Stan Bowman promised change this offseason and he delivered a lot of it on Friday when he completed two blockbuster trades to significantly alter the makeup of his core.
After sending Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for defensemen Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin, the Blackhawks quickly followed that up by re-acquiring Brandon Saad from the Columbus Blue Jackets in a deal centered around Artemi Panarin.
In the short-term the trades don’t do much to help the Blackhawks’ salary cap situation. Saad and Panarin have matching $6 million cap hits for this season, while Murphy offers them just a couple hundred thousand in cap savings in the Hjalmarsson deal.
But what the trades do in the long-term is give the Blackhawks a little bit of cost certainty when it comes to their salary cap structure.
Scott Powers at The Athletic quotes a Blackhawks source as saying “We believe this helps us because of contract stability. Saad has four years remaining on his deal and Murphy has five years.”
That is the key here.
Hjalmarsson, still a tremendous defensive defenseman, is set to be an unrestricted free agent after next season. Panarin, one of the NHL’s most prolific point producers since entering the league, will join him.
It is almost a given that if Panarin continues on the same trajectory he has been on during his first two years in the league (pretty much a top-10 scorer) he is going to cost significantly more than the $6 million cap hit he and Saad both account for this season. Finding a way to keep him with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford still on the books would have been incredibly difficult, if not completely impossible. Something like this was almost certain to happen at some point anyway.
Along with the cost certainty and “contract stability” that comes with the changes, they are also getting a little younger, something the Blackhawks could also use.
Murphy is seven years younger than Hjalmarsson and gives them another right-handed shot on their blue line. Saad, along with being locked in to a long-term contract, is a year younger than Panarin.
All of this makes sense for the Blackhawks from a long-term contract outlook, and in a capped league teams can never lose sight of the long-term finances.
But the most important question at the end of the day, of course, is are they better? Hjalmarsson is still an excellent player but he is also going to be 30 years old this season and is going to eventually reach a point where his game declines. That time will be sooner rather than later. Murphy, in theory, should still have his best days ahead of him and was — by a pretty wide margin — Arizona’s best defenseman when it came to suppressing shots and shutting down opposing players this past season.
Saad is an excellent two-way player and obviously has a lengthy history of production with the Blackhawks. But again, Panarin has been one of the 10 most productive players in the NHL the past two seasons. Is Saad’s all-around play so much better that it makes up for the difference in offense?
The one thing that could help make up for that is if prized prospect Alex Debrincat makes the jump to the NHL and is as good as advertised.
Even after all of these moves on Friday the Blackhawks still probably have more work to do given their salary cap situation. But these two moves at least gave them some long-term certainty when it comes to their core.