While several teams attempt to claw their way up the ladder from the proverbial bubble positions, it is becoming increasingly clearer which NHL teams simply need to pull the cord and start building for next year.
In the East, the Toronto Maple Leafs sit nine points out of the eighth playoff spot, which is good enough for 11th in the conference standings. Shambling behind the Leafs, you'll find the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Ottawa Senators, the Atlanta Thrashers and the New York Islanders.
On the Western front, the gap between contenders and pretenders is also widening, with the Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche all at 47 points, good enough for 12th place in the conference and six points out of the playoff race. The beleaguered and often injured St. Louis Blues are in last place with 44 points.
From the Blackhawks' perspective, any of these teams could theoretically offer up some much needed support for the playoff push.
So let's get to theorizing already. In this Five for Fighting column, I have five trades I'd love to see the Hawks pull off before the trade deadline in March:
Fantasy Trade No. 1
Nashville Predators trade Jason Arnott for Cam Barker, Troy Brouwer, Craig Adams, and a second-round draft pick.
Why it makes sense for the Predators: Before anyone suggests that the Predators would never trade Arnott within their own division, a move like this would be far from unprecedented. Steve Sullivan anyone?
Sully went from Chicago to Nashville during the height of his career, and while the circumstances are certainly different, the needs of these teams match up fairly well.
Having failed to fill the void left when Kimmo Timmonen departed for the Flyers, the Preds find themselves paper thin at defense after All Star Shea Weber and young upstart Ryan Suter.
Perhaps the Predators would be a bit more willing to give Barker the ice time he needs to fully develop than the Hawks have in the past?
Why it makes sense for the Hawks: Unlike what some Hawks fans have been saying lately, Dave Bolland is not a second line center. His numbers, while solid, certainly benefit from having a rejuvenated and healthy Martin Havlat on his line.
This team has a surplus of defensemen, young talent and draft picks. What they need is a steady, veteran top six caliber center and Arnott fills that bill.
Fantasy Trade No. 2
Colorado trades Milan Hejduk for Dustin Byfuglien, Petri Kontiola and Corey Crawford.
Why it makes sense for the Avalanche: It's no secret the Avalanche have had issues in goal all season. One minute Peter Budaj finally looks as though he's ready to step into the top spot and the next he's being replaced by journeyman Andrew Raycroft.
Adding a solid goalie prospect in Crawford, along with a center that would have a good shot at making the top six out of camp would go a long way for a Colorado team that might be looking to rebuild, especially if Joe Sakic retires.
Why it makes sense for the Hawks: When the playoffs come around, a team can never have enough scoring and enough depth. I'm still worried that the young guns on this team will tire as the year goes on.
Adding a solid veteran in Hejduk who is at 32 still has a few good years left at a reasonable price tag (signed through next year) would surely benefit the Hawks going forward.
Fantasy Trade No. 3
Islanders trade Doug Weight for Cam Barker, Craig Adams and Troy Brouwer.
Why this makes sense for the Islanders: Weight is the epitome of a rent-a-player this year. He's 37, he has an expiring contract, and he's playing for the worst team in the NHL. The Islanders will be looking to bolster their roster with young talent when they trade Weight. Barker is a power-play QB in the making with a booming slap shot. He's also not afraid to take the body.
Brouwer is a little more of an unknown, but he's been solid in the AHL and he's doing a relatively good job with the minutes he's received on the big club this year. He has potential.
Why this makes sense for the Hawks: While the Hawks lose a former third overall draft pick, let's be honest: Barker has much more value on the open market than he does with a team that has the depth that the Hawks currently have on the back end.
This is another well matched pairing of teams who's needs sync up with what each team currently has to offer.
Alright, so those were a few options that range from possible to not likely. Let's try and see if there's a bigger move to be made.
Fantasy Trade No. 4
Atlanta trades Ilya Kovalchuk for Nikolai Khabibulin, Cam Barker, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jack Skille, a first-round pick this year, a second-round pick this year, as well as a second-round pick next year.
Why this makes sense for Atlanta: Okay, of course this won't happen. But from the Thrashers standpoint, they receive a legit starting goaltender, which they haven't really had in the history of their franchise (sorry Kari). If they re-sign Khabibulin to a three or four year deal, they'd be set in net for a while.
Barker, Skille and Hjalmarsson are a solid group that would help the Thrashers down the road because let's face it, the Thrashers have to start rebuilding at some point.
Kovalchuk has been frustrated all year with the sinking ship he's been on and most analysts believe that he'll jump to another team once his contract runs out after next season.
Trading him now for the enormous injection of youth that this trade would provide certainly might be a good place to start pulling the Thrashers back above water.
Why this makes sense for the Hawks: Some Hawks fans might hate the idea of adding another big contract when Kane, Toews and Keith need to be resigned after next year.
I'm telling you, I have looked at the numbers several times and rest assured, there are ways of making this work that don't involve great Hawks players getting moved to make room.
As for the benefits for the Hawks? Well, take a look at his age and career stats for starters. Then watch him play. If you don't think the Hawks or any other team in the NHL would love to have this guy on their squad, quite honestly, you're insane.
Fantasy Trade No. 5
Ottawa trades Jason Spezza for Nikolai Khabibulin, Cam Barker, Petri Kontiola, Jack Skille, a first-round pick this year, a second-round pick this year, and a second-round pick next year.
Why this makes sense for the Senators: Same principal here. The Senators' window is just about closed, the offense is paper thin after their star players, and the defense is sorely lacking in front of Elliot/Gerber/Auld/Emery/some fan they brought out of the stands.
The Senators can do more good for the future of their franchise by trading one of their star players to bring up the skill level throughout the rest of their team. Kontiola has top six center material, while Barker and Hendry would certainly help them improve on the back end.
Why this makes sense for the Hawks: This move alone would solidify the Blackhawks center position for years to come. Spezza is somewhat reasonably priced for his output and at 25, he's just entering his prime.
Four more years after this season at this price means that the Hawks should get the absolute best of this fine young talent's career.
Of course, these trades are unlikely to occur, even the less outlandish ones. But in my opinion, these are the types of moves that Hawks GM Dale Tallon should be looking to make.
Even if the 'Hawks go the rent-a-player route, I'm hoping that Tallon uses his first opportunity to be a buyer at the deadline to really focus in on getting someone that will help this roster get to the next level.
A first round exit wouldn't help this team one bit going forward, especially if they lose in humiliating fashion because they were too gassed from the long regular season.
A team this young needs to be a part of the playoffs for as long as possible, only then will these players realize what it really takes to stare down the rest of the league and then go straight through them towards glory.
What is your best trade scenario for the Hawks going forward? Which player should the Hawks look to bring into the fold and what do you think it would cost to get that player?