CHICAGO — Two days after they were swept by the Nashville Predators, general manager Stan Bowman bubbled and boiled and promised change, above all, to the Chicago Blackhawks.
That change came in loud fashion Friday morning just before the start of draft weekend in Chicago with the Blackhawks dealing 2016 Calder trophy winner Artemi Panarin to Columbus in a package that brings back Brandon Saad. The Hawks also dealt Niklas Hjalmarsson, a key piece on three Stanley Cup winning squads to Arizona as trades continued to overshadow draft weekend.
Trading season has truly taken over the NHL.
After adding Hjalmarsson, the Coyotes also picked up long-time New York Rangers centre Derek Stepan and potential starting netminder Antti Raanta. Arizona has been busy under Andrew Barroway — who became the club’s sole owner earlier this month — dealing No. 1 goalie Mike Smith to Calgary last week while parting ways with well-regarded head coach Dave Tippett on Thursday night.
At Friday night’s draft, the Philadelphia Flyers shipped forward Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues for forward Jori Lehtera, the No. 27 pick (centre Morgan Frost), and a conditional pick in the 2018 draft.
The Blues made another deal, sending forward Ryan Reaves and the 51st pick in this year’s draft to the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 31st pick (forward Klim Kostin) in 2017 and forward Oskar Sundqvist.
The Edmonton Oilers, meanwhile, finally traded scoring winger Jordan Eberle to New York for Ryan Strome and extra cap space for looming contracts to Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. The Las Vegas Golden Knights completed 10 deals at the expansion draft and then sent Trevor van Riemsdyk to Carolina and David Schlemko to Montreal.
The Canadiens had only recently dealt defenceman Nathan Beaulieu to Buffalo themselves while scooping up promising young Jonathan Drouin from Tampa.
The Blackhawks, to this point at least, have commanded the spotlight with their dramatic roster shake-up.
Bowman didn’t hide his disappointment, anger and frustration when he spoke after Chicago was eliminated in the first round for the second straight spring.
“It’s a complete failure when you measure it against the expectations that we have of ourselves,” Bowman said. ”We did not come even close to reaching the standard that we’ve set over the years here and that’s unacceptable.”
He added: “There will be change moving forward.”
Beyond Friday’s moves were the firing of assistant coach Mike Kitchen and trade of backup goaltender (and impending restricted free agent) Scott Darling.
The Blackhawks netted youngish defenceman Connor Murphy in the swap that sent Hjalmarsson out and also scooped up Darling’s likely replacement, Anton Forsberg, in the Panarin deal.
Rarely do teams trade stars in peak form like Panarin, the 25-year-old who was named the NHL’s top rookie two seasons ago after a 30-goal, 77-point debut. A free-agent signing out of Russia, Panarin added another 31 goals and 74 points this past season, a dangerous running mate to 2016 Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane.
Panarin was due to be a restricted free agent this summer, but signed a bargain two-year deal worth US$12 million in December. Looming down the line though for Chicago was a pricey contract in 2019 when the Russian was eligible for unrestricted free agency.
Cap space continues to be at a premium for the Hawks with Kane and a number of other core players locked up long-term. Among that group is Marian Hossa, whose career may have to come to an end earlier this week because of a skin disorder.
Replacing Panarin with Saad eases some of those concerns down the line. The 24-year-old Saad, who was part of Cup-winning squads in 2013 and 2015 — carries the same $6 million annual cap hit as Panarin, but has four more years left instead of two.
Saad was traded to Columbus following the Hawks’ third Cup in six seasons. He’s remained a highly effective presence who put up 50 even-strength points last year with superb puck possession numbers. He’s nowhere near Panarin’s equal in terms of skill or offensive upside, but does offer the Blackhawks a familiar winger for captain Jonathan Toews, who struggled in the first half last season.
Chicago will try to replace Hjalmarsson, a sneaky piece on defence, with Murphy, who’s six years younger with contractual control ($3.85 million cap hit) for five more seasons.
It’s clear from their moves that the Coyotes will try to improve on five straight seasons without playoffs, though the additions of Hjalmarsson, Stepan and Raanta hardly move the needle much — the latter costing the club the seventh overall pick on Friday.
“We are thrilled to acquire Derek,” Arizona GM John Chayka said in a statement. “Our organization has been searching for a true number one centre for over a decade and we are confident that he can be that for us.”
The Blackhawks also picked up depth forward Laurent Dauphin in the deal with Arizona while sending out Tyler Motte in the trade with Columbus, which also saw the two teams swap picks.