Thursday, April 18, 2024

The Blackhawks Have High Hopes For This Trade Deadline Acquisition

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Chicago hockey added a skater a day before Friday’s NHL Trade Deadline that may have flown under the radar of most Blackhawks fans but has the potential to be a key piece throughout the rest of this season.

That skater is Anders Bjork, a 26-year-old American left winger. With a move that brought him to Chicago in exchange for future considerations, the front office hopes to maximize his potential, with the idea that he was a “diamond in the rough”, buried on the roster of the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres saw something similar and promised to find him a new home in the NHL. That home, luckily, was in Chicago.

Scheme Fit

Bjork brings a unique skill set to the Blackhawks, which may be a contributing factor to his addition. He cites his speed as the biggest asset that he can bring to the table in Chicago:

“With my speed, [I can bring the] energy and disrupt on the forecheck or D-zone disrupting, helping break pucks out and retrieve pucks on the forecheck as well. I think speed is probably my best asset, and I try to use that the best I can to the team I’m on.”

Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson shared a similar sentiment. He believes Bjork’s speed will be a nice boost to a lineup that already prides itself on playing fast. The team’s focus on speed was evident early on to Bjork, who said Chicago “likes to play a speed-driven game.” He believes that he can amplify that and develop more quickly.

Background

Anders Bjork played his college hockey at Notre Dame from 2014 to 2017. He was a vital member of the Fighting Irish and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as one of the ten best players in college hockey in 2017. Immediately following his junior season, he signed a three-year contract with the Boston Bruins. He then signed a second deal with the Bruins in 2020 for three more years and 4.8 million dollars. However, he was moved to the Sabres the night before the trade deadline. The move included Bjork and a second-round pick in exchange for winger Taylor Hall and center Curtis Lazar.

In his first season with the Sabres, Bjork played 58 games but only tallied eight points. This season, he started every game except one with the Sabres’ AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans. There, he accounted for 25 points in 42 games.

Perhaps most importantly for Chicago sports fans, Bjork is reconsidering his fanhood. Born in Mequon, Wisconsin, he grew up a Packers fan. When asked about the Bears-Packers rivalry, Bjork said that he wasn’t “fully committed one way or another,” then said that he could be convinced to make the switch. What a relief!

What Could Go Wrong?

Considering his status so far this season as a minor leaguer, Bjork comes with a pretty hefty price. His 1.6 million dollar cap hit is the fourth largest of the Blackhawks’ forwards. However, given his status as a restricted free agent this coming offseason, Chicago seemed more than willing to take a chance on him in what seems like a no-lose situation.

At best, Bjork outperforms the expectations of the coaching staff. It seems like he will get his opportunity in a post-trade deadline Blackhawks roster that seems wide open. He’s currently listed as the left winger on the third line. If he exceeds those expectations, Chicago would happily extend the required $1.8 million qualifying offer. If that’s too rich for their blood, they could try to work out a cheaper extension during the rest of this season.

The worst-case scenario is that Bjork doesn’t live up to the hype. Perhaps he doesn’t fit the Blackhawks’ scheme as well as they initially thought. Maybe the Sabres saw something in his game that kept him grounded in Rochester. The possibility of a disastrous season is exactly why he fits the Chicago rebuild timeline so well. Still well under the salary cap, the front office can easily decide to end the experiment this offseason, with little harm done toward their overall goals.

With the Blackhawks at the bottom of the Central Division standings and all but eliminated from the playoffs, the front office decided it was time to start experimenting with roster options for next year. Thus, Anders Bjork was the perfect candidate. Chicago obviously has high hopes for the 26-year-old, and he seems at a glance to fit their scheme well. Even if he doesn’t, the Blackhawks can cut their losses without a second thought. But it doesn’t hurt to try.

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