Rozner: Chicago Blackhawks ponder shopping as deadline nears
Not surprisingly, Patrick Kane got all the highlights Sunday night.
It was certainly replay worthy, embarrassing the Buffalo goaltender on the final goal of the night, but it should be noted that he was looking to pass to Artem Anisimov again and admitted postgame that he may have overdone the celebration given the relative lack of importance of that particular tally.
It was entertaining, but not the best play of the night.
That came late in the second period, a subtle but important move by Nick Schmaltz. Off a Jonathan Toews faceoff win, the puck squirted slowly back toward the point.
Defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk wisely backed out because he wouldn't have reached the puck in time and it might have resulted in an odd-man break the other way.
Schmaltz, on the left side, hopped off the draw and won the race, beating two Sabres to the puck, and then with three guys on him flipped it backhand into the corner for Toews.
But Schmaltz kept moving to the half-wall, took a pass from Toews and immediately dished to a wide-open Richard Panik, who fired on net. Toews cleaned up the rebound and the Hawks were up 3-1 late in the second.
The 20-year-old Schmaltz looked like a veteran on the play, but the best part was how fast he was off the draw to win a puck and it made the score possible.
It's been a tough year for Toews, through a constant shuffle of different linemates, but since Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville put Schmaltz and Panik on that line and left them there a month ago, the trio has made much progress, and it might be giving GM Stan Bowman reason for pause before he makes a deal.
Going into Tuesday night's game in Minnesota, Toews had 15 points in his last 11 games, Panik had 11 points in 11 games and Schmaltz 5 points in his last nine games.
Just as important as the offensive numbers is the fact that the three players are starting to get a feel for what the strengths are of each player, where they're going to be on the ice and how to work together in all three zones.
It doesn't happen overnight and credit Quenneville with giving them a chance to develop some chemistry.
With the trade deadline a week away, Bowman has undoubtedly been searching for a low-cost winger to fit in on that line with Toews, a veteran with no contract beyond this season who can finish plays when Toews creates the opportunities.
Schmaltz certainly has the hands, quickness and instincts for the job and now that he's willing to get the puck to the net more often, he looks like a good fit.
If Bowman can find the right upgrade at the right price, he will do it, but that's no guarantee it will work.
As fans await a deal -- and no name creates more buzz than former Hawk Patrick Sharp -- Bowman must weigh the cost against the potential reward.
"It's understandable this time of year that people are looking ahead to the stretch drive and playoffs, and the focus is on the lineup maybe more than in the fall," Bowman told me about a month ago. "For us, we don't always look at it the same way as fans or media.
"If you recognize a weakness in your team and you're not going to be able to compete, you have to go make a move. Not every year is the same.
"Some years we've added players and had success. Some years we've added players and it hasn't worked out. One year we didn't do anything and had a lot of success. It can go both ways.
"It depends on a few factors, like team performance and team composition. Do you have potential for improvement from within? Is the player you need already here? And then what does the market have to offer and what are the prices?"
The prices are high, the market is thin, the salary cap is a problem, and the Hawks are shopping, but it's no guarantee they will find what they need or that the addition will provide great benefits.
Perhaps this time, the answer is already here.
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