Now that the Blackhawks have returned from a road trip in which they allowed 16 goals in three games, it's time for Five Thoughts:
1. Don't part ways
Scouting reportBlackhawks vs. Colorado Avalanche, 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WGN 720-AM
The skinny: Colorado, the worst team in the NHL last season, is doing everything it can to reach the postseason. The Avs are 4-1-2 in the last seven games and are 1 point out of the second wild-card spot. They are 12-16-4 on the road, however. … Nathan MacKinnon missed almost three weeks with an injury but has returned with a vengeance, potting 7 goals and dishing out 9 assists in his last eight games. He is eighth in the league with 31 goals. … Colorado ranks third on the penalty kill (83.1 percent), while the Hawks rank 11th at 82.3. … The Hawks, who lost to Colorado 6-3 on Oct. 28, play the Avs three times in March. The Hawks went 6-1-2 vs. the Avs the last two seasons.
Next: Carolina Hurricanes at United Center, 7:30 p.m. Thursday
-- John Dietz
There are those who believe the Hawks should trade Artem Anisimov and his $4.55 million cap hit in the off-season, but they should do no such thing.
For all of Anisimov's flaws -- and he definitely has a few -- he's still one of the few players who consistently scores goals for this team. Did you know Anisimov averages 26 scores per 82 games since joining the Hawks and -- with 19 this season -- he's just 4 away from setting a career high?
Teams need depth down the middle, and while it's true that Anisimov plays well with Patrick Kane, he's best suited in a third-line role on a playoff team.
If he's traded, the Hawks' centers next season figure to be Jonathan Toews, Nick Schmaltz, David Kampf and Matthew Highmore/Tanner Kero or a cheap free agent.
Anisimov should definitely stick around.
2. The kids can play
Alex DeBrincat, Nick Schmaltz and Vinnie Hinostroza look like they could be one formidable force if they play together next season. The young trio played extremely well together the last two games. They seemed to win every puck battle, controlled the action and produced plenty of scoring chances against the Kings and Ducks.
If coach Joel Quenneville doesn't mess with this newfound chemistry, it should be awfully fun to watch down the stretch.
3. Deplorable D
Let's state the obvious first: The last three games were brutal from a defensive standpoint. The miscues came in every way imaginable. There were bad turnovers. Bad stick positions. A refusal to block shots. Wide-open shooting lanes. And, at times, zero compete level.
Nobody was immune from the mushroom cloud that unfolded before our eyes.
It could take an entire column to go into the details, but I'll spare you the gory details and simply say this: The Hawks absolutely, positively must find a top-four defenseman in free agency this summer.
They can enter training camp with Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Connor Murphy, Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Erik Gustafsson and Jan Rutta (if he re-signs). At least a couple of those last four players -- who only have an average of 61 NHL games between them -- have potential to be decent blue liners.
But they need a true stud to stabilize this group.
It should be Priority A when free agency begins on July 1.
4. No relief
In the era of fancy stats such as Cosi-for percentage, plenty of people treat the plus-minus number like baseball writers treat batting average.
It's a relic from a bygone era.
But really, it can be a useful measure of a player's performance because it measures how often he is on the ice when a goal occurs at even strength.
In this regard, it's been a tough season for Duncan Keith, whose untimely turnovers have created far too many high-quality chances for opponents. Keith is a career-worst minus-18 this season and has posted a minus-3 or worse in a whopping six games.
How bad is that? Well, consider this: In the three seasons before this one, Keith was a minus-3 just three times over 226 games.
He needs to be better -- and he knows it -- but it would also help if Stan Bowman gave Keith a top-notch partner to play with next season.
5. Amazing race
Could Tommy Wingels go up against Ryan Hartman in the Stanley Cup Final? It's certainly possible.
The Nashville Predators have won eight straight games, with the last four coming since they acquired Hartman from the Blackhawks. Boston, meanwhile, is 3-0-0 since trading for Wingels.
Hartman drew high praise from coach Peter Laviolette after scoring the game-winning goal against Winnipeg last Tuesday.
"Right from the start, it seemed like he understood our identity and how we were trying to play," Laviolette said. "Under those circumstances -- in the situation that he was put in -- he responded in a big game with a really big effort."
In a 4-3 win over Carolina last week, Wingels scored the game-tying goal and assisted on Rick Nash's tally with three seconds left in the first period.
"If you get traded, this is the kind of place you want to go to," Wingels said. "A hungry team, a team that's capable of winning it all and a team with the skill and work ethic of the Bruins. Really happy to be here."
Come April, Hawks fans should be happy to root for Hartman and Wingels -- and hope to see them play all the way into June.