Zawaski: Blackhawks Still Stuck In Hockey Hell

The Hawks received a decent return in two trades Monday — but no impact talent.

Jay Zawaski
February 25, 2020 - 8:54 am
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(670 The Score) When the smoke cleared as the NHL trade deadline passed Monday afternoon, the Blackhawks dealt their two most logical trade chips in goalie Robin Lehner and defenseman Erik Gustafsson for picks and prospects.

Lehner was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights as part of a three-team deal that also included the Maple Leafs. In return, the Blackhawks received a second-round pick in 2020, 26-year-old goaltender Malcolm Subban (the brother of Devils defenseman P.K. Subban), 19-year-old University of Denver defenseman Slava Demin. Gustafsson was traded to the Flames for a third-round pick in 2020. Both Lehner and Gustafsson were set to become free agents this summer.

Did the Blackhawks get enough for these deals? I believe the answer is "probably" given how the market played out.

Before breaking down the trades in details, I want to qualify a few points. I'm viewing these trades on their own as it pertains to the trade market leading up to Monday afternoon. While I believe the returns were fair, I also think general manager Stan Bowman (and coach Jeremy Colliton) should be looking for new jobs when the season ends. Bowman's failures over the last few years have set the Blackhawks back, and there really isn't a clear path out of their current position.

All of their top prospects are already on the roster. All of the cap space they’ll have next summer will be used to bring back a goalie (Corey Crawford?) and re-sign restricted free-agent forwards Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome. This team is in hockey hell, and unless forward Kirby Dach and defenseman Adam Boqvist become franchise-level players, the Blackhawks are going to be about what they are now for years to come. It’s time for fresh eyes and new perspectives.

That said, I wouldn’t get my hopes up for Bowman losing his job. Bowman signed a two-year contract extension last June, according to a report from Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet. When asked back then about the possible extension, Bowman refused to comment, and the story went away. My recent conversations with sources have indicated what Friedman reported previously.

How’s that for accountability? Miss the playoffs two years in a row ... and get a contract extension.

"One Goal," indeed.

As for the trades, neither blows your doors off in terms of return. Neither deal helps reload the organization as some had hoped they might. What the Blackhawks can’t control is the offers they receive for the players they trade. Their offer from the Carolina Hurricanes for Lehner was underwhelming, according to a trusted source who didn't want the specifics shared. Had the Hawks taken that deal, Bowman would've had to enter witness protection. They took the better of the two deals offered for Lehner.

A first-round pick of the Bruins in 2012, Subban is 9-7-3 with a 3.18 goals against average and a .890 save percentage. That's not very good. In their press release, the Blackhawks went out of their way to point out Subban's 5-0 shootout record, which is peculiar considering how Lehner had struggled in hockey’s version of rock-paper-scissors. Subban has stopped 18 of 19 shootout attempts that he has faced in the league. He's set to be a restricted free agent after this summer and will have the next few months to prove himself to the Hawks.

The Golden Knights selected Demin in the fourth round in the 2018 draft. He's now a sophomore defenseman at the University of Denver, where he's paired with the Blackhawks' top defensive prospect in Ian Mitchell. I reached out to McKeen's Hockey prospect writer Ryan Wagman for a scouting report.

"Demin is a few years away from contributing at the NHL level, if he even gets the opportunity," Wagman said. "(He) plays on the third pairing at Denver. He's no Ian Mitchell. I've never been a big fan. He does a lot of things OK, but nothing about his game has ever really stood out to me."

ESPN NHL prospect analyst Chris Johnson likes Demin a little more.

"Demin a decent add," Johnson tweeted. "Good size and mobility, plays a more physical game and still developing. On the same blue line as current CHI prospect Ian Mitchell."

However Subban and Demin pan out, it’s unlikely either of them will help propel the Blackhawks to playoff-caliber level. If they couldn’t get there this season with a pair of goalies playing at an All-Star level, I’m having trouble drawing a map to playoff success for the organization moving forward. The Blackhawks need a lot of their current players to take huge steps forward. They also need their few remaining legitimate NHL prospects (Mitchell, Lucas Carlson, Nicolas Beaudin and others) to be impact players.

How do you feel about those odds?

Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Bernstein & McKnight Show on 670 middays from 9 a.m. to noon, a columnist for 670 The Score and the co-host of the Madhouse Chicago Hockey Podcast, which is available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify or your preferred podcast app. He's also the host of Locked on Blackhawks and the I'm Fat Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @JayZawaski670.​​​