If a Blackhawks fan watching Monday’s game against the Senators hadn’t paid attention to the news, they might have done a double-take. Their favorite stars from the past few years were nowhere to be found, and they may have been asking, “Who are these guys?”.
The NHL Trade Deadline is a period of roster turnover, and perhaps nobody experienced it more than the Chicago Blackhawks. Stagnating near the bottom of the standings, the Blackhawks had a fire sale. They shipped off practically every big name they had. Nine-time All-Star Patrick Kane and Sam Lafferty, Max Domi, Jack Johnson, and Jake McCabe were among those names.
In this stage of its massive rebuild, Chicago is ridding itself of loads of talent. The conversation starts with Patrick Kane. A once-in-a-generation player, the NHL’s best stick-handler was the face of the Blackhawks for over a decade. Two other departures included Sam Lafferty and Jake McCabe, who were traded together to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a package including Toronto’s first-round pick. While neither was in Chicago nearly as long as Kaner, both were amid rather impressive seasons before being traded. Perhaps the most significant loss was Max Domi, who tallied 49 points in 60 games for the club. All these players carried a cap hit that forced the Blackhawks to part ways with them, considering the team’s push for the first pick in this year’s draft.
That pick, of course, would yield Connor Bedard, the 17-year-old “future of hockey”. No one can question Bedard’s skills and ability to transform a team, but that’s not what the Blackhawks focus on.
The current roster in Chicago isn’t built to win. The moves they made at the deadline accomplished two things: increasing their chances for Bedard and building the roster for the future. Bedard is great, but one player can’t win a championship. If they are lucky enough to get him, the Blackhawks will be tasked with building around him.
Each move the Blackhawks made near the deadline cleared up cap room and made way for the future. The team’s new additions are already helping their squad, even if most won’t be around by the time the Blackhawks are in contention again. Those additions include Nikita Zaitsev, Andreas Englund, Joey Anderson, Anders Bjork, and Austin Wagner.
Zaitsev was simply a cap dump from the side of Ottowa a week before the trade deadline. A 31-year-old defenseman with a bloated $4.5 million yearly contract, Zaitsev will finish out the last year of his contract as a Chicago Blackhawk. In return for taking on his contract, the Blackhawks also acquired two valuable draft picks.
After taking nine days to get through immigration, Zaitsev played in his second game in a Blackhawks sweater Monday as part of the third defensive pairing, along with Andreas Englund. In his two games thus far, he has delivered quality minutes, around 17 per game.
Zaitsev’s partner on the blue line, Englund, was brought to Chicago in exchange for Jack Johnson. The trade made the Blackhawks younger than the 36-year-old Johnson, but Englund wasn’t expected to be much more than a roster placeholder.
Englund has appeared in five games for the Blackhawks and has logged around 15 minutes per game. In Monday night’s game, he pulled his hamstring and won’t play in the upcoming road trip.
As part of the aforementioned Lafferty-McCabe trade with the Maple Leafs, Anderson was brought to Chicago to play on the fourth line. At 24 years old, Anderson will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season, so he has a direct route to a future in Chicago. If he impresses the franchise for the rest of the season, he may be in the same spot next year.
Anderson doesn’t have any points so far in five games with the Blackhawks but has put forth quality minutes. He can be a productive player and doesn’t have to do anything special to shine on this year’s roster.
Bjork, a 26-year-old left winger, was brought to the Blackhawks in exchange for future considerations. He was buried on the Sabres’ roster for much of the season but has already found a place on the third line in Chicago. This season feels like an extended tryout of sorts. If he plays well enough, he may secure another contract before the season ends or receive a qualifying offer in the offseason.
Bjork played in his second game with the Blackhawks on Monday night and was one of the game’s three stars. He had three assists in the first two periods and almost scored on a breakaway chance later. He may be a candidate to take a step forward and potentially receive more minutes as the season progresses.
Wagner was acquired on the day of the deadline from the Kings for future considerations. It appears he arrived last week with an injury that had become infected. The Blackhawks’ staff knew that when they went and got him, so he should be back on the NHL roster shortly. The 25-year-old will hope to make a splash in Chicago once he gets back on the ice.
While a complete roster flip may not be the most fun for the typical fan, the Blackhawks got tremendous value at this year’s trade deadline. While some players, like Nikita Zaitsev, were just brought on to take their contracts off of the backs of other teams, everyone that Chicago acquired this year has loads of potential, some of which we’ve seen on this week’s roster. Perhaps even the successor to Patrick Kane is in there somewhere.