You probably wouldn’t have expected the Blackhawks to pull off a trade involving Richard Panik that would get us excited. But here we are, potentially on the precipice of something fun after the team landed Anthony Duclair from the Coyotes in a four-player deal Wednesday night.
There are a lot of ways that this deal can fail to pan out for the Blackhawks, but none of them would be that painful. Duclair failing to acclimate himself in Chicago would be a minor issue this offseason when he’s a restricted free agent. The team could trade him to a new suitor or re-sign him to a cheap deal to take another shot at turning him around.
But more importantly, this was the kind of forward-looking, buy-low opportunity that most teams always try to make. Duclair isn’t a superstar, and he won’t save the Blackhawks’ season, but he’s a very talented 22-year-old whose career stalled with a struggling franchise.
A new environment might do him some good, and the opportunity to partner with high-level talent from the Blackhawks’ forward corps could do him even better. Will he get a shot on the second line with Patrick Kane? Maybe a third line assignment with Alex DeBrincat? No matter what, he’s looking at an opportunity on a better team than the one he’s leaving.
It’s one he’s seemingly excited about. The forward wasn’t happy with the Coyotes for years, and apparently that feeling was mutual. Here’s from the Associated Press:
“It’s gone back for a few years now where the team wasn’t particularly happy with the player and the player wasn’t particularly happy with the team and we worked through some things, tried a lot of different approaches in a lot of different ways,” Coyotes GM said of the trade. “I hope he has success in Chicago and does good things.”
Duclair’s offensive abilities are what make this move so exciting. He recorded 44 points in an NHL season as a 20-year-old. He dominated a World Juniors for Team Canada in 2015. The past two seasons, where he’s posted just 30 points in 81 games, are what made Arizona move on, but there’s ample evidence to suggest that he was one of the best players for the Hawks to go after.
With that said, it’s important not to get overly excited here. Duclair has known issues with his play away from the puck, and he’s not the kind of primetime playmaker who can carry a line on his own. “He has speed. He has the ability to score. He has no hockey sense,” a scout told The Athletic of the forward.
But he’s undeniably talented, and there’s more to this deal.
First, consider the price. Panik was a surprise last season with 44 points, but he’s been a disappointment much of this season. He’s also signed through next season at a $2.8 million cap hit. Laurent Dauphin has 14 points in 33 games in the AHL this season. He might be an eventual bottom-six contributor but isn’t some major loss. Getting out of the second year of Panik’s contract might be a good thing, and losing Dauphin probably won’t hurt in the long run.
Second, there’s the cap factor this season. This deal significantly increases the Blackhawks’ salary cap flexibility entering the trade deadline. The team will now carry Duclair’s $1.2 million cap hit instead of Panik’s $2.8 million cap hit each day leading up to the deadline, and that’ll allow the team to accrue extra space. Cap Friendly now projects that with LTIR, the Hawks could add $2.82 million in a trade at the deadline. It’s not too long ago that the same projection was below $1 million based on the Hawks carrying a previous roster until late February.
Third, they got Adam Clendening. He’s proving to be a bit of a tweener at the NHL level but provides some additional organizational depth for the Blackhawks on the blue line if they want to make more moves on that front. He’ll be a restricted free agent in the offseason.
Take all this together and it’s a no-brainer deal for the Blackhawks as they look to jumpstart a floundering season. It’s not only a move with potential for this season but one that could pay long-term dividends if Duclair re-signs affordably in the summer. It also allows them to maximize their flexibility this offseason because they’re no longer tied into nearly $3 million for Panik, which seems like a good thing right now.
This trade won’t necessarily be a home run for the Blackhawks, but it has the potential for that with little to no risk. That’s the kind of trade you’ll take every time, so it’s fair to say GM Stan Bowman did well Wednesday evening.