Blackhawks, Coyotes, Rangers make massive moves ahead of draft

The Chicago Blackhawks, Arizona Coyotes and New York Rangers have added fuel to the fire in what has been a wild week with the Vegas Expansion Draft and upcoming NHL Entry Draft (tonight at 7:00pm EST). All three teams made significant moves earlier today involving key members of their respective cores.

Move #1

The Blackhawks started off the action by trading defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for 24-year-old defenseman Connor Murphy and forward prospect Laurent Dauphin.

Hjalmarsson, one of the more underrated defensemen in the National Hockey League, has been a Blackhawk for his entire 10-year NHL career and was a key factor in the Hawks’ three Stanley Cup championships. Murphy’s stay-at-home play is similar to Hjalmarsson’s, though clearly he is still developing. It has been reported that Chicago general manager Stan Bowman has had interest in Murphy in the past and even inquired about him last season.

Arizona gets a great veteran defenseman with considerable experience and tremendous success. Chicago gets younger, adds an additional forward prospect to the system and earns some cap stability. Though both players’ cap hits are similar (Murphy: $3.85M, Hjalmarsson: $4.1M), Murphy is signed for the next five years, compared to Hjalmarsson, who is signed through 2018-2019. The importance of that stability cannot be underestimated for a team always working right against the cap.

Move #2

The Blackhawks’ second move of the day was even more surprising, however. Many would say it was stunning.

The team moved All-Star winger Artemi Panarin to Columbus in exchange for former Blackhawk Brandon Saad. Chicago also sent prospect Tyler Motte and a future sixth-round pick to the Jackets, and Columbus sent goalie Anton Forsberg and a future fifth-round pick. Forsberg will serve as Corey Crawford’s backup this season after the team lost Scott Darling earlier in the offseason.

It’s not too often that a player of Panarin’s caliber is moved just two seasons into his NHL career, especially after scoring 77 points as a rookie to earn the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. Panarin followed up his impressive rookie campaign with 74 points in 82 games this past year. His chemistry with Patrick Kane is undeniable, which adds another element of surprise to the transaction.

Many would say the Blue Jackets made out like bandits considering Panarin’s skillset and point totals. At least part of his success has to be attributed to playing with Patrick Kane, though he is a very talented player in his own right. Columbus acquires a very skilled forward with the ability to finish, and he can make the Blue Jackets’ offense much scarier. They say the team that gets the best player in the trade wins the trade; in this case, that would be Columbus.

But much like Murphy, Saad provides a similar level of cost certainty for the Hawks as his contract runs through 2020-2021, whereas Panarin is signed for just two more years (both have a $6M cap hit). Also, Saad helped this Chicago team win two Cups in 2013 and 2015. His presence on Jonathan Toews’ wing has been missed since he was shipped to Columbus two seasons ago. Now that Marian Hossa has been ruled out for the 2017-2018 season, having Saad on the top line will matter that much more.

Though he earned 53 points in each of the past two years with Columbus, Saad’s 55 goals in that span is very comparable to Panarin’s 61. Saad has already proven himself in the playoffs where it matters most, and that can’t be overlooked.

For Bowman, these factors were enough to justify the deal. Many will question it, along with moving the underrated Hjalmarsson.

But Bowman did promise there would be big changes after the Blackhawks were swept by Nashville in the first round of the playoffs this year. The team lost defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk in the expansion draft on Wednesday and lost Hossa for at least next year (if not permanently) because of a skin condition. Rumors have surrounded Marcus Kruger, who still may be moved, but neither of today’s moves were on anyone’s radar. Chicago has gotten younger and has gained more financial stability; it will be interesting to see what other moves Bowman has in mind.

Move #3

The New York Rangers did not want to miss out on all the fun, though.

Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton shipped center Derek Stepan and goaltender Antti Raanta to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and Arizona’s first-round pick in this year’s draft (seventh overall). There had been rumblings of a trade between New York and Arizona involving Stepan, but the exact details had not surfaced. However, many sources now say this is a deal that was discussed last week before the trade freeze prior to the expansion draft.

This is a significant move for both teams.

The Rangers have now traded the team’s top two centers in less than a year after sending Derick Brassard to Ottawa last offseason. The team also lost center Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in the expansion draft, leaving gaping holes up the middle for the Blueshirts. Clearly, Gorton is not close to being finished. He now has around $21 million in cap space, $23 million if veteran defenseman Kevin Klein retires. Also, after not having a first-round pick in the past five years, the Rangers find themselves with two in tonight’s draft. But did he get enough for both Stepan and Raanta? On the surface, no. But depending on what comes next, possibly.

The Coyotes, on the other hand, definitely benefit. Though he never was in New York, Stepan could prove to be a true top-line center for the Coyotes (or could at least bridge the gap until some of Arizona’s superstar prospects are ready), and the team also lands a potential starting goalie after acquiring a veteran top-four defenseman in Hjalmarsson earlier in the day. Stepan, Hjalmarsson and Raanta have extensive playoff experience and will be key veteran leaders on a very young Arizona team. All three players have a lot of hockey left in them, making these moves very solid for the ‘Yotes.

What makes the deal even stronger from the Coyotes’ perspective is that general manager John Chayka didn’t have to lose too much, especially considering the return. The Coyotes surrendered a top-10 pick (#7), but this year’s draft is considered by many to be weak, and Arizona is already stocked with tremendous young talent. The team also says goodbye to defenseman Anthony DeAngelo, who played very well during his time with the big club this past year. He scored 14 points in 39 games and had some very good stretches. At the end of the day, though, DeAngelo has a history of being temperamental, and he is unproven at the NHL level, putting the risk of this deal on the Rangers.

Chayka hinted that he is not finished, however, saying “maybe tonight” when asked if he had further plans.

The Rangers needed to make offseason adjustments, though. It started with the team buying out Dan Girardi’s contract, and today’s move is the next big step. Gorton must have at least several more moves to make, including trying to move up in tonight’s draft. Could the Rangers be interested in moving up for defenseman Cale Makar? It’s unlikely the team will trade for either of the top two picks considering two division rivals hold those picks. Alternatively, the Rangers could make a play for Matt Duchene with DeAngelo and two first’s with which to work, or possibly Alex Galchenyuk.

At the end of the day, Stepan’s $6.5 million cap hit for the next four years was a concern for the Rangers, especially since he has never been a true no. 1 center in New York. Stepan has had a great seven-year career with the Rangers, and losing him leaves even more holes up the middle for the Rangers. That being said, the timing of the move makes sense since the scope of Stepan’s modified no-trade clause was due to widen July 1. Plus, Stepan remains a 45-55-point player and has reached the 20-goal mark just twice, which just doesn’t cut it as a no. 1 center in today’s NHL, especially for a team looking to contend for the Cup every year. Stepan will be missed in New York for his playmaking ability, personality and leadership.

Even if moving Stepan made a lot of sense for the Rangers, as it stands now, the deal seems very lopsided in Arizona’s favor. Rangers fans will have to be patient to see what else Gorton has up his sleeve.
 

Check out HFL’s 2017 Offseason Trade Tracker for updates throughout the draft.
 
 
Featured Image Credits: Saad: Paul Vernon-AP; Stepan: Elsa-Getty Images; Panarin: Jonathan Daniel-Getty Images
 

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