The Chicago Blackhawks threw fans for a bit of a loop on Tuesday afternoon as they agreed to a trade that sent winger Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for a package of four players and a draft pick.
Now that the shock has begun to subside and NHL free agency is set to begin, there are several questions that Blackhawks fans will need answered in the coming weeks and months. To help out with some of the big ones, we’ll ask a very simple question: Where are the Blackhawks at in four key areas now that Saad is no longer in the picture?
The Blackhawks couldn’t have assumed that they would get Brad Richards and/or Antoine Vermette back now that free agency is starting, but that doesn’t appear to be as big a concern now as their center depth has been greatly improved via this trade. Artem Anisimov (who is close to agreeing to a new deal with the Blackhawks) will provide a very flexible option at the position, with the ability to play second or third line minutes.
The Hawks will also have a decision to make as to which player will slot in as the fourth center (assuming that the team re-signs Marcus Kruger). There are several candidates for the job, with Teuvo Teravainen, Andrew Shaw, and Marko Dano serving as the main contenders.
The other question the Hawks will have to answer is which winger will end up pairing up with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa on the top line. It’s going to be hard to replace Saad’s two-way ability on that line, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see Joel Quenneville try to shake things up by having a speedy player alongside them, so if Teravainen or Dano loses out on a center position, you could see them get a shot. There’s always a chance that someone like Shaw or Patrick Kane could fill that role as well.
Adding Dano and Corey Tropp to the mix gives the Blackhawks some excellent depth at the forward position, and it adds to an already well-stocked cupboard of talent. Guys like Ryan Hartman and Mark McNeill will both get a shot to make the roster next season, but they’ll now have to compete for playing time with the new guys from Columbus.
Jeremy Morin adds an interesting wrinkle to that mix, and so does the arrival of Russian forward Artemi Panarin, who dazzled scouts and could very well be a surprisingly big part of the Hawks’ rotation next year.
With Dano, Tropp, Morin, and Anisimov all on the roster, the Blackhawks now have 18 players under contract and just $1.5 million worth of cap space to work with. Adding a new contract extension to Kruger will likely push them over the salary cap ceiling, and throwing in contracts for at least two new defensemen will cause the number to rise as well, but with the ability to carry a maximum of $7.1 million over the cap ceiling for the rest of the offseason, expect Stan Bowman to get creative with the limited space that he has.
The Blackhawks are going to mainly be in the market for one thing now: a cheap veteran defenseman to help replace the stabilizing presence of Johnny Oduya on the back end. The blue liner is all but gone from the team, and they’ll have to find someone to fill in the gap as guys like Trevor van Riemsdyk, David Rundblad, and Stephen Johns take their time developing.