The Chicago Blackhawks have more than enough bottom-six forwards. What they need are opportunities to acquire more skilled players. Those two sentences alone should pretty much explain why the team traded Ryan Garbutt to Anaheim for Jiri Sekac on Thursday.
Garbutt, 30, is a fine player. The veteran forward, who was acquired as part of the Patrick Sharp trade, can bounce between various roles with some degree of effectiveness. Most recently, he was grinding away minutes on the team's fourth line next to Dennis Rasmussen and Brandon Mashinter.
That's all useful, but it ultimately made Garbutt expendable. Other than Marcus Kruger, the Hawks have shown a consistent willingness to move on from relatively unskilled bit players who don't offer long-term upside. Garbutt, even as a solid value at $900,000 per year, fell into that "movable" category. When it comes to bottom-six forwards like him, there's always a Rasmussen or Ryan Hartman waiting in the wings to fill the role on the cheap.
So even with the Hawks on a historic 12-game winning streak, GM Stan Bowman didn't waste any time considering ways make his team even better. Moves like this are a testament to Chicago's ceaseless desire to put itself in the best position possible.
The downside of this move is that you lose a decent, cheap bottom-six forward, the kind of player who can easily be replaced without breaking much of a sweat. Controlling costs can be important in the NHL and having a solid guy like Garbutt at a cheap rate has value.
But the value in play here? The upside of landing Sekac makes moving Garbutt entirely worthwhile.
There's been a lot of talk about buying low on Jonathan Drouin lately, but in the meantime Bowman seemed content to go acquire a different young player with sinking stock. Sekac got buried on the depth chart in Anaheim and played fewer than 10 minutes in his final three appearances with the team.
Sekac could be much better than that. The winger, who is known for his speed, never quite fit into the systems used by Montreal and Anaheim. They both wanted him to play a more physical, board-to-board game when that doesn't really suit his style.
The Blackhawks should fit Sekac much better than his old teams. Chicago's heavy emphasis on moving the puck and striking in transition fits nicely with Sekac's speedy game. On a team that already skates circles around many of its opponents, Sekac adds another agile weapon. He plays a more offensive game than Garbutt, but Joel Quenneville still has options. Maybe he'll slide Andrew Desjardins back onto the fourth line to see what Sekac can do next to Teuvo Teravainen and Phillip Danault. If there's any place where Sekac can reignite his game and find a role, it's with the Hawks.
Bowman deserves credit for finding that kind of player so cheap. Pretty much any time you can trade a 30-year-old for a 23-year-old with greater upside is a no-brainer. In this case, where Sekac has pretty much the same salary cap hit ($925,000) as Garbutt ($900,000) and is only signed through this season, the risk-reward balance is easy to see.
The only real downside would be if Sekac blows up so big over the next few months that the Hawks need to pay an unreasonable sum to re-sign him in free agency. But if he plays that well, the benefit of having that production in the lineup likely offsets the value of having Garbutt again in 2016-17. The team would still hold his RFA status, too, so all would not be lost there. And if none this works out, then the Hawks are free to cut Sekac loose this summer and should easily be able to replace Garbutt with the nearly $1 million in cap space that's freed up.
Sekac and Scuderi probably isn't the return anyone expected (or hoped) for Sharp, but it's clear Bowman didn't have many options last summer. The subsequent trades of Garbutt and Trevor Daley show that even the Hawks GM can misfire at times. But with a move like this -- turning Garbutt into Sekac -- you see the constant wheels in motion that make the franchise so competitive. Sekac will be an interesting player to watch during the second half of this season.