The last two days have been a whirlwind in Chicago sports, from Kyle Schwarber being sent down to Jimmy Butler being traded. It got even crazier today, as the Blackhawks swapped Artemi Panarin for Columbus’ Brandon Saad and dealt Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes. Though these might seem like questionable moves at first, an in-depth look verifies the benefit the Blackhawks get from these trades.
After two amazing seasons with the Blackhawks, Artemi Panarin is already gone. Two years removed from winning the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks, Brandon Saad is already back. Though the trade with the Blue Jackets centers around these two commodities, there was a lot more to it.
In full, Chicago received Saad, goaltender Anton Forsberg, and a 2018 fifth-round pick, while sending away Panarin, center Tyler Motte, and a sixth-round pick in tonight’s draft. Forsberg impressed in the American Hockey League, while Motte could be an effective player for a long time. With Scott Darling gone, that swap makes sense, as the Blackhawks need goalie depth.
Last season, Panarin tallied 31 goals and 43 assists while playing next to his buddy Patrick Kane. Saad, meanwhile, posted 24 goals and 29 assists. Clearly, Stan Bowman has lost his mind and the Blackhawks future is ruined, and the world is going to end. Wrong.
Though Panarin may produce more offensively, there’s a reason his plus/minus in 2016-17 was +18, while Saad’s was +23. Last year, Hawks fans enjoyed Panarin’s innate skillset, which led to a plethora of amazing plays on the offensive end. But the fact remains that his value is bogged down by his mediocre defense.
Defensively, Saad is a far superior hockey player. He finished 27th in Selke Trophy voting this year, which recognizes the NHL’s best two-way players. Saad is one of the best defensive forwards in the game and considering he didn’t register any Selke votes in the first five years of his career, he’s only getting better as time goes on.
Saad also blocked almost twice as many shots as Panarin last year (26 to 14) and turned the puck over significantly less (29 times to Panarin’s 55 giveaways). Let’s also consider that Saad is two inches taller and 36 pounds heavier than Panarin, at 6’1″, 206 pounds. Not known for being a physical team, Bowman likely wanted to regain some of that aspect by upgrading from Panarin’s lighter frame. After all, Saad has averaged .57 hits per game to Panarin’s .43 HPG mark.
Comparing them straight up, it’s probably a close call given the offensive/defensive imbalance. However, Saad brings something else to the table: chemistry with Jonathan Toews. First, it’s clear that Toews and even Patrick Kane never wanted to see Saad depart:
Numerically, Toews’ clamoring for Saad makes even more sense. Remember that plus/minus number I talked about earlier? In the three years Toews played with Saad, usually, with Saad being his left-winger, Toews’ plus/minus was +28, 26, 30. Since then? In 2015-16, it was +16, and last year only +7. The Captain’s point totals? The two seasons before Saad left, they were 68 and 66 points. Since then: 58 and 58.
In 2015-16, Kane enjoyed a career year, tallying 106 points with Panarin as his linemate. Last year, however, his production was about the same as before Panarin arrived in Chicago, and so it’s safe to say that Toews missed Saad more than Kane will miss Panarin.
Finally, Bowman, master of cap space, made this deal because of the contracts of the centerpieces. Both players have an annual cap hit of $6 million, but the Blackhawks might not be able to afford Panarin’s new deal in 2019, while Saad’s deal is continual through 2021. Looking long-term, this trade is very sensible on Bowman’s part.
Speaking of cap space, Hjalmarsson is now an Arizona Coyote. Unarguably due to Hjalmarsson’s $4.1 million cap hit expiring in 2019, the ten-year veteran and three-time Cup winner’s time with the Blackhawks is over. In return, the Blackhawks got the long-term services of Connor Murphy, a potential-filled defenseman locked up through 2021 at $3.85 million per season. They also nabbed 22-year-old d-man Laurent Dauphin, who could provide some defensive depth for years to come if he catches on with the team in 2017-18.
Murphy is a former first-round draft pick, and Dauphin went in the second round in 2013. Needless to say, the Blackhawks got a lot of potential in exchange for Hjalmarsson. Furthermore, Murphy is about as effective offensively as Hjalmarsson, registering 17 points last season to Celly’s 18. The Blackhawks will miss Hjalmarsson’s shot-blocking ability, as Murphy had 62 less last season (119 to Celly’s 181), but Murphy makes up for some of it with his aggressiveness, as he dished out 201 hits to Hjalmarsson’s 23.
In the end, these moves should brighten the Hawks future while keeping them just as competitive next season. The last time Saad played for the Hawks, he hoisted Lord Stanley’s trophy, and Stan Bowman’s wheeling and dealing today has put the franchise in a better place to reclaim that trophy.