The Chicago Blackhawks appear to be signaling they are going to be sellers ahead of this year's NHL trade deadline. If they do start unloading players, Erik Gustafsson is one of those who has been the subject of several trade rumors. On Friday night, the defenseman sat out warmups and the game against the Nashville Predators.
The Athletic's Scott Powers was the first to see Gustafsson wasn't on the ice as the Blackhawks started getting ready for the contest and tweeted out what he'd noticed. While Powers didn't read into anything other than that, there were plenty of followers on the social media site who were more than happy to start talk about a "hug watch."
Most thought an announcement from Chicago was incoming, but it turns out a deal hasn't been made just yet. Instead, the Hawks reportedly deactivated Gustafsson in order to make sure he stays healthy ahead of the trade deadline. Another writer for The Athletic, Pierre LeBrun, posted on Twitter the explanation as his sources explained it to him.
"Gustafsson has not been traded at this point. But this is a precautionary move because he may be dealt before Monday's deadline."
NBC Sports indicates there are going to be several NHL teams that come calling because Gustafsson isn't a traditional defenseman. While he isn't as solid defensively as some others at his position, he provides better offense from the blue line than most. The site pointed out the Vegas Golden Knights, Carolina Hurricanes, Colorado Avalanche, and Vancouver Canucks could all come calling before Monday afternoon's trade deadline.
Still relatively young, Gustafsson is a player a contending team with some decent cap space could trade for and then extend. It's thought the Chicago Blackhawks aren't going to want to pay the raise he's expected to get from his current $1.2 million contract. The fact that his offense has come back to earth after a breakout 2018-19 season plays into that decision.
While Erik Gustafsson is nowhere near the 17 goals and 60 points he had a season ago, his six goals and 26 points are still quite impressive when talking about the kind of scoring done by most defensemen. He and goalie Robin Lehner have been mentioned by more than one outlet as the top trade targets on the Chicago Blackhawks, and it appears the team is preparing as though he will be gone soon.