Blackhawks Confidential

Barker plays Incredible Shrinking Man, raising Blackhawks' trade rumors

barkercat.jpgI wonder if Blackhawks defenseman Cam Barker has thought to check up on himself in the mirror lately.

Jersey seem too big? Does his image appear smaller? Has his stick become the size of a toothpick? Could his skates be donated to Toys for Tots?

Yep, just as I suspected. Barker has become the Incredible Shrinking Man. I saw the same thing happen in 1957 when Scott Carey was the protagonist in the film that played on our cold-war fear of nuclear holocaust, although as a loyal Three Stooges fan I enjoyed some good-humored violence and a stray ICBM strike to the chops now and then.

A little fear is healthy. Otherwise, there would have been no possible reason to keep us practicing hiding under our desks for that day at St. Mary's when Uncle Joe sent Uncle Sam the red-hot payload and we found after hours of prayer to our Father our kingdoms had come and gone in that mother of all battles.

Let's get back to the film, mousketeers. One minute Scott Carey is boating along in sunny Cal minding his own business and relaxing, waiting for the missus to mix some drinks, and then before you can say "keep your shirt on, Kaner," Scott is contaminated by radioactive pesticides from a passing cloud and shrinking fast.

Sound at all familiar, Cam? It could have been the sushi in Columbus to start the 8-game trip. Because while you were gone, you managed 1 point on an assist, a plus-1 in four of these games and a minus-3 for Vancouver that almost wiped you out, and left you creeping closer to zero hour.

For whom does the bell toll? It tolls for thee, Mr. Barker. Your hour of accountability is at hand with the team returning home for Wednesday night's game against St. Louis. Time to quit making the donut holes on your scoresheet.

Zeroes abound in Barker's game logs, especially in the last two months. He has 14 points this season and three helpful power-play goals, but those scores all came in the opening month of the season.

Barker managed another four points in November, all assists except for his lone goal at even-strength this season on Nov. 11.

Since Dec. 1, Barker has 2 points (both assists) in 22 games and is a plus-4. His ice time has dwindled from a season-high 17:29 to under 11 minutes in four of his last six games.

Out of sight, out of mind. What about him out of town before the March 3 trade deadline?

That could become his eventual fate, since the blue appears in need of a boost, but I have my doubts.

Scott Carey went from 6-foot-1, 190 to 3-feet, 52 pounds and wound up living in a spiffy dollhouse, which unfortunately was not code in those days for a strip joint.

I might have liked that movie better, even at 8 years old. Not to ruin it for you, since I'm sure you'll be running to the store to rent the DVD, but there is a pussycat involved, along with some voracious spiders.

The moral of the story, however, is Scott accepts life in a reduced circumstance and hopes for the best as he sneaks out the basement window as a man who became a mouse that didn't roar. That could apply to Barker, too. Is he already washed up at 23? Time to sneak him through the back door at United Center before he subsides further?

Barker, who began this season at 6-foot-3, 215, has shrunk in significance considerably. He is a big reason why some people think general manager Stan Bowman might actually have to do something with his stacked roster in spite of the team's prominent stature in the standings and its current status as legitimate Stanley Cup hopeful with a strong defense.

Now since most rumors don't occur, dealing in rumors can get you a bad name. Since I already have a bad name, let me point you to Tim Sassone's speculation in the Daily Herald that the Hawks could be angling toward a trade for a defenseman.

He points to Pittsburgh defenseman Jay McKee as a possibility, as well as Carolina's Aaron Ward, Toronto's Garnet Exelby and Los Angeles' Sean O'Donnell. All four have contracts that expire after this season.

But McKee is 32 (a plus-8 with 9 points), Ward 37 (and a minus-16), Exelby 28 (and a minus-5) and O'Donnell 38 (with a plus-13 and 10 points).

Barker won't turn 24 until April 4. Is it too soon to give up on the first-round draft pick from 2004 when he was the third player chosen overall? Does it make sense to bring in what essentially could be rent-a-defenseman to replace Barker?

I doubt Bowman is going to make his first significant move since replacing Dale Tallon one where he gets older rather than younger and stronger. Perhaps, Barker is part of a larger deal I don't know about. But swapping youth for experience is a tricky deal, as well as finding a team willing to take on Barker's salary and give you something good back.

One of Tallon's last moves as GM was signing Barker to a 3-year, $9.25-million extension last summer. Barker was among the five players who didn't have qualifying offers handed to them on time and could have filed a grievance rather than agreed to re-sign.

Barker isn't playing up to that salary so far. Money-wise, he doesn't fit on an expensive roster. In 196 career games with Chicago, he has 17 goals (11 power play), 63 assists and drags around a minus-15. Bad signing? Bad top pick? These points can be argued.

But a salary dump at this point in the season to replace him with an older defenseman who will be little or no help in the future? That makes a bad problem worse.

The fact defensemen Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, Nik Hjalmarsson, and for the most part Brent Sopel, too, have been important assets has largely covered for Barker and his fall from grace.

That can't last forever. He faces a reckoning, if not now, soon.

His age should make Barker a bigger bargaining chip, though, than you might think at first blush. Chances are, Stan stands pat on Barker and waits for his stock to go higher.

And buys time for the Incredible Shrinking Man to either grow up or bring him more in trade? At $3 million per year, Barker is expendable based on his contributions. I don't argue that. The cap needs trimming, just like the federal budget, and it's hard to see how Barker isn't one of the little shavers cut off at some point.

And yet subtracting without addition from a Stanley Cup potential team would be nothing except rash under the circumstances. Unless a radioactive cloud falls on Bowman, I don't envision the guy as the rash type.

He seems more the safety-first type. And that type stays with what's working all the way until it's broke. The Blackhawks, for once, can afford to do nothing.

Sooner or later, that bill will come due on Barker. It would help matters if he began to earn his keep in the meantime.

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18 Comments

Dave Morris said:

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Reverend Kiley, while the quality of fire and brimstone is up to your usual Fighting Irish standards, I believe your metaphor of the Incredible Shrinking Man might be slightly off the mark.

Young Cameron has missed seven of Les Hawques' last twenty games--and been 'day to day' status for an equal number--due to injury. So who knows if the big fella is 100% healthy even at this point?

Hence, his reduced playing time.

And StanBow going d-shopping is nothing if not logical...as you say, there are no Dave Mansons in Rockford. Not even a King Kong Korab.

Of course, you could be right about all of this.

What would your colleague Stan LeCoupe have to say on the subject?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Mike Kiley said:

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Not suppose to play guys who are hurt and can't perform. Seabrook was hurt. He came back and has played well. Hossa was hurt. He came back and has played well. On and on and on it goes. If you want to tell me after the season he was playing on two broken feet and a bloody nose, fine. Otherwise, play and perform when asked. Or what's the point?

SharpKane said:

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I don't know if I would go so far as to say Seabrook has played well since coming back. He hasn't really been on since the boot to the head. Here's to hoping the Olympics snap him out of it.

That said, I don't think it is so much as Barker being 100% healthy as it is what's going on upstairs.

He can see that Hendry filled in nicely in his absence, so maybe it is simply a case of the little Cam that could....he thinks he can....? Confidence on the ice makes all the difference, but it's something I don't think he has ever really had. Third overall can be quite cumbersome, especially when you clearly are not excelling on the score sheet or staying at home.

Dave Morris said:

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Michel, you nailed it. Problem has been Les Hawques don't have enough spare d-men to let Barky Barker heal up. Remember Mad Matt Walker and Able Aaron Johnson?

Mike Kiley said:

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OK, I guess I stumbled into a scoop here if Morris is right. Barker is hurt, bad I guess from the sound of Morris' posts, but they have no one else to play, so they are forcing him to get up from his deathbed and log an ineffective 10, 11 minutes for the cause. Remind me again, is this how Stanley Cup winners do it? I have so little practice at how championship seasons are suppose to go.

Dave Morris said:

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Geez Mike, seeing as you and I are the only ones who remember what a Hawks Stanley Cup team looks like--and you better than me--I will defer to your diagnosis.

Are you buying this round, or is it my turn? th

Tab said:

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My trouble is finding someone to take Barker's $3M price tag. If all of us can see that he sucks, GMs all over the NHL have to see it too, right? Barker's becoming the hot chick in the bar that every guy wants to dance with until they see the nickel-size cold sore on her lower lip: great from a distance, but the reality of the body of work is scary to consider making yours.

Perhaps Barker becomes a pot-sweetening young d-man to go w/ someone like Ladd for a more experienced d-man in an expiring year? I'm looking at Derek Morris in Boston as a fantastic trade candidate, and the Bruins could use Barker's shot as a backup PP QB to Chara. I'm just not sure that Barker's play/contract combo isn't the second worst on the roster to Huet's right now, and could become a bit of an albatross.

SharpKane said:

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Speaking of, he has not been QB'ing the PP for a while now, which was supposed to be his strong suit. That's gotta take him down a notch mentally. Personally, I like him in that role, but I can't even begin to fathom what has happened to our PP this year....just gives me a headache.

Hostile Hawk said:

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Plus,
Hendry came up and did well in his absence. No reason not to keep Barker sidelined until at his full potential while Hendry grows to a good future in the NHL.
The trade rumors might have some truth, if Hendry is taken into account. Whoever is traded might go down, become a backup and Hendry takes Barker's permanent spot. If salary issues are the main concern, then why not?
I would assume that Barker does bounce back from whatever chemicals have brought him to such a small stature, but I'm sure the Hawks don't want to wait for it, especially at such a high cost.

fattybeef said:

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Well how about Sopel being the one being favored to stick around. Who thought that would happen at the start of the year?

And Barker isnt really 6'3. That cant be true.

Mike Kiley said:

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Shame on you, Fatty. Would the Blackhawks lie? Under Honest John McDonough? We await your apology.

fattybeef said:

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I apologize.

Maybe you get smaller when your injured as Morris indicates.

Speaking of J-Mack. What if he/Bow are insisting Barker plays so they can shop him as uninjured to another team. Trade value goes down the tubes if he sits for an extended period. Probably hoping he can get through the next two weeks and then sort it out over the olympic break. I wonder...

Though you said hes an honest guy...

And also I would like to add that there was actually some intelligent hockey discussion on espn1000 between 330-4pm today which was refreshing.

Talking about Davey Bolland coming back aGAINst the most violent team the Hawks play. Should be an interesting game tomorrow. And they did a nice segment on TB which was good stuff as well.

Mike Kiley said:

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Geez, Fatty, I hate it when people do what I ask them to do. I'm switching sides and I'm with you all the way. No way Barker is 6-3. Maybe 3-foot-6. Must have been a Blackhawks typo. Honest mistake.

VegasHawksFan said:

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Most of the time, I am not in favor of rental players, but this year is a different story. A deal where we give up age for experience is probably the only thing that gets it done. At this point, I honestly don't know if it's Barker, or if it's that he is a bad fit for this particular system. I haven't been happy with how he has played lately, but I don't think he is unfit for the NHL. Hopefully there is a GM out that thinks the same way if the Hawks have decided to trade him.

Dave Morris said:

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Nuckle, rental players are like rental cars. They look good and they help you get there, but you always overpay and you gotta give the keys back.

Some smart GM out there loves Callow Cam. And when he gets traded, you can be sure some Hawk fan will whine about how the Hawks let him go too soon.

VegasHawksFan said:

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Well, that's the curse of ex Chicago players. I sometimes think that Barker would do well under a simpler defensive scheme where more of the puck movement is handled by the guys up front.

As for rental cars, I hear you and largely agree. However, when I was in my pennyless 20's, I did rent a convertable to go and visit a friend in Michigan and also paid up one time for a convertable during a trip to Florida. Though I didn't eat out for awhile after either trip, I was glad I paid up for something I could not afford to have all the time.

Jerry Kayne said:

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Barker for draft choices. Discuss.

fattybeef said:

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Depends on how everyone comes back from the olympics. May need 7 servicable d-men to platoon and keep fresh for playoffs. Its not like Barker is terrible. He just skates not fast, costs a lot of dollars and likes to pass the puck to the other team. Good thing he plays with Sopel.

All kidding (mostly) aside I think you unload as few people as possible, especially the ones that play in your blue line unless the deal of a lifetime comes up.

I think we have a bit of the Chicago, omg were not allowed to have an awesome team wtf make some changes before true colors show ftw, syndrome.

Plenty of time to sort out next year. No need to do it this one while they have an opportunity to win some silver.

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