On February 19th, the Chicago Blackhawks traded defenseman Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals for a conditional third-round draft pick. Kempny requested a trade from the Hawks after being a healthy scratch.
Would you have believed me if I would have said that Kempny would go on to help the Capitals win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history a few hours or even weeks after the deal?
No, not even for a second, but that’s exactly what happened. Kempny was a solid contributor for the Capitals in the postseason. In 24 games, Kempny scored two goals and recorded three assists. Kempny also averaged 17:42 minutes of ice-time. He played alongside John Carlson, which may have been the Capitals best defensive pairing.
The takeaway here is that Kempny helped a team on a successful postseason run. That’s what the Hawks were hoping he could do for them. The Hawks signed Kempny in 2016 out of the KHL. In 81 games in Chicago, he scored three goals to go along with 12 assists.
Did the Hawks give up on Kempny too soon? Maybe. They do have a history of trading away players that do not fit into their system. Remember, Trevor Daley?
Daley was acquired by the Hawks after their 2015 Stanley Cup run. In what was a deal that sent Daley to Chicago and Patrick Sharp to the Dallas Stars. The season before, Daley had scored 16 goals for the Stars and had some serious upside. However, he wasn’t great in the Hawks’ system.
He was more of an offensive player, which is something the Hawks didn’t put as their number one priority. Multiple reports also indicated that Daley’s game didn’t sit well with the Hawks’ coaching staff, specifically with head coach Joel Quenneville.
While Daley’s personality fit well in the Hawks locker room and he had played better of late, his style of play clashed with coach Joel Quenneville‘s system. Daley is a more offensive-minded defenseman, while Quenneville measures success not by how much the Hawks score but by what their defense allows.
Later on, in the season general manager Stan Bowman decided to trade Daley to the Pittsburgh Penguins for 36-year-old Rob Scuderi. When the Hawks acquired Scuderi, he had won two Stanley Cups–one with the Penguins, one with the Los Angeles Kings.
Scuderi would go on to play in just 17 games with the Hawks. While Daley went on to help the Penguins capture the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks. That postseason, Daley played in 15 games, scoring one goal and recording five assists. More importantly, he averaged 22:08 minutes of ice time.
To make matters even worse, Daley would have success in the postseason again the next year. He helped the Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cups, this time against the Nashville Predators. Daley was a valuable player after playing in 21 games and averaging 19:07 minutes of ice time.
The Hawks basically used four defensemen during the 2016 and 2017 playoffs, which makes the Daley trade hurt, even more, considering they lost in the first round both years.
This past season was a bit different. By the trade deadline, the Hawks were out of playoff contention and were “sellers” at the deadline. Sending Ryan Hartman to the Predators wasn’t a surprising move considering the group of young, talented forwards the Hawks already had. Trading Kempny to the Capitals didn’t feel like a bad move either until you take a closer look.
The Hawks will be bringing back Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Connor Murphy, Jan Rutta, Erik Gustafsson, Gustav Forsling, Carl Dahlstrom, and Jordan Oesterle, barring any other acquisitions including future draft picks or trades. Clearly, the Hawks are banking on goalie Corey Crawford returning to form. That is risky, especially when bringing back the same exact group that ended last year’s disappointing season.
With Kempny, the defense looks better, not great, but for sure better than the current unit. This wasn’t the first time a player has failed to please coach Quenneville, and it won’t be the last. People will argue that Kempny was going to be an unrestricted free agent after this season. That is fair, but if he had been playing and happy in Chicago a two or three-year deal for $4-5 million wouldn’t have been out of the question.
Both Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville need to do a better job of evaluating talent and potential system fits because of the Kempny and Daley situations. They are under a decent amount of pressure this offseason. Owner Rocky Wirtz has made it clear that changes could be made if the Hawks get off to a slow start next season.
Overall, “I think the team will be fine.” But, “if things are off at the beginning of the year, that’s a different story. … Nothing lasts forever.”
Asked if that means changes could occur right after the holiday season if the team is doing poorly, Wirtz had a short answer: “Yes.”
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