Within minutes this morning, the shape of the Blackhawks roster changed drastically. Stan Bowman traded two foundational pieces of the Blackhawks’ roster in Artemi Panarin and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Panarin has been one of Chicago’s best players from the moment he arrived from Russia two seasons ago. Hjalmarsson has been a key member of all three Chicago Stanley Cup wins in the last decade. It goes without saying that this is absolutely massive, and Stan likely is not yet done.
The First Trade
Hjalmarsson is an absolutely fantastic player. He is one of the very best defensemen in the league at suppressing shots. A lot of times when people describe someone as a “defensive defenseman” these days, it is not exactly good news. Usually those types of players are slow and less-than-competent with the puck. However, Hjalmarsson is the rare player that is in fact a “defensive defenseman”, and is actually good. Other teams simply do not get shots and scoring chances when he is on the ice, and he can also make a nice pass out of his own end.
The Blackhawks have used Hjalmarsson against the very best players the opponent has to offer. He has been their “shutdown” guy forever, and they do not really have that now. He is also on a really nice contract, making $4.1 million each of the next two years. Tyler Dellow (@dellowhockey) has developed a stat he calls “star percentage” in order to measure the quality of competition a player faces. Essentially, it measures the amount of time a defensive pair plays against the opponent’s “stars” when they are on the ice. Here is Hjalmarsson:
Meanwhile, here is Connor Murphy:
Murphy spent a pretty hefty amount of his time last year in a pretty sheltered role, especially when he was playing with Chychrun. When playing with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Murphy dragged OEL’s numbers down. While they are still fairly decent as a pair compared to the rest of Arizona, OEL is significantly better when away from Murphy.
Murphy’s contract is also not the best. He is making $3.85 million for the next FIVE seasons. Murphy has shown nothing in his career to provide hope that he is anything more than a third pairing defenseman, and that is a steep price to be paying for a third pairing guy. While he is a good deal younger than Hjalmarsson, Chicago significantly downgrades here.
Laurent Dauphin is a winger who was formerly held in pretty high regard as a prospect, but has not shown much at the NHL level. He has a cannon for a shot, but it seems like that’s about it. He will not make much of an impact with the Blackhawks next season, or in the future.
While Bowman does gain a little bit of stability long term, that is not worth it here. Sure, Murphy is young and is signed long-term, but it does not really seem like that contract is worth it. Hjalmarsson likely would have been gone in two years, when he would look for a significant raise. However, the ‘Hawks window is in the here and now, and giving up your second-best defenseman for pennies on the dollar is not a good move. If they had gotten a return centered around prospects or picks, then it is understandable. They could look to reload for the future, and open up some cap space. This, however, makes the team worse now, and does not really provide any opportunity for improvement in the future.
The Second Trade
While trade number one is a huge deal with a member of the ‘Hawks core being dealt, number two is an absolute bombshell.
So full deal: Panarin, Motte and 6th Rd pick this year to Columbus for Saad, Forsberg and 5th Rd pick 2018
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 23, 2017
Bringing Brandon Saad back is awesome. Saad formed one of the best lines in Chicago’s last decade with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. It could be argued Toews played some of the best hockey of his career with Saad on his left. From that perspective, this is a great move. Saad also provides a little bit of what Chicago will be missing without Marian Hossa going forward. He is a great two-way player with really good 5v5 scoring ability. Hopefully, this elevates Toews back to the elite level he is capable of.
The loss of Artemi Panarin, however, is a humongous one. There is an argument that Panarin was Chicago’s best forward last season, maybe even their best player, and there is no replacing the skill he brings to the table. Here is a chart from Micah Blake McCurdy illustrating just how good Panarin has been the last two years:
Now, there is a chance that Panarin was propped up significantly by his linemates Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. It is likely though that Panarin is one of the most skilled players in the league, and that he will be missed in Chicago.
The money aspect of this trade is significantly better than the money on the other one, however. Saad and Panarin are each making $6 million dollars, though Saad is signed for four years, while Panarin is only locked up for two. Once Panarin’s deal expires, he will likely be seeking upwards of $8 million per season, which Chicago simply cannot afford. While Panarin is likely a better player, the talent gap is not overly significant.
Acquiring Anton Forsberg and sending Tyler Motte to Columbus seems fairly even in terms of value, and makes sense for Chicago needs-wise. They needed a backup goalie, and Forsberg has been successful in limited NHL action, as well as at the AHL level with Cleveland. He backstopped Columbus’ affiliate to a Calder Cup two seasons ago, and he will be a nice addition between the pipes. Motte is a nice forward prospect, but he was behind a number of other young players in Chicago’s winger hierarchy. Losing him is not too significant of a loss. All in all, Stan Bowman and co. were fairly successful in this move.
More Trades Coming?
It has long been rumored that Marcus Kruger would be headed out of Chicago this summer. That will happen. It is likely it has not yet at this point because Kruger has a $2 million-dollar bonus due to be paid on July 1st, and once that is paid, other teams may be more willing to make a move for the shutdown center. What a Kruger deal will look like is unknown, but do not expect the Hawks to get anything significant back.
With most of the draft taking place Saturday, the ‘Hawks may not be finished trading. Stay tuned here for more Blackhawks offseason moves.
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