The salary cap strapped Chicago Blackhawks are still licking their wounds from being whitewashed by the Nashville Predators in last year’s first round of the playoffs.
Connor Murphy (D)
The former Arizona Coyotes defenseman was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in the big deal which sent ten-year veteran, three-time Cup winning defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona. Murphy, 24 is a four-year NHL player with good size at 6’4″, 212lbs, who may be developing into a quality defenseman. He will be on a much better team, and that should allow his career +/- of -30 to improve.
The motivation for the trade could be the Blackhawks need to get younger, and Murphy is six years younger than Hjalmarsson. The Boston-born defenseman still has five years remaining on his six-year $23.1 million contract. With Duncan Keith (32), Brent Seabrook (34), and Michal Rozsival (38) still on the Chicago blueline, Murphy will instill a much-needed fountain of youth.
Laurent Dauphin (C)
Laurent Dauphin was included in the Hjalmarsson trade, and at 22-years-old will also bring more youth to the Chicago team. He only has 32 NHL games on his resume but is a good penalty killer and a fourth-line type of center. Dauphin had 17 goals, 11 assists in 38 AHL games playing for the Arizona’s affiliate Tucson Roadrunners last season.
Brandon Saad (LW)
Brandon Saad is no stranger to Blackhawks fans as he returns to the Windy City where he played three full NHL seasons dating back to 2012/13. He scored 52 goals in those three seasons and giving up Artemi Panarin who had 61 goals in just two seasons may have been a mistake.
Saad still has four years remaining on his six-year $36 million contract whereas, Panarin has only two years remaining. Saad will join captain, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik on a first-line, which should have some firepower.
The Chicago Blackhawks’ moves are dictated by their salary cap restrictions. Panarin would have been asking for a much larger salary after his contract expired and the Hawks just can’t do that. Columbus has $13 million left of salary cap space and going forward are projected to have $30 million for the 2018/19 season.
They can afford to give Panarin a huge increase he will likely demand if his play continues to crest upward.
Anton Forsberg (G)
Coming along in the trade for Panarin was the young 24-year-old netminder Anton Forsberg from Sweden. He has limited NHL experience with just ten games under his belt, but with Corey Crawford turning 33 by year’s end Chicago need to start thinking down the road. With former backup Scott Darling being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes for a third round pick, Forsberg will be Crawford’s backup.
Again salary cap limitations were involved in Darling heading to Carolina. He had a four-year $16.6 million contract through the 2020/21 season, and Forsberg comes in at a paltry $600,000 for his contract expiring after this upcoming season.
Patrick Sharp (LW)
Another returning former Blackhawk will be Patrick Sharp, who at 35 may not have much gas in his tank. He was with the Blackhawks for ten seasons accumulating 511 points in 679 games. The question is can he really help an aging club at this point in his career? After having hip surgery last March, he claims he is ready to come back at full strength.
Artemi Panarin (LW)
Losing a player like Panarin will hurt the Chicago Blackhawks, but they are hoping Saad will fill the void left by him. Losing his 0.90 points per game may be hard to swallow, but again blame the Blackhawks for giving two players $21 million gobbling up much of the salary cap.
There is no doubt that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are exceptional players, but giving them 28% of your allowable salary may eventually (and it could be this season) put salt in the wound.
Niklas Hjalmarsson (D)
This move was really questioned, along with the Panarin trade by Chicago’s head coach Joel Quenneville. Hjalmarsson has been a permanent fixture on the blueline for the Hawks since the 2009/10 campaign. He is just 30-years-old and will fit nicely with the Arizona Coyotes All-Star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Both are natives of Sweden, and losing Hjalmarsson may bite the Chicago aging defense worse than they think.
Tyler Motte (LW)
Going to Columbus along with Panarin was Tyler Motte, who is just 22-years-old. He has only appeared in 33 NHL games with four goals, three assists to his credit.
Trevor van Riemsdyk (D)
The Vegas Golden Knights grabbed the 26-year-old defenseman when Chicago left him unprotected in the expansion draft. He had just 38 points in 158 games with the Blackhawks, but again another youthful defenseman was lost.
Marian Hossa (RW)
Losing Marian Hossa may be a loss, which the team can’t endure. He has already stated he will miss the entire season due to a severe skin disorder, which could end his NHL career. His 26 goals, 19 assists last season will be a difficult void to fill.
Moving on up
Alex DeBrincat (LW/RW)
One of the most exciting young prospects in the Chicago Blackhawks’ system has to be Alex DeBrincat. Averaging 109 points, including 55 goals over the past three seasons with the OHL’s Erie Otters, he should get a look by the Chicago team. He is a small player at just 5’7″, 165lbs, but is a pure sniper who is elusive and has some tenacity to his game.
John Hayden (LW)
At 6’3″, 223lbs the Blackhawks want to see what Hayden can do in the NHL. He had four points in 12 games with the Hawks last season, and with his size as an advantage, he may find a spot on the roster.
What can the Blackhawks achieve this season?
With the two major trades, this will be a different team this season.
Whether they will be an improved team is yet to be determined. Major trades have a way either paying off big or decreasing your team’s success down the road. One thing the Blackhawks may have achieved marginally is to take the stranglehold off of them in the salary cap department. They still remain $34,795 over the cap limit.
Next season some relief may begin to show, with the team showing just under $10 million below the cap limit. Another factor would be what happens to the Hossa contract, which still has four years remaining on it at $5.275 million a year.
If Hossa were to officially retire, the Blackhawks would be charged with cap recapture penalties on Hossa’s front-loaded contract that he signed in 2009. This would put additional pressure on the franchise’s salary cap parameters.
But if Hossa were to agree to be placed on long-term injury reserve each season until that deal expires, his cost wouldn’t count against the salary cap. That move would ease the unrelenting financial pressure on management to meet cap limitations and impact future player movement decisions.
The pressing question is with all the player movement this offseason; will this team have the normal cohesiveness needed to get past the first round of the playoffs?
The Chicago Blackhawks finished first in their division and conference last season accumulating 109 points. It is doubtful they will match or exceed that total this season. They could win their division again, but the Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, and Nashville Predators will provide them all the competition they can handle.
Don’t think for one second that the Predators who destroyed the Blackhawks in four straight in the first round of the playoffs are going to be any easier for the Blackhawks to overcome. For that reason, the Chicago club will finish third in the Central Division this time around. In the ever-tough Western Conference, they will fall to fifth.
They were only separated from their first place finish last season by ten points from the fifth and sixth placed Blues and San Jose Sharks.
They gave up too much to stay under the salary cap, and with a team like the Edmonton Oilers quickly surging upward, the reign of the Chicago Blackhawks as an elite team may be coming to an end.
That’s what happens when you pay two star players 28% of your payroll.
Still, they will be in the playoffs again, and shouldn’t get a first-round exit pass this time.
They will lose in the second round this time.
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