Did you know that Artem Anisimov led the 2017-18 Chicago Blackhawks with 11 power play goals? That’s almost double the No. 2 person on that list: Alex DeBrincat, who had six. Anisimov also had one of the team’s five shorthanded goals this season.
Anisimov seemed to be at his best on special teams. But at 5-on-5 play, things didn’t go quite as well for the Russian center. And that’s what makes his future with the team worth a deeper look.
He scored 20 goals while playing in 72 games, the third straight 20-goal season for Anisimov, surpassed by only Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Anisimov’s assist totals took a hit, dropping from 22 and 23, respectively, in the last two seasons, to just 11 this season. That can be attributed to no longer centering a line between Kane and Artemi Panarin.
Of the 31 points Anisimov had in the 2017-18 season, 18 (8 goals, 10 assists) came at even-strength. And it’s in more of those 5-on-5 situations where Anisimov’s numbers don’t look as positive. Corsica’s data has Anisimov’s CF% at 49.37, which was 3.51 percent below the team rate. Only Tommy Wingels had a lower number, and Wingels saw just 28 percent of his zone starts take place in the offensive zone, the lowest number on the team.
Using Natural Stat Trick’s line tool, the numbers suggest that Anisimov’s linemates had better possession when skating with someone else. Kane was with Anisimov for 439:43 of ice time and sported a 50.51 CF% together. Without Anisimov, Kane jumped up to 52.13. Tomas Jurco jumped from 50.65 with Anisimov to 54.19 without. Patrick Sharp jumped from 46.62 with Anisimov to 51.58 without.
It’s not that Anisimov’s skills aren’t useful in the NHL. His 6-foot-4, 198-pound frame is perfectly utilized when it’s slammed in front of an opposing goalie on the man advantage or during any sustained offensive attack. The vast majority of Anisimov’s power play goals were the result of his positioning near the crease and his ability to cash in on rebounds.
But can the Hawks really afford to commit that much salary cap space to such a specific set of skills?
That’s where the situation gets murkier for Anisimov. Chicago’s top two center spots are locked in with Jonathan Toews and Nick Schmaltz. David Kampf appears to be the future at 4C. That leaves a 3C spot to be claimed, and Anisimov’s even-strength game hasn’t looked strong enough to cement his status in that role. Plus, Anisimov is now 30 years old and, although he moves decently for a player of his stature, he can often get left behind in an NHL that’s only getting faster. Considering that the Hawks spent the last season getting younger and faster, Anisimov doesn’t seem to fit on this roster — especially at $4.55 million for the next three seasons.
Another bad sign for Anisimov? Victor Ejdsell is bigger (6-5, 214 pounds), younger (22), and cheaper ($833,750 cap hit through next season). Ejdsell has six points in six games for the Rockford IceHogs during their run through the Calder Cup Playoffs, too, and has been noticeably better in that postseason.
It all adds up to Anisimov looking like a potential trade candidate in the offseason. Anisimov currently has a no-movement clause that becomes a modified no-trade clause on July 1, when Anisimov can provide a list of 10 teams he’d accept a trade to. But if the Hawks can get him to waive that NMC prior to July 1, he could be moved in the days leading up to the draft when the trade market picks up steam again.
Anisimov’s abilities can still make him a worthwhile NHL player. But at that cap hit and in a league that only gets faster, his skillset may not be worth keeping around in Chicago past this summer.