There's no two ways around this: The Chicago Blackhawks need to make some changes—big ones.
This is not the same team that won the Stanley Cup, nor what we were promised in the offseason. Sure, they're racking up points in the standings, but they refuse to play like winners. The physical aspect of the game is apparently entirely reserved for Jamal Mayers. Andrew Brunette was supposed to provide some top-six sandpaper, but he's found himself on the fourth line. Bryan Bickell continues to frustrate by not using his size, too.
On defense, it's no better. Sure, Brent Seabrook plays his heart out every minute, but that's about it. Duncan Keith, who we'll get to in a bit, has seemingly regressed since accepting the Norris Trophy. Nick Leddy, while loaded with potential, is likely over his head, skating 20 minutes a game. Niklas Hjalmarsson is being asked to contribute on offense more, which just isn't his game—he's a shot-blocking, stay-at-home defenseman. Add in the non-factor players that are Sean O'Donnell, Sami Lepisto and John Scott, and things continue to look bad.
Nobody will deny the Hawks ability to score. Any team with the depth to roll out either (currently injured) Patrick Sharp or Marian Hossa on the second line clearly has amazing scoring depth. However, the Hawks are currently in the bottom-third for goals against, amongst such defensive powerhouses Buffalo and Calgary. The team can't play defense well, because they refuse to be physical.
Clearly, this won't hold up forever. Losses to Edmonton and Calgary were evidence that this soft, perimeter play style of hockey won't hold up. One of the key issues is the play of Keith, who has seemingly regressed to what his draft day scouting report, courtesy of ChicagoBlackhawks.com:
Who is the Hawks best defenseman?
"Has a loping and effortless stride, and the pure speed to get himself out of trouble or recover from a mistake. Has played the point on the PP and is a decent passer. Right now, he isn't strong enough to make a difference physically, but he has the wheels to either carry the puck out of his own end or jump into the play late and create a scoring chance. The tools are there for him to be right there with the most offensively skilled d-men in this draft. Really needs to begin bulking up slight frame, or will stand no chance at the next level. Projects as a #4-5 finesse defenseman."
While Keith is admittedly beyond a bottom-three defenseman, I personally have my doubts about him being a true No. 1 defenseman on a team looking to hoist the Stanley Cup. As with a lot of players from that 2009-10 squad, Keith had what is looking more and more like a career year. Keith had 69 points (14 G, 55 A), playing in all 82 games in 2009-10, finishing with a plus-21 rating. For good measure, he added another 17 points in 22 playoff games (two goals, 15 assists). With a championship won already, Keith took home the Norris Trophy that offseason as well.
But 2010-11 was not nearly as successful a campaign for Keith. While some blamed the "Cup hangover," it was clear Keith simply wasn't the same player we saw the previous season. Again playing in all 82 games, Keith's point total dropped to 45 (7 G, 38 A), and finished with a rating at minus-1. While some of this could also be attributed to Keith skating nearly half the game due to the depleted depth, this shouldn't be an issue for a true No. 1 defenseman.
However, his value is still high. He's signed at an affordable cap hit of $5,538,462 on a massive extension that will expire after the 2022-23 season. Yes, he has a no movement clause, however, like Brian Campbell, odds are he could be convinced to waive this if it's in the best interest of the team.
My personal idea for moving Keith is to send him up to the Winnipeg Jets. Keith was born in Winnipeg before moving to Fort Frances, Ontario, so going to the Jets would be something of a homecoming. He'd most likely line up on Winnipeg's top defensive pairing with former teammate Dustin Byfuglien. With Andrew Ladd as the team captain, there would be a feeling of familiarity.
From the Jets' side, they get someone less than two seasons removed from a Norris Trophy, a Winnipeg native and a player locked up for the rest of their career. The move would likely be worth the Hawks high asking price. The question, of course, becomes what that asking price would be.
For starters, Zach Bogosian. Bogosian may be a former No. 3 overall pick, but you have to move talent to get talent. Bogosian would quickly give the Hawks more ways to play around with the defensive pairings. Bogosian has some puck moving ability, so he could slide into Keith's old spot. He could also team up with Niklas Hjalmarsson on what would be a difficult pairing to play against, letting the Hawks true No. 1 defenseman, Brent Seabrook, skate with and help mentor youngster Nick Leddy.
However, even with Bogosian's obvious talent, size and upside, odds are this wouldn't be enough for Chicago to give up their current alternate captain. The Hawks would need to fill at least one more need to move out one of their core players. While Ladd would be nice, the odds of Winnipeg moving their captain are low. Of course, if Winnipeg offered Ladd and Bogosian, Stan Bowman would be a fool to say no.
Realistically, though, Ladd will never come back to the Hawks. So they would instead turn to a solid alternative to fill a glaring hole in Nik Antropov. The massive Kazakh (6-foot-6, 245 pounds) would finally fill the Hawks No. 2 center job with a true, legitimate center, something that hasn't been done since Robert Lang filled that role. In Antropov, the Hawks get the big, physical No. 2 center Bowman promised the fans in the offseason, but never got. His $4.025 million cap hit would easily be absorbed, and with his contract being back loaded, the Jets would easily let the Hawks take him off their hands.
Perhaps a prospect or two and some draft picks switch hands, but, all in all, Keith for Bogosian and Antropov works well for both parties. The Hawks add talented, physical players; and the Jets get a hometown franchise defenseman.
What do you think? If you were Stan Bowman, would you trade Keith? If not to Winnipeg, then where, and for what? Let me know in the comments!