-09, he had a good sophomore season in Chicago with 19 goals and 49 points.  His on-ice and off-ice numbers at Behind the Net show that when he was on the ice at even strength, the goals for per 60 and shots for per 60 went up big time (while the shots against and goals against went up too).   Yet, this past season wasn't so good for Bolland, as he missed 41 games due to back surgery.  Therefore, his GVT was low in 2009-10, his on-ice numbers aren't as impressive, and that he's only 23 and had back surgery has to raise a question or two.   That said, he's been pretty good in the playoffs so far with 6 goals and 12 assists and he's definitely not playing like someone who's hurt.  A fully healthy season should hopefully see him back to producing like the player that earned his current contract.  Maybe even better since Bolland's only 23.  At least he out-scored his opposition with a fairly high quality of competition in 08-09 and 09-10 seasons at even strength.

One thing is certain, however, he is definitely a center having taken 1,177 faceoffs in his last full season; and his ice time could suggest he was the #2 center in Chicago. I am assuming that Hawks played checking center Sami Pahlsson in a checking role, of course.

Probability: Low. Bolland's young and the Hawks committed to him for 5 years when they signed him.  Given that he's still developing as a player at age 23 and he could very well be their #2 center, I doubt Chicago would want to give him up now.  Especially if they think he'll be better than Sharp soon. As for the Devils, Bolland wouldn't be such a bad idea for a target as he's definitely a center and he has experience playing against tough competition.  I'd rather see the Devils take in-his-prime and clearly more offensive Sharp over Bolland.

Your Take

Again, here's the whole list from CapGeek for Chicago. There are other forwards Chicago could move. Yet, Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, Tomas Kopecky, and Troy Brouwer were wingers this past season and will likely continue to be wingers. A position the Devils really don't need unless they're swapping winger for winger.  Perhaps I am mistaken and you feel the Devils should at least kick the proverbial tires on obtaining such players.

I'd also keep a close eye on whether Chicago doesn't qualify some of their pending restricted free agents.  Unless I'm mistaken, that would make the unrestricted free agents.  Someone like Colin Fraser or Niklas Hjalmarsson wouldn't be terrible ideas; though I wouldn't immediately demand that the Devils must jump on them if available.

Of course, it's entirely possible the Hawks dump players the Devils don't need, like Cristobal Huet and his contract with a $5.625 million cap hit, to get to safety.   Plus, while Chicago won't have much leverage since their need to dump salary is no secret to anyone in the NHL, some players may draw great deals.  Still, if the Devils want to make a trade or two to improve the team, then I believe there's no better partner in a better position (for NJ) than the Chicago Blackhawks.  

If nothing else, they are an example of how "now" a "win-now" team can possibly be.

In any case, let me know what you think in the comments.  Who on the Blackhawks would you want in Devils red through a trade?  Who would you be willing to give up for someone like Patrick Sharp or Dave Bolland?  Can you make a better case for the Devils to trade for these players?  Can you make a case as to why the Devils shouldn't trade for any Hawks this summer?