As we neared the 2017 NHL Entry Draft the Chicago Blackhawks appeared poised to rebuild their farm system and potentially make some moves to alleviate some pressure that the salary cap was putting on their team. Many believed that there was a deal in place with the Vegas Golden Knights in which center, Marcus Kruger, would be moved for a draft pick of one of their surplus defensemen; acquired from the expansion draft. However this deal was believed to be put on hold, according to Scott Powers of The Athletic, because of a roster bonus due to Kruger on July 1st. With this detail being brought up after the expansion draft, it appeared as though the draft might be a quiet one for the Blackhawks. However Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman had different plans.
In a surprising move the Blackhawks traded 3 time Stanley Cup champion defenseman, Niklas Hjalmarsson, to the Arizona Coyotes for 24 year old defenseman, Connor Murphy, and 22 year old forward, Laurent Dauphin. After first hearing about the move it was initiallythought to be a salary cap dump on the Blackhawks part, but looking at the cap numbers of Murphy and Dauphin the cap savings were minimal. In fact, if both players did make the roster it would actually have the ‘Hawks take on more salary than they were sending out on Hjalmarsson. This move, similar to the one that we will go over in a moment, appears to have an eye on the future; Murphy 6 years younger than Hjalmarsson, signed to a deal will longer term than Hjalmarsson, and at a lower cap hit. Although not the same player as Hjalmarsson, GM Stan Bowman sees Murphy as a player entering his prime and as someone who he is hoping is ready to take that next step in his career. Dauphin who many viewed as a bit of a throw-in with this deal appears to possibly have a shot at making the club in the fall in a bottom six capacity.
We had thought that the day could not get any crazier until Elliot Friedman of HNIC tweeted that it appeared as though the Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets had a deal in place that would send Artemi Panarin to the Jackets for former Blackhawk forward Brandon Saad. This was a deal that caught the entire hockey world by storm as no one was expecting it and it was seen as a bit of a reaction to the departure of Marian Hossa, as well as the uncertainty of being able to afford Panarin at the end of his bridge deal. The loss of Panarin will certainly hurt the Blackhawks top offensive line that included Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, but this move finally gives Jonathan Toews the left wing that they have been looking for since the departure of Saad. This move appears to evenly distribute the power on the top two lines with a likely top line of Saad, Toews and Richard Panik and a projected secondary line of Nick Schmaltz, Anisimov and Kane. The response of this trade was quite divisive in that reaction on Twitter from ‘Hawks fans was resoundingly positive where national reaction was a bit more hesitant on the trade from the Blackhawks’ prospective
The hesitance comes from the Blackhawks giving up a top ten scorer for a player, who has an offensive touch to his game, but not the dynamic offensive player that Panarin is. Aside from the main components from this deal the ‘Hawks also sent forward Tyler Motte, plus a 6th round pick for goaltender Anton Forsberg and a 2018 5th round pick. Motte came into the 2016 season with a lot a fanfare after an impressive junior season at the University of Michigan, but injuries and lack of professional experience were his downfall. If he can stay healthy and take a season or two to gain experience in the AHL it could turn into a nice complementary piece for Columbus. For the ‘Hawks this trade also fills a need for goal-tending depth, and with the addition of Forsberg the ‘Hawks feel like they have found their back up net minder for the upcoming season.
Now that the draft has passed and free agent frenzy is upon us, it appears as though the ‘Hawks are trying to reshape their roster for the future as well as icing a team that is harder to play against with speed and strength. Are the Blackhawks a better team now that they were at the end of the season? I would say they are more balanced up front but lack experience on the back end which is a bit concerning. With the moves made you would imagine there are more moves that Stan Bowman envisions to get this team back to the Stanley Cup finals and not the first round exit team that we have seen the last two seasons.