PITTSBURGH -- Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman will undoubtedly be making and taking calls over the coming month and a half, but he doesn’t expect to make any big moves leading up to the NHL’s trade deadline.
Bowman said Wednesday he believes the Blackhawks’ current roster is capable of competing for another Stanley Cup and doesn’t believe he’ll be doing much in the trade market prior to the deadline on March 2.
“I would never rule things out, but I don’t know if we’re going to be a really active player,” said Bowman before the Blackhawks played the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday. “In the game today with the salary cap, we’re essentially right at the cap now. So if you’re going to be adding players, unless you’re trading players away, I’m not sure we’re in that spot.
“Sometimes you have a guy or two who is underperforming or whose contract you’re trying to get rid of, but we don’t really have anyone like that. We like our guys. They’re all contributing. Certainly they have slumps and they play well and struggle at times but, in general, it’s not like we have to get rid of this guy. If you were to trade one of those, you create one hole to fill another.”
Bowman’s confidence stems from the Blackhawks’ success over much of November and December. After a slow start, they went 18-4-1 from Nov. 9-Dec. 29. They’re currently 30-15-2 and are one of seven teams with at 62 points or more. They are three points behind the Nashville Predators for first place in the Central Division.
“I look at our performance over the first half of the year,” Bowman said. “I think for a long stretch there we were if not the best team, one of the top two or three. The way the NHL is nowadays, you’ve got your groups of teams. You have a handful of teams I sort of think are in the top group there’s not a huge separation between. I think we’re in that mix of teams that have performed well over the first half of the year. There’s a few in each conference. There’s maybe four or five, six total teams that are sort of in that group.
“As long as you’re in that group -- you have to have things go your way -- but I think we’ve got the elements that we like of our main guys and even some of the supporting players have played well. I feel comfortable with each of the different breakdowns whether it’s forwards, defense, goaltending. We got young guys knocking on the door. When you put all that together, there’s a lot to like. But that doesn’t mean we’re content or we think it’s going to be easy, but the elements are there for a good push.”
Bowman has liked the addition of rookie Teuvo Teravainen to the lineup and expects the Blackhawks to be even better when Versteeg returns from his hand injury. Versteeg should be back sometime in February.
“When we get Versteeg back, I think we got some depth up front,” Bowman said. “Teuvo’s come in, showed that he’s an NHL player. That’s nice to know. A couple months ago, we thought he was. Now we’ve seen him do it. We know he can do it. So, we got a lot of weapons.
“There will be some injuries as things go along, but I still feel comfortable with our depth from within, and the young players are going to be excited to be here and hungry to show that they belong. In terms of adding players outside, things can change obviously if you have a couple of injuries between now and the deadline and then you have holes you got to fill and some cap space then. So, we’re doing our work and preparing for it. I wouldn’t expect us to be making a lot of trades.”
The Blackhawks’ main inconsistency over the first half of the season has been their third defenseman pairing, especially their sixth defenseman. Rookie defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk's leg injury in mid-November impacted that situation, and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has been searching for the right combination ever since.
Defenseman prospects Adam Clendening and Klas Dahlbeck were both given short auditions there, but neither stuck. Bowman traded for defenseman Tim Erixon, but he also hasn’t been able to remain consistently in the lineup. David Rundblad has played the most there.
Quenneville switched his defensemen up the last two games and had pairings of Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith and Rundblad. Bowman thought Rundblad had separated himself from the other sixth defenseman candidates.
“I think David has probably grabbed the reins the most of all those guys,” Bowman said. “He’s really shown he’s kind of emerged as a guy that’s getting more comfortable. He’s always had the talent. I think as a young defenseman it’s trying to gain the game-to-game confidence. He’s moved from the left side to the right side. Having not only not played the left side much, that was an adjustment for him, but I thought he got pretty good at it. Now last game he was moved back to where he was more comfortable on the right side.
“I think the long and short of that is you got a lot of candidates whether it’s van Riemsdyk when he gets healthy, or David or Erixon; we got Clendening and Dahlbeck, even [Kyle] Cumiskey, who have played pretty well in Rockford. So, there’s a lot of names there. We hope we don’t have to put them in big roles if someone gets injured, but if they do, I think we got some comfort knowing that they’re all not green and they’ve had at least had some exposure.”