Frustrated and angry, Chicago general manager Stan Bowman pledged change in April after what he labeled a “complete failure” when the Blackhawks were swept in the first round by Nashville.
Three Stanley Cups in the seven seasons prior? No matter.
If change was Bowman’s goal, consider Friday mission accomplished.
Bowman shook the Blackhawks to their core, making the biggest splash hours before the first round of the 2017 Entry Draft was to begin in his town, by dealing Stanley Cup stalwart Niklas Hjalmarsson and swapping Calder Trophy winner Artemi Panarin for familiar face Brandon Saad.
And that was just the beginning of the Madness off Madison.
The desert was also the landing spot for Hjalmarsson, where he will be united with fellow Swede and close friend Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the Yotes’ new-look blue line.
Chicago dealt Hjalmarsson, a 30-year-old who logged more than 20 minutes a night through all three Cup runs, to Arizona in exchange for 24-year-old Connor Murphy and forward Laurent Dauphin.
But the bigger splash was in Bowman dealing away the “Bread Man.”
Panarin, the 2016 Rookie of the Year, was traded to Columbus along with Tyler Motteand a sixth-round pick in exchange for Saad, goaltender Anton Forsberg and a 2018 fifth-round pick.
By trading Hjalmarsson and Panarin – who has the eighth-most points (151) in the NHL over the past two seasons – the Blackhawks not only got significantly younger, but Bowman also achieved cost certainty.
Both Panarin and Hjalmarsson were set to become unrestricted free agents in two seasons and would have required mega money – perhaps as much as $10 million per season for Panarin if he kept up his torrid pace – that the Hawks couldn’t have afforded.
Instead, Saad earns the same amount ($6 million) as Panarin, but has four years remaining on his deal. Saad, 24, is also one year younger than Panarin, which seems hard to believe since he was the 2016 Calder winner.
Paying Panarin in two seasons isn’t nearly as much of a concern for Columbus.
Plus, it’s a deal with an impact on Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane that cannot be easily quantified in a transaction. Both Toews and Kane expressed to Bowman how much they missed having Saad in the lineup over the last few months, according to sources.
Saad posted back-to-back 53-point campaigns with the Blue Jackets, where he was dealt for Artem Anisimov after it became clear that Chicago couldn’t afford the $36 million he was due in 2015.
He was an enormous part of two of those Blackhawk sprints to the Stanley Cup, scoring eight goals in that 2015 playoffs, as someone who did a lot of the dirty work for Kane and Toews. Saad is one of strongest forwards in the NHL, a talented player who has an edge to him, which fit one of Bowman’s summer mandates to get tougher to play against.
Bowman had his eye on Murphy, a rising star who flew under the radar in Arizona, for more than a calendar year after first noticing him at the 2016 IIHF World Championship as part of Team USA’s leadership group. He is 24, six years younger than Hjalmarsson, and is signed for the next five seasons at a manageable $3.85 million per year.
The Blackhawks also fulfilled their need for a backup goaltender with Forsberg after trading Scott Darling to become Carolina’s starter.
The Coyotes were also in the mix for a starter and GM John Chayka is hoping Antti Raanta can be for Arizona what fellow Henrik Lundqvist understudy Cam Talbot has been for Edmonton.
Time was of the essence for New York to pull off the deal, considering Stepan’s no-trade clause was set to kick in on July 1. Along with buying out Dan Girardi and the possible retirement of Kevin Klein, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton may have cleared as much as $14.9 million in salary off the books over the past couple weeks, possibly paving the way for a Free Agent Frenzy.
But that’s next week. For now, there was enough activity before noon on Friday, with plenty more time in the day for fireworks before Nico or Nolan’s name is called in Chicago.