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Blackhawks’ big trade shakeup all about getting younger, cost certainty

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The Blackhawks didn’t get much better Friday, but they got younger and avoid a free agency mess in 2019.

Winnipeg Jets v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks finally made the big changes to blow up their roster Friday, shipping out Niklas Hjalmarsson and Artemi Panarin in a pair of moves that have transformed the team for next season.

There will be a lot of angles to take on a defining day for GM Stan Bowman’s tenure, but one thing is clear: these moves were about youth and cost certainty.

The Blackhawks got back four players — Brandon Saad, Connor Murphy, and Laurent Dauphin, and Anton Forsberg — in exchange for Panarin, Hjalmarsson, and Tyler Motte. In both deals, you could argue Chicago gave up the best player, which is generally not how you win trades.

But in both cases, under the arguments of youth and cost certainty, you can see clearly what Bowman is trying to do.

By swapping Panarin and Hjalmarsson for Saad and Murphy, the Blackhawks get two players signed to similar cap hits, but at much longer terms. Panarin and Hjalmarsson have a combined $10.1 million cap hit through 2019. Saad has a $6 million cap hit through 2021, while Murphy has a $3.85 million cap hit through through 2022.

So they’re actually almost breaking even in terms of cap hits for the next two seasons, but beyond that, it’s a clear value win for the Blackhawks. Unless Panarin and Hjalmarsson fall off hard over the next two years, their combined cost beyond 2019 will be a lot more than $10.1 million. In 2020, the Hawks will be paying Saad and Murphy the same combined $9.85 million cap hit they’re owed next season.

It’s fair to wonder whether the downgrades from Panarin-Hjalmarsson to Saad-Murphy ultimately will cost the Blackhawks too much in the end, but it also helps that they got some other assets. Forsberg, 24, put up stellar AHL numbers last season (.926 save percentage in 51 games) and could be the Hawks’ backup goalie next season. Dauphin could be an affordable bottom-six option for a team that needs to rebuild its depth now, especially with Marian Hossa sidelined.

Maybe these aren’t the kinds of changes you were hoping for, but the Blackhawks weren’t exactly operating with unlimited options. Panarin and Hjalmarsson were two of the only stars on the team without complete no-movement clauses. So if the Blackhawks did want to make major changes without getting into the weeds of convincing a player to waive his NMC, Panarin and Hjalmarsson were always the two top candidates for big trades. Sure, a Brent Seabrook deal might’ve been preferred, but the Blackhawks more or less made their bed when they signed him in 2015, so now they need to lie in it.

But if you look at the Hawks’ roster now compared to a few hours ago, they’re younger and more cost-controlled than before. It’s a clear sign that this team, while hoping to win another Stanley Cup soon, also acknowledged that it needed to do some things to make sure it’s competitive in 2020 and beyond.

And hey, now we can make “KNEEL BEFORE SAAD” tweets again. Another victory there.