Latest on Steven Stamkos and Nikita Nikitin, plus speculation over what moves (if any) the Blackhawks might make before the Feb. 29 trade deadline. 

Concern over Stamkos’ performance.

The decline in Steven Stamkos' production this season has raised eyebrows.

The decline in Steven Stamkos’ production this season has raised eyebrows.

ESPN.COM: Shane O’Donnell believes determining if Steven Stamkos’ below-average production this season is merely a short-term thing or a long-term issue for Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, as well as any GM interested in pursuing the Bolts captain at the trade deadline or via free agency in July. Possible factors include Stamkos perhaps passing more, or the absence of former linemate Martin St. Louis, along with the broken leg he suffered two seasons ago and the impact Lightning coach Jon Cooper is having upon Stamkos’ game. Given the high cost of signing Stamkos after this season (potentially a long-term deal worth over $10 million annually), O’Donnell cautions GMs to use due diligence.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Granted, this isn’t a rumor or speculation regarding Stamkos’ trade or contract status. Given the conjecture surrounding the Lightning captain this season, I felt it was worth noting. I’m not buying the theory that his broken leg suffered in 2013 affected his play. He netted 43 goals last season, which was second-highest among NHL scorers in 2014-15. Other issues noted by O’Donnell seem to be a work here. Maybe Stamkos’ performance will improve if he played for a different coach or with better linemates.

Can the Blackhawks address roster holes via trade?

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Steve Rosenbloom recently wondered when the Blackhawks will make moves to address their need for a consistent top-six forward and top-four defenseman. He feels that’s what they need if they hope to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. He notes the offseason loss of key players like Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya has taken a toll. Rosenbloom also suggests salary cap limitations could force GM Stan Bowman into choosing which of his club’s roster holes to address, but it could also involve “the kind of overpayment of a top prospect that the Sharp deal required. Maybe more.” The “more” could include young players like forward Teuvo Teravainen or defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Considering the ‘Hawks are defending champions, I think Bowman will be patient and won’t give up too much of his future for a quick fix today. It’s not as though the Blackhawks’ window to win another championship is closing anytime soon. Their core talent (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford) are still in their playing prime and under long-term deals. Artem Anisimov has turned into a solid pickup, while offseason signing Artemi Panarin has tremendous chemistry with Kane. Teravainen and van Riemsdyk are promising players, as is Marko Dano, who was acquired with Anisimov from Columbus in last summer’s Brandon Saad deal.

Despite cap limitations, Bowman managed to swap Trevor Daley for Rob Scuderi last month, though that was more of a salary dump than an improvement to the blueline. Perhaps he’ll find a decent deal or two near the trade deadline, but I’ll be very surprised if it involves one of his promising kids for a short-term return. Better options could be found in the offseason, when Bowman has a little more cap space to work with and when better trade options can be found, might be the best way to go. 

Latest on Nikita Nikitin.

EDMONTON JOURNAL: Jim Matheson reports Oilers defenseman Nikita Nikitin is heading back to the club’s AHL affiliate in Bakersfield, meaning it’s probably the last time we’ll see him skating with the Oilers. Matheson claimed they hopes a rival club would see enough of Nikitin to trade for him but there weren’t any takers. Matheson believes the Oilers will try to move Nikitin at the Feb. 29 trade deadline, when he has less money remaining on his contract for this season.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Several weeks ago, there was some media chatter claiming “several teams” had interest in Nikitin. Evidently, they didn’t like what they saw. Nikitin’s $4.5 million salary was probably a sticking point, especially if the Oilers weren’t willing to pick up a portion of it.