Blackhawks Deadline Dilemma: Go Big Or Go Home?

Adam KoppCorrespondent IJanuary 18, 2009

With 45 days left before the trade deadline, the Blackhawks don't have the pressure that most teams hovering on the playoff bubble have regarding whether or not they're a contender this year.

The real question for the Hawks seems to revolve around just how much of a contender the Hawks are, as currently constructed. 

Most fans that I have talked to seem to be torn on the issue, yet they all seem to fall in one of three groups:

The Planners:  Some fans believe that this simply isn't the year for the Hawks to make a big push towards hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup.  The Hawks should plan for being a top tier contender in two to three years.  

Get some playoff experience now, but sacrifice nothing for the future in the name of a quick fix in the present.

This group tends to advocate trading goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and possibly winger Martin Havlat in an effort to gain picks and prospects that can help the team down the road. 

They firmly believe that locking up Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith long term is the number one priority of the franchise.

Pros:  No one would accuse this group of being short sighted.  They want the Hawks to be a contender for years to come.

Those picks and prospects gained from moving contracts that will undoubtedly walk away for free at the end of the season could prove to be highly valuable. 

Acquiring an aging veteran at the deadline might not help this team get any closer to winning the cup, and the need filled by that veteran will be just as present in the off- season, so why bother?  The Hawks would only succeed in hurting their draft position.

Acquiring a big time player will cost valuable portions of this organization and possibly change the overall chemistry, which is so valuable on a young team that has done well so far this season.  Why rock the boat?  One player probably won't put the Hawks on the level of the Wings and Sharks anyways.

Cons:  This viewpoint essentially gives up on the fourth seed in the Western Conference.  Remember when the Oilers made it to the finals as the eighth seed?  Anything can happen in the playoffs.

It's a no risk, no reward scenario.  Other teams in the West will try and bulk up before the deadline.  If the Hawks, sitting in fourth place, essentially become sellers, not only will they damage their chances at advancing far into the playoffs and giving the young guns the experience that they need, it could theoretically damage the Hawks chances of even making the playoffs to begin with.

The Incrementalists:  The second group of fans believe that this team is ready to contend now, but a small hole in the team (namingly a face off specialist at second line center) is the only thing preventing the Hawks from really competing this season.

This group sees move-able assets with big contracts (Martin Havlat and Nikolai Khabibulin), assets with medium sized contracts (Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Sopel) as well as good prospects and draft picks that could be moved to bring in a decent rental player along the lines of Doug Weight or Bill Guerin.

Of course, going with a veteran in the final year means not having to part with any of the bigger assets.

Pros:  Ultimately, this is the low risk, medium reward scenario.  The Hawks certainly don't have to mortgage the future to get a player like Doug Weight.

The Hawks would be filling a need, and when is that ever a bad thing? 

Theoretically, the team chemistry shouldn't be overly disrupted by the addition of one player and the likely subtraction of one player at the most. 

A move like this will certainly help the Hawks keep up with the other teams in the Western Conference that are aiming to improve their chances as well.

Cons:  Acquiring an aging veteran and/or player with an expiring contract is the ultimate short sighted move. 

Even if the Hawks are only parting with picks or prospects, those are assets that the Hawks could have used at some point in the future.  So if the Hawks don't win it all this year, and that second round pick given up for a few months of having Bill Guerin actually turns into a star player in the NHL, Hawks fans would be crying foul from here to eternity.

The need that is filled in the short term will still be a need to be filled in the off-season.  So what's the point in trading assets for a player that won't drastically improve the Hawks chances of winning it all this year?

The quality of the players being shopped at the deadline usually tends to be relatively low.  Sure, you have a few stars, but if you're looking at this from an Incrementalist view, than you're either adding an aging veteran with an expiring contract, or a decent player with a bad contract.

How will adding a decent player like Michael Nylander, who is 35, makes almost five million per season with two years left, help the Hawks in resigning Toews, Kane and Keith after next year?

The Big Movers:  The final group sees all of those same assets that the Incrementalists see, but rather than trading a prospect and a second round pick in an effort to land an aging playoff rental, these people would rather see the Hawks use those assets to land an upper tier or even top tier player that won't just help the Hawks now but in the future as well. 

Players such as Nathan Horton, Olli Jokinen, Ilya Kovalchuk and Vincent Lecavalier should be pursued in the name of winning now and winning often down the road.  Sure, a first round draft pick, a player like Havlat or Byfuglien (or both) and some good prospects will probably be gone when the dust settles, but the payoff could be huge for this young team with such a limited amount of playoff experience.

They believe that there is enough depth in the prospect pool, enough draft picks, and certainly enough big and mid-size contracts to pull off a big deal without mortgaging the future. 

This group believes that the Hawks have played well against the Red Wings and Sharks despite the records.  Adding a top tier talent would make a much bigger difference down the road in the playoffs against these teams than adding an aging veteran would. 

Pros:  It's high risk, high reward.  The Penguins went this route last year when they traded for Hossa, a player that was instrumental in getting the Pens to the Cup finals, especially when Evgeni Malkin went stone cold in the second season.

It's not a quick fix.  Players along the lines of Horton, Kovalchuk, Jokinen and Lecavalier are all signed through next year.

You can't have too much skill or depth when the playoffs come around.  Adding a big time player will undoubtedly help the Hawks compete against the elite teams in the West, much more so than adding a mid-tier player.

You never know what will happen next year.  The Hawks were buried by injuries last season and it could easily happen again next season.  Why not go for it now while window is open?  Plus, if the injury bug bites next year or even this year, having another top tier player to help fill the void would be huge.

This would be a showing of good faith on behalf of management to the team and the fans, essentially telling the players that the ownership really believes that they can go far this year.

Cons:  It's high risk, high reward.  The Penguins have no cup to show for trading away Esposito, Armstrong, Christiansen and a first round draft pick.  They also don't have Hossa anymore and the team hasn't been nearly as good this year as they were last season.

Big moves are extremely expensive in terms of assets traded away especially at the deadline.  Horton might be somewhat affordable, perhaps even Jokinen, but players like Kovalchuk and Lecavalier would require gigantic, team altering returns that could certainly hurt this team's chances down the road.

The Hawks would be putting a lot of eggs in one basket.  If Kovalchuk doesn't resign after the '09-'10 season, than the Hawks have still traded away a lot for a short term fix.  Same goes for Jokinen, who's contract also expires after next season.

If Lecavalier gets injured (and rumors persist that his bulky shoulder has been a problem this season), the Hawks could have a Rick DiPietro scenario on their hands:  A long, bad contract.  The difference is that the Hawks will have traded away a lot in order to get that bad contract.

Finally, a move of this magnitude could easily interfere with the Hawks efforts to resign Toews, Kane and Keith after next year.

Which Hawk fan am I?

Personally, I tend to believe that the Hawks have a very good team this year, but as it stands, they're not ready to contend in the tough Western Conference.  I also believe that this team is one well filled need away from contending.  However, I don't believe that any half measures will suffice. 

If the Hawks can get a high caliber player without trading half the team away or absolutely wrecking the positive chemistry that this team seems to have, then I would consider myself a card carrying member of group three. 

The Hawks need a good second line center and a player like Nathan Horton or Olli Jokinen would fit that bill nicely.  Both have acceptable contracts and while both would require a roster player, at least one good prospect and pick, I think that the Hawks have the organizational depth to make such a move happen without destroying the team or ruining the plan going forward.

The question now becomes, which group does Hawks GM Dale Tallon fall into?

Which group do you fall into?


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