As we inch closer to the NHL Trade Deadline, the Blackhawks find themselves in what may seem to be a dreary situation at first glance. However, if you look beyond this season, the clouds begin to dissipate and you can see the sun trying to break through. The recent trades that StanBo has made during the 2018-19 season gives me hope for the future. The future could be as soon as next season and that excites the hell out of me.

With the right moves at the trade deadline and smart free agent additions, the Blackhawks could quickly reclaim their throne at the top of the NHL.

Which Players Are Worth Holding Onto and Which Players Aren’t?

With the current state of the team, I think it’s pretty safe to say the Blackhawks will be sellers at the deadline — hopefully smart sellers. StanBo has been pretty smart in his moves during this season. Since joining the Blackhawks, Dylan Strome has finally started to turn into the stud everyone thought he was entering the 2015 NHL Draft. I’d like to see StanBo continue this good trade trend.

In my opinion, there are only a handful of untouchable players on the current NHL roster such as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Henri Jokiharju, and Collin Delia. I would also include some of the Blackhawks’ prospects like Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin, Evan Barratt, and a few others.

Top 10 Prospects in the Blackhawks’ system based on point production:

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The Blackhawks don’t have many valuable pieces to trade away, but there are a few players with some trade value that either don’t fit the team’s makeup anymore, aren’t getting it done, or have become expendable.

These players are Brandon Saad, Artem Anisimov, John Hayden, Erik Gustafsson, and Gustav Forsling. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind throwing in Dylan Sikura or Victor Ejdsell at this point, if the return warrants them being moved. I would just prefer not to, if possible. I still need to see more from them before giving up on them altogether.

A couple of other players that may be traded are Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but it will be harder to move them due to no-movement clauses on their contracts and their age.

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Brandon Saad Trade In the Works?

Brandon Saad was supposed to come in and be the Saad of old. Play on the 1st line with Jonathan Toews and provide 50 points per season, but that hasn’t been the case. He simply hasn’t been the same in his second stint with the Blackhawks. Saad is a talented two-way player, but he has been struggling with bouts of inconsistency and a lack of production — not exactly a recipe for success.

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I like to look at the Brandon Saad situation from a purely money and production standpoint. Saad’s contract simply isn’t justified. Saad was traded for Artemi Panarin and they’ve both been making the same amount of money since 2016. Who has been worth it in that time span? I think that answer is pretty obvious.

It would be in the Blackhawks’ best interest to get feelers from around the league and gauge Saad’s trade value. Trading Brandon Saad for Top 4 defensive help makes sense now and for the future. Playoff teams looking for a Top 6 caliber forward will be calling up StanBo & Co. and Stan would be smart to listen.

Before Peter Chiarelli was fired as Oilers’ GM, there were rumors spreading around the Twittersphere that StanBo was cooking up something really good with Chiarelli. Maybe even better than the Brandon Manning for Drake Caggiula deal. A name that was linked to those rumors was Brandon Saad. There were no specifics mentioned, but we can always speculate about what may have been on the table.

Well, here comes the fun part now. Who doesn’t like trade rumors and proposals? I believe this is a good starting point for a hypothetical trade between the Blackhawks and Oilers.

Blackhawks Receive:

  • Jesse Puljujarvi
  • Darnell Nurse

Oilers Receive:

  • Brandon Saad
  • John Hayden
  • Erik Gustafsson

Why this trade works:

The Blackhawks are able to shed Saad’s problematic contract which creates more cap space for free agency and extensions for Alex DeBrincat, Collin Delia, and more. The addition of Drake Caggiula makes John Hayden expendable and teams usually don’t have a problem taking a chance on a young guy with upside like Hayden. Gustafsson also falls into the player with upside category.

The Oilers get a two-way forward in Saad to play alongside Connor McDavid, they bolster their roster depth with John Hayden, and Gustafsson provides a solid, cheap option on defense.

Jesse Puljujarvi has a high ceiling and untapped potential. His situation in Edmonton is very similar to Dylan Strome’s situation when Strome was with Arizona. Roster depth is a concern and Puljujarvi would help bolster the Blackhawks’ Top 9.

Darnell Nurse is a young, underrated two-way defenseman that would fit in nicely alongside Henri Jokiharju, Adam Boqvist, Nicolas Beaudin, Ian Mitchell, and Connor Murphy. Nurse is a hard worker and determined to get better with every game. His story is also something I feel Blackhawks fans will connect with too.

Other hypothetical trade deadline swaps for Brandon Saad:

  • Justin Faulk (CAR)
  • Dougie Hamilton (CAR)
  • Oscar Klefbom (EDM)
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM)

StanBo Has a Few Cards to Play With

For the first time in a very long time, the Blackhawks have money to play with. It’s time to go all in on the rebuild. Sell, sell, sell. Get the most value back that you can without making the team worse in the long run. StanBo has done a good job of this during the 2018-19 season and made up for an absolutely pathetic 2018 offseason showing.

The Blackhawks are projected to have $18,744,872 in cap space with no changes to the current NHL roster. I doubt StanBo is done making moves, so this number will more than likely change by the end of the season.

I’m not sure exactly which route they’ll take as far as trades go, but the Blackhawks’ biggest immediate needs are Top 9 forwards and Top 4 defensemen.

If StanBo opts to stand his ground and not make any additional moves this season, I would be okay with that. However, making a move now would be ideal and create additional cap space to address multiple holes on this team. The opportunity to really improve this team will happen in the upcoming offseason during free agency.

Free Agents that Make Sense for the Blackhawks

The 2019 NHL free agent class is full of big-time playmakers and game changers. There are a few players that can come in and be an instant upgrade like Marian Hossa was. Here’s my list of targets that I would like to see in Chicago next season:

Artemi Panarin (LW)

The Blackhawks have earned the reputation of making moves based on nostalgia. In this case, the nostalgia makes sense and is warranted. Artemi Panarin had a ton of success in Chicago during his two seasons with the team and has only gotten better since then. StanBo, it’s time to man up and right your biggest wrong.

Pay Panarin whatever he wants and if he wants you fired, then I want your resignation papers on my desk by the time he’s done signing his name on the contract.

Honestly, who wouldn’t like to see this again?!

Mark Stone (RW)

Mark Stone is a two-way power forward similar to Brandon Saad, but Stone does it a lot better. He can also come in and negate the loss of Marian Hossa. On a struggling Ottawa Senators team, Stone has been the epitome of consistency on offense and defense.

He is currently being paid $7.35 mil which is a hefty price tag, but if you take a closer look at the numbers, I think the salary is justified. Stone is currently on pace to have his best season in the NHL.

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Not only can Mark Stone play offense and defense really well, but he can also create scoring opportunities seemingly at will. This skill is priceless and it is something that the Blackhawks have been missing over the past two seasons.

Stone can instantly step in and play on the 1st line alongside Jonathan Toews. Check out Stone’s sweet stick and sick mitts in this highlight reel.

Obviously, Artemi Panarin and Mark Stone should be StanBo’s top priorities, but there are also a few other pending free agents that would be an instant upgrade as well.

Other Possible Free Agents Targets:

  • Erik Karlsson (D)
  • Matt Duchene (C)
  • Brayden Point (C)
  • Jeff Skinner (LW)
  • Mitchell Marner (RW)
  • Joe Pavelski (C)
  • Jake Gardiner (D)
  • Zach Werenski (D)
  • Sergei Bobrovsky (G)
  • Mats Zuccarello (LW)
  • Gustav Nyquist (RW)
  • William Karlsson (C)
  • Andre Burakovsky (LW)
  • Kevin Hayes (C)
  • Ryan Dzingel (C/W)

On top of having the opportunity to make a huge splash in free agency, StanBo & Co. may also have a Top 5 draft pick in a fully loaded draft class. Even though they are struggling now, there’s a ton to be excited for as a Blackhawks fan. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty optimistic that the Blackhawks will turn things around faster than most people expect.

For more Blackhawks news and updates, follow the author @Certified_TonyG on Twitter.