Huge if True: Will Chicago go shopping? Can they?

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DENVER, CO - JANUARY 17: Matt Duchene #9 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the Chicago Blackhawks at the Pepsi Center on January 17, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. The Blackhawks defeated the Avalanche 6-4. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO – JANUARY 17: Matt Duchene #9 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the Chicago Blackhawks at the Pepsi Center on January 17, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. The Blackhawks defeated the Avalanche 6-4. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

[Breaking down the plausibility of the week’s biggest rumor.]

With NHL Trade Season now finally upon us — less than six weeks to the deadline, gang! — and more than half the season gone, we’re starting to get a good idea of what teams will be looking to buy or sell. And more to the point, we’re getting an idea of what teams need.

A team with a very clear need right now is Chicago.

Their lead in the Central has all but evaporated after another incredible start. They opened the year 22-8-4 but have since gone a more pedestrian 6-6-1, though that includes a four-game winning streak. Moreover, the degradation of the team’s depth has been a lot more noticeable this year, with a rough season from Jonathan Toews and some of the team’s lower-level players masqueraded by another dynamite season from Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, as well as both Corey Crawford and Scott Darling combining to be one of the best goaltending tandems in the league.

So what does Chicago need? Someone to potentially bust Toews out of his slump and fill that left wing slot that’s become something of a John Tavares-like black hole in terms of finding a workable partner.

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The good news for Stan Bowman is that there is apparently no shortage of options kicking around the league already as teams start to get a look at the writing on the wall.

Who’s Going Where?

Chicago seems to always have an uncanny ability to add someone at a relatively small cost at the deadline, and the number of left-wing options available to them could potentially go a long way here. And if this team wants to legitimately compete for a fourth Cup, it needs to get one as soon as possible.

What’s amazing is that they’re currently tied for third in the league in terms of points, but have only a plus-12 goal differential. All the other teams in the top three are north of plus-40. In terms of all-situations expected goals, Chicago is sixth from the bottom in percentage, so it’s more likely that overall differential continues to remain relatively low, or even fall, as the season wears on.

Toews is in the same points neighborhood this year as Brent Seabrook, who’s been no real prize himself this year, and the Chicago media is already looking for solutions. David Haugh of the Tribune wonders aloud about Bowman prying James van Riemsdyk out of Toronto, or Gabriel Landeskog out of Colorado, or perhaps even old chum Patrick Sharp from Dallas.

Those are very much the sexy picks you’re starting to see at the top of every trade board for any team looking for a left wing. Mark Lazerus of the Sun-Times adds the team might be willing to bounce some things around up front if they could get Matt Duchene or Martin Hanzal too, adding, “They need to try.” Over at the Athletic, Brian Hedger ponders adding Jarome Iginla in addition to a few of the other guys mentioned.

But let’s keep in mind the price would be to acquire a player of this type, and what a cap-space-strapped team like Chicago would need to do to get everything to work financially: Probably a roster player and you probably need the other team to eat some salary. I’d personally add that you don’t get a team to help you out like that without throwing some younger talent (Nick Schmaltz?) and a first-round pick. Lazerus says parting with that first again is “almost unthinkable.” Which creates a serious problem.

And it’s one on top of a few that already exist.

The Implications

First and foremost, it doesn’t look like the Leafs are willing to give up James van Riemsdyk, who’s the most attractive trade target that’s been named so far. At least, the Leafs probably won’t give him up that easily. After all, they’re very much in the playoff hunt, and he’s been one of their best players all year. He’s signed at an ultra-affordable $4.25 million this year and next, so any deal that sends him to Chicago would probably have to be even more worth their while to buy that extra season (when he’ll be just 28).

Moreover, because he’s so cheap, and potentially disposable to Toronto in the long-term — it’s hard to see them keeping him on a big-money deal after next season — lots of teams will be interested, especially if they have a defenseman to give up. That’s what Toronto is going to covet. Hey how’s that Chicago blue line? Not great, right.

But what about Landeskog? Same deal, really. Lots of teams are going to be asking, and Colorado has long been rumored to be looking for a young defender to shore up its own deeply problematic corps. But if they allegedly want a Brandon Carlo-type, well, that’s not something Bowman just has lying around either.

The centers mentioned above, Hanzal and Duchene? The latter is more attractive than the former, certainly, but will cost the same as if not more than van Riemsdyk or Landeskog. And are you going to move them to the wing? I dunno how that works based on what their teams will want and given Chicago’s glut down the middle. Always nice to have extra centers lying around, sure, but it doesn’t address the central problem, which is that Toews has kinda sucked this year; in addition to his well-documented production struggles, he’s also only a 50.3 percent adjusted corsi player this year. Few talk about this.

But here’s the big thing that intrigues me: Chicago loves those familiar old faces like Andrew Ladd. The Stars could make Patrick Sharp available if they can’t get back into the playoff race over the next 10 or 12 games, according to Pierre LeBrun. And let’s be honest, they probably won’t.

At any rate, this is just something to monitor for a while, really. Most sellers will probably hold off at least for another month so prices can rise appropriately. You hope for their sake Chicago can just keep the puck in front of them and avoid more .500 hockey, which otherwise might render all this moot.

I’ll close with this: If they give up anything at all to acquire Iginla, it’s wasted assets and energy. That’s a guy who doesn’t help them in any way, especially because he plays the wrong side for what they need.

This Is So Huge, If True: Is It True?

On a B.S. detector scale of 1-5, with one being the most reasonable and 5 being the least:

It would be a coup — something to invigorate the club not only for this season but going forward — if Bowman could get one of van Riemsdyk or Duchene in particular (as has been discussed elsewhere on this site, I’m not a big Landeskog fan) but I don’t think he has the juice to make a trade like that happen.

As the deadline approaches, Patrick Sharp seems like the most likely target, but Lazerus is right that this is a move the team needs to make if they want to avoid another first-round bounce-out again. But a word of caution: Adding Patrick Sharp doesn’t really guarantee this team clears any sort of meaningful hurdle. This is a good team. It’s no longer a great one. It might be wise to simply recognize that.

Whether Chicago trades for…

JVR:

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Landeskog:

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Duchene:

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Hanzal:

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Iginla:

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Sharp:

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Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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