If you haven’t heard the news, Chicago Blackhawks supporters, you may want to sit down.
Let’s start with the blockbuster. In a trade no one could have seen coming, the Blackhawks shipped winger Artemi Panarin, the Calder Trophy winner in 2015-16, along with Tyler Motte and a sixth-round pick in Friday’s draft to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for former Blackhawk Brandon Saad, goaltender Anton Forsberg and a 2018 fifth-round pick.
The deal is a jaw-dropper for a number of reasons, not least of all the fact that Panarin is one of the league’s top scorers over the past two seasons and quite possibly the most brilliant free agent signing Chicago GM Stan Bowman has made during his tenure with the Blackhawks. Panarin found instant chemistry in Chicago with Patrick Kane and the duo was one of the most dynamic in the league, leading Panarin to 61 goals and 151 points in 162 games over the past two campaigns.
Panarin landing in Columbus gives the Blue Jackets a bonafide goal-scoring winger who can put up points in bunches, and he can be an instant fit on the top line. In addition, Panarin brings a cannon of a shot that can make him a weapon on the power play for the Blue Jackets. His 17 power play goals over the past two campaigns is tied for the 23rd-most among all players over the past two seasons.
Adding Motte to the package also gives the Blue Jackets a promising forward prospect, one who was ranked highly in the Blackhawks’ system and chipped in four goals and seven points in 33 games in 2016-17.
As for the Blackhawks, the swap brings back a familiar face in Saad. The 24-year-old was part of a pair of Stanley Cups in Chicago and a regular linemate of Jonathan Toews during his time as a Blackhawk, and that could be exactly where Saad is set to fit in again. With the loss of Marian Hossa, it also gives Chicago a defensively responsible winger who can play alongside Toews, and Saad isn’t a slouch offensively. He has posted 55 goals and 106 points in 160 games over the past two seasons.
The addition of Anton Forsberg also brings a goaltending prospect to Chicago, something the Blackhawks were considerably light on, especially after the trade of Scott Darling earlier this off-season. Forsberg’s numbers in the NHL aren’t sparkling — he has a .879 save percentage and 4.02 goals-against average in 10 games — but he’s performed well at the AHL level and the hope likely is that his minor league game can start to translate to the NHL.
That wasn’t Bowman’s only move, however. A mere 20 minutes before the blockbuster, the Blackhawks roster was shook up even further with the move of defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes. The return for Chicago was rearguard Connor Murphy and center Laurent Dauphin.
It has long been rumored that Chicago would be forced to move Hjalmarsson at some point as the 30-year-old neared free agency and was set for a bigger contract, and Friday’s move saw the deal come to fruition. The loss could really hurt the Blackhawks this coming season, however. While Murphy, 24, is more than capable defensively, Hjalmarsson has grown to become a legitimate top-pairing defender in Chicago, capable of taking on big minutes against top competition and producing great results. Relied upon as a pure shutdown defender, Hjalmarsson was paired for long stretches with Duncan Keith this past season and was the first defenseman over the boards on the penalty kill.
In Arizona, Hjalmarsson is almost guaranteed to take on top-pairing minutes and be the veteran cornerstone for a growing blueline alongside Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski. Hjalmarsson won’t produce much offensively, as it has never been his forte, but he’s a defender who can give some stability for the more offensive-minded rearguards the Coyotes boast.
As noted by both TSN’s Bob McKenzie and Pierre LeBrun, both moves — the Panarin-Saad and Hjalmarsson-Murphy deals — were made with cost certainty in mind for the Blackhawks, because the cap savings were negligible. Chicago lost a $6 million contract in Panarin, but took one back in Saad, and Hjalmarsson’s $4.1-million contract is only slightly more pricy than the $3.85-million deal Murphy is inked to. That’s not to mention the throw-in of Dauphin potentially adds another $754,000 to the mix for Chicago.
That said, what the deal does give Bowman and Co. are two players in Saad and Murphy who are under contract for four and five more seasons, respectively. The feeling, McKenzie reported, was that the Blackhawks were set to lose both Panarin and Hjalmarsson as free agents in two years’ time.
COYOTES MAKE SECOND SPLASH
Arizona wasn’t done dealing with the acquisition of Hjalmarsson, as they made a second major deal on Friday. After rumors had swirled about the potential for the Coyotes to land Derek Stepan from the New York Rangers, Arizona made the move official — adding goaltender Antti Raanta, in addition — by shipping 21-year-old defender Anthony DeAngelo to Broadway, along with the seventh-overall pick in Friday’s draft.
Scooping up Stepan is a big get for the Coyotes, who looked as though they were going to be in tough to produce any offense this coming season without a big acquisition. Stepan comes into town as the Coyotes’ highest paid player, earning $6.5 million per season, but he has the ability to center the top line next season and lead the way offensively. Stepan has been a consistent 50-point player for the Rangers over the past four seasons, scoring 72 goals and 220 points over his past 303 games, and he could be the perfect fit to skate alongside Max Domi next season.
Adding Raanta can’t be overlooked, either. One of the most intriguing backup netminders available to be picked up this off-season, Raanta was a wall for the Rangers when he was called upon in 2016-17, turning in some of the best numbers of his brief NHL career and doing so on a deal that carried tremendous value. That’s no doubt the bonus here for the Coyotes, too: by acquiring Raanta, Arizona could have found their No. 1 goaltender for just $1 million this coming campaign.
When it comes to the Rangers’ return, DeAngelo turned some heads this past season during his half-season in Arizona. His offensive ability is his calling card, and he put that on display for the Coyotes. In 39 games, he scored five goals and 14 points, and DeAngelo has the ability to be a solid point producer from the back end as he develops in New York. As for the seventh-overall pick, the Rangers now shoot up the draft and hold the seventh and 21st picks in Friday’s first round. For a team that had the 29th-rated prospect pool as determined by a panel of scouts in THN’s Future Watch 2017, adding more top-tier talent to the scarcely stocked cupboards was a necessity for future success.
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