Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hawks Fail to Add Major Piece at Deadline

The trade deadline in any professional sport is a day consisting of a flurry of rumors, phone calls, and the overpowering stench of desperation. GM's know that this is the day, fair or not, that can define the rest of the season. It can get a GM fired or keep him on board for another year. And in the NHL especially, a sport with no equal in how quickly managers can be hired and fired, succeeding on the trade deadline is an important thing.

For Hawks GM Stan Bowman, yesterday's trade deadline represented an opportunity to live up to his word that he was trying to improve the team, give him a chance to secure a couple missing pieces the Hawks so desperately need, and more importantly, provide the team with a little hope, and perhaps a spark, going forward for the rest of the season. The mental aspect of sports is often forgotten about amidst the crazy athleticism and skill that us fans see on a daily basis. But the mental aspect is just as important. Thus, the Hawks making a move, and bringing a couple of missing pieces in, would only amp up the confidence the Hawks need for the rest of the season. This is even more important for a team like the Hawks, who have star players up and down the roster but seem to be in such a deep rut that they aren't performing like it. Simply put, the team needs some confidence.

Oduya will help on special teams
So what happened yesterday? The only player Bowman brought in was Johnny Oduya, a defenseman for Winnipeg Jets. It's not a terrible move, for Oduya is a great skating defenseman who will fill a hole on the team. He's going to be thrown onto special teams, an area so undeniably woeful for the Hawks all season long, whether it be penalty killing or power play. On the power play he'll be the point man for the second unit, filling the role that the departed Brian Campbell did so well. On actual defense, he's not a physically imposing player, so he'll fit right in on the Hawks, a team devoid of any real consistent physicality. He does block a lot of shots, which is necessary for the Hawks because none of the forwards have the testicular fortitude to do so. So basically, he's slightly more above average than Niklas Hjarmalsson (is that even a complement?), with the edge coming because of his propensity towards special teams.

But that's about it. His last really good all around season, where he wasn't more in line with an specialist, was 2008-2009 with New Jersey. For some perspective, that was the year before the Hawks won the Cup. Last year, he finished the season with only 17 points and a -15 rating. This year, he's well on his way to a repeat performance of last year with 13 points and a -9 rating. He'll ease the burden some on Dylan Olsen and Nick Leddy, but I like the way those kids play. He's going to slot right into a 5 or 6 role on the defense, hardly a game changing acquisition. And that's not to knock on him. If he can improve the woeful Hawks power play and penalty kill, it'll have been a good transaction. The problem was that it was the only transaction.

Want to emulate Detroit? Failed this time.
Look, I'm not one to make a trade just to make a trade. I understand that with the standings the way they are, and all these teams in contention, that more teams were buyers than sellers. I'm fine then with Bowman refusing to part with top prospects or first round picks for a two month rental, or on the flip side, bringing in a player who only saddles the team with future cap problems (Oduya's deal expires after this season). But isn't the goal to win a Stanley Cup every year? Detroit made a great move a few days ago, acquiring Kyle Quincey in return for a prospect and a first round pick this year. Sure, Detroit loses the first round pick, but they pick up a young defenseman in his prime who has already played great in his few days in Detroit. Quincey can legitimately improve the Red Wings' chances of winning the Cup. Moreover, both Nashville and Vancouver made huge moves yesterday to solidify their post season hopes, even if they came at some cost. It's tough to watch rivals pick up steam, even if they sacrifice to do so.

Maybe Bowman is packing it up for this year with an attempt to regroup in the off season and make a run at the Cup next year. But I think it's more that he simply got beat. He wasn't willing to part with anything other than the second and third round picks for the 2013 draft to get Oduya. What was it going to take to get a legit player? I know he doesn't want to pay too much, but he just watched three teams improve their stock, making them even more difficult to beat when it counts. And really, him getting beat on a trade deadline only speaks volumes as to his successes as Blackhawks GM. Let's take a look at what he's accomplished since he became the Hawks GM in July 2009 (keeping in mind that he was an assistant GM before he was named GM):
  • 2009-2010: Acquired Nick Leddy from Minnesota for Cam Barker in February 2010; was not responsible for the off season signings of Marian Hossa or John Madden, who signed under previous GM Dale Tallon; was not responsible for offseason resigning of Dave Bolland to 5 year contract; awarded major contract extensions to Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews in December 2009; Hawks finish season with Stanley Cup victory
  • 2010-2011: spent offseason unloading team due to cap concerns; traded Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel and prospect Akim Aliu to Atlanta for Marty Reasoner, Joey Crabb, Jeremy Morin, and a first and second round pick; traded a second round pick to Toronto for prospect Jimmy Hayes; traded Kris Versteeg and a prospect to Toronto for Viktor Stalberg and two prospects; traded Andrew Ladd to Atlanta for Ivan Vishnevskiy and a second round pick; traded Jack Skille and Huge Jessiman to Florida for Michael Frolik and Alexander Salak in February; traded Ryan Potulny to Ottawa for Chris Campoli in February; signed John Scott, Marty Turco, Fernando Pisani, and Ryan Johnson; did not resign free agents Antti Niemi, Adam Burish, John Madden; matched San Jose's offer sheet for Niklas Hjarmalsson; gave Brent Seabrook 5 year extension
  • 2011-2012: in offseason, traded Troy Brouwer to Washington for first round pick, traded Brian Campbell to Florida for Rostislav Olesz, traded Tomas Kopecky to Florida for conditional 7th round pick, traded 7th round pick to Buffalo for Steve Montador; in offseason, gave Patrick Sharp contract extension, gave Corey Crawford 3 year NHL deal, resigned Viktor Stalberg and Michael Frolik, signed Jamal Mayers, Andrew Brunette, Sean O'Donnell, Daniel Carcillo, Sami Lepisto, and Ray Emery and did not resign free agent Chris Campoli; traded prospect Brendan Connelly to Calgary for center Brendan Morrison in January; traded two draft picks to Winnipeg for Johnny Oduya, traded John Scott to New York for a fifth round pick; in 2011 draft, selected highly regarded Mark McNeill, drafted top prospect Brandon Saad, and found Andrew Shaw in the fifth round
Sorry about that, it's a pretty lengthy list. But I wanted to get a full overview of the guy who has steered the Hawks the past three seasons. On that list, only a couple acquisitions stand out as successful. I give him credit for getting Nick Leddy, Viktor Stalberg (although I really miss Versteeg), and I like his draft picks. Other than that, Bowman hasn't made a major splash in the moves he's made. Now, I'm willing to give him somewhat of the benefit of the doubt, considering he was left with a cap mess of epic proportions by previous GM Dale Tallon. But that doesn't absolve him of all blame. There was no one forcing him to not receive top players in return for the ones he was unloading. He whiffed bad on Michael Frolik, Rostislav Olesz, the terrible Andrew Ladd trade, and others. Even the players he's signed have made little impact. So where does he stand?

The Hawks are going to struggle to make the playoffs. Last year, they barely made it in with 97 points and needed Minnesota to beat Dallas on the last day of the regular season. Right now, they sit at 73 points in 6th place, with 18 games to go. So, guessing that they'll need around the same amount of points to get in this year, with how competitive it is, let's assume they need 24 points out of the last 18 games to get in. It's going to be tough. 12 out of the last 18 games are against teams who would be in the playoffs if they started today. Is it possible, for a team playing this poorly, to pull it off? It seems unlikely, but with the talent on this team (and the hopefully soon return of Toews) nothing is out of the question. Still, it's going to be a tough battle, and its certainly not outside the realm of possibility that the Hawks miss the playoffs entirely.

Regardless, Bowman is going to have pressure on him this offseason. The pass that a team gets after winning a Cup has expired. He needs to make real moves to help this team or he'll feel his seat warming up. I realize that he shouldn't be judged solely in our micro-context of the trade deadline, but it just feels like another thing that Bowman could have done at least slightly different. Sure, Oduya is going to help, but trading Scott made no sense (the NHL roster limit doesn't matter after the deadline, so why make room by trading your best locker room guy??). As it stands right now, his overall grade has to be barely a passing one.

All we know is that for the Hawks to have a somewhat successful season, it's going to be on the backs of the players currently on the team. And we're along for the ride.