It’s seemingly been a perennial occurrence when it comes to the Chicago Blackhawks, at least over the last seven years.
Come summertime when the National Hockey League Draft approaches, the Stanley Cup champs three of the last seven seasons trade or release somebody who is fairly popular.
Take it from a knowledgeable, passionate Blackhawks’ fan, it’s not easy to swallow even if it’s understandable with the NHL’s stringent salary cap that needs to be changed. The NBA and NFL salary caps are much fairer.
Marian Hossa’s announcement that he’ll miss the upcoming season with a skin disorder that he’s been battling for a couple years has nothing to do with the organization making deals, but it’s still unfortunate for my favorite player.
But in recent years, other fan favorites such as Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad and Johnny Oduya were traded away to make room under the cap. Even backup goalie Scott Darling, who was traded earlier this offseason, was pretty popular. Oduya returned last season and is still on the roster, and Saad is returning this coming season, thanks to one of two draft-day deals on Friday.
The Blackhawks made a pair of moves about 50 minutes apart on Friday in the midst of an already busy sports week in Chicago with the Bulls trading Jimmy Butler and the Cubs demoting Kyle Schwarber.
They traded popular defenseman and three-time Stanley Cup champion Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes — where good players figuratively go to die — for defenseman Connor Murphy and forward Laurent Dauphin. The Blackhawks also traded winger Artemi Panarin — another popular player who immediately garnered the nickname “Breadman” because his name sounds like the restaurant chain Panera Bread — to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Saad, a poplar two-time Cup champ Chicago traded away two years ago, and goalie prospect Anton Forsberg. The Hawks also sent Tyler Motte and a sixth-round pick in this weekend’s draft to the Jackets and got back a fifth-round pick in 2018.
Just like the Bulls’ trade of Butler, immediate fan reaction wasn’t great. Sure, some were happy that Saad is coming back since his departure wasn’t accepted well, but Panarin is a rising star and Hjalmarsson could be an eventual hall of famer. Also like Butler, these Blackhawks’ deals aren’t too bad after being analyzed. In fact, they’re extremely advantageous.
Sure, Panarin was probably the team’s second-most explosive offensive player behind Patrick Kane, but he was going to be very expensive when his contract expired in two years and nearly impossible to keep with Kane and Jonathan Toews making a large chunk of the cap.
Murphy ($3.85 million) and Hjalmarsson ($4.1 million) make similar money, but the “Hammer” is 30 years old with two years left on his contract, while Murphy — a player Blackhawks’ general manager Stan Bowman has coveted for a couple years — is 24 years old and has five years left.
Panarin (25) and Saad (24) are close in age and salary as the “Breadman” was going to make $6 million per season the next two years, while Saad has the exact same salary cap hit, but has four years remaining. And for as much as Panarin has produced (61 goals in two seasons), Saad isn’t that far off with 55 goals the last two years, which will likely go up being back with Kane and Toews.
Saad is especially needed back with Hossa out for the year and their physical games being similar.
“He found a lot of chemistry in particular with (Toews),” Bowman told the Chicago media on Friday. “Brandon can play a few different roles on our team — special teams, he does it all. There’s no doubt the guys that have been here for a while are excited to have him back.”
I’m a firm believer in giving successful coaches and GMs the benefit of the doubt, especially when they have won championships. Cubs’ fans complaining about anybody — Joe Maddon, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, etc. — need to stop since you won the World Series. Ozzie Guillen should have never been let go by the White Sox after winning the World Series. Bowman and Joel Quenneville have won three Cups, so I’m going to trust their judgment on personnel moves in a challenging NHL salary cap environment.
• Emotional number retiring: It’s tough to say Mark Buehrle is my favorite White Sox player since I also liked Ozzie and Frank Thomas and Jack McDowell and Joe Crede and Greg Luzinski and Paul Konerko and … well, you get the idea. But Buehrle is at least tied for my favorite, and it was emotional to watch coverage of his No. 56 being retired by the Sox on Saturday.
Actually, the emotion started before the game, watching a replay of his perfect game against the Mariners on July 23, 2009. It’s probably the best game I’ve ever watched live and it tears me up every time.
Buehrle was not only a great player for the Sox, but he was a great guy. Fellow media members have told me how easy he was to deal with from an interview standpoint — from accessibility to candor to likeability. It’s hard to imagine anyone will duplicate how loved Buehrle has become among White Sox fans.
Reach sports editor Steve T. Gorches at email@example.com or (219) 214-4206. Follow him on Twitter @SteveTGorches.