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NHL Trade Targets: Two proposals for Blackhawks defenceman Jake McCabe

Leaning on insight from Jason Bukala, our in-house expert with years of NHL front office and scouting experience, Sportsnet will take a closer look at a number of prime trade candidates between now and the March 3 trade deadline.

Get excited, it’s time to discuss trade possibilities around a U.S.-born Chicago Blackhawks player who once captained Team USA at the World Junior Championship and has ties to Buffalo: Yes, Jake McCabe could be a perfect deadline pickup for a contending team.

OK, so the 29-year-old defenceman obviously doesn’t create quite the same buzz that Patrick Kane (or Jonathan Toews, for that matter) does, but don’t think for a second clubs won’t be taking a hard look at a reliable blueliner who has two full years of team control left after this season.

As mentioned, McCabe wore the ‘C’ for the American team that won gold at the 2013 World Junior Championship, and he also won U-17 and U-18 golds on the world stage leading up to that. The winning stopped in a hurry, though, when he debuted with Kane’s hometown Buffalo Sabres after the squad made him a second-round pick in 2012.

McCabe came to the Blackhawks as a free agent before the start of last season — signed by previous GM Stan Bowman rather than the current boss, Kyle Davidson — meaning he really has toiled on some bad outfits for most of his career. If he plays in the 2023 post-season, it will mark the first playoff action of the Wisconsin boy’s NHL career.

Despite his surroundings, dig into McCabe’s advanced five-on-five stats and you’ll find they were always decent (especially relative to teammates) in Buffalo and after a rough season last year, McCabe has the best expected goals percentage (44.9) of anyone on the Hawks who’s played 500 five-on-five minutes this season.

He’s not going to wow anybody, but he can play steady hockey on a good team’s third pair or maybe even second in a pinch. And, of course, a team knows it’s getting this guy for three playoff runs. If Chicago would be willing to retain money on his $4-million annual cap hit, then clubs would be even more inclined to pony up for a plug-and-play defenceman who battled injuries during his time with the Sabres, but has been healthy and dependable since landing in the Windy City nearly two years ago.

Bukala’s Analysis

McCabe will be in high demand if Chicago decides to move him. He’s signed through 2024-25 and carries a cap hit of ($4.0 million).

What I like about McCabe’s game:

• Sound skater – efficiently defends against speed-rush.
• Gets in shooting lanes – his 98 shot blocks are second on the Hawks.
• Spatial awareness on the PK – head-on-a-swivel surveying and anticipating.
• Has some bump to his game – he’s second on the Hawks with 100 hits.
• Minute-muncher – has been averaging 19 minutes per game, all at even strength and PK.
• Contributes secondary offense on occasion.

What concerns me about McCabe’s game:

• His defensive routes don’t cut off lanes to the crease or along the boards behind his net at times. But it’s a fast game and he isn’t the only NHL defender who struggles with those details at times.
• I would prefer a simpler approach with the puck, especially if he’s traded to a contending team that needs him to be responsible only on the defensive side and launch the attack with a chip out of his zone or accurate tape-to-tape outlet. He’s not high-risk, but there are times he does find himself on the wrong side of the play in the neutral zone.

Cost to acquire:

• It’s safe to assume a contending team is going to have to give up a first-round pick (plus) to acquire McCabe.
• If Chicago agrees to retain 50 per cent of his salary (bringing his cap hit down to $2 million), it will cost the team acquiring McCabe another mid-round pick – very likely a third.

Why such a high price? 

Because that’s what the market will ask for and, historically, teams have been willing to overpay. 

(For example, at the 2022 trade deadline, Tampa Bay traded two first-round picks, Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk in exchange for Brandon Hagel and two fourth-round selections.)

Potential Deals 

Toronto Maple Leafs Get: Jake McCabe ($4.0M through 2024-25)

Blackhawks Get: 2023 1st, 2025 3rd, Alex Kerfoot ($3.5M) 

Trade Notes 

The first- and third-round picks are part of the cost associated with acquiring McCabe and the term remaining on his contract.  

Kerfoot is a pending UFA, but he has a 10-team no-trade list, so he would have to agree to being moved to the Hawks.  

Chicago doesn’t retain any salary in the trade. Toronto spends $500,000 of its deadline cap in the transaction.  

Carolina Hurricanes Get: Jake McCabe ($4.0M through 2024-25)

Blackhawks Get: 2023 1st, 2024 3rd  

Trade Notes 

This is a simple scenario: The Hurricanes have plenty of cap space to work with at the deadline and can afford to add McCabe for the picks.  

Carolina has Dylan Coghlin and Jalen Chatfield on its NHL roster as Nos. 6 and 7 defencemen. Calvin DeHaan is the Canes’ No. 5 D-man. McCabe would take stress off their top-four group — Jaccob Slavin, Brent Burns, Brady Skjei, Brett Pesce — and plays with the kind of pace the Hurricanes value as a team. 


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