Artem Anisimov has found his way down the Blackhawks’ depth chart the last year. When they first traded for him, a trade that sent Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Blackhawks and general manager Stan Bowman envisioned him as the long-term second line center.
That worked for a while — Patrick Kane’s Hart season came with Anisimov as his center (although Artemi Panarin was on the other wing). But eventually, with the advent of Alex DeBrincat as the Blackhawks’ star second liner of the future, Anisimov lost his spot to Dylan Strome, who has better chemistry with the Blackhawks’ goal scoring star.
Now, instead of spending $4.55 million for each of the next two years on a bottom-six center, who could be replaced by the likes of Kirby Dach, Ryan Carpenter and David Kampf, the Blackhawks should be looking at potential trade destinations for the center.
Before we get into it, let’s address the obvious — the Blackhawks aren’t sending him anywhere within the Central Division. At least, they shouldn’t be. The Blackhawks believe they’re back to contending status with Robin Lehner and (hopefully) healthy Corey Crawford in net, and they’ve revamped and rebuilt their defense to assist with that. The goal is now not to help Nashville or Winnipeg or Colorado (certainly not St. Louis) unless they’re paying a premium.
(Projected salary cap space numbers via Cap Friendly)
Projected cap space: $7.46M
Bowman and Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin have established quite the rapport, most recently dealing Andrew Shaw back to the Blackhawks. Back in June, when I predicted Shaw could be a fit for the Blackhawks again on the trade market, I believed Anisimov could be a potential part of the return.
Anisimov still makes sense heading back to the Canadiens. While the team has Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Max Domi, Domi is a more natural wing and Kotkaniemi can’t do the heavy lifting by himself yet. The team was interested in bringing Matt Duchene into the fold, although he ultimately ended up with the Predators. Montreal’s center depth remains incomplete.
While Anisimov is not the first-line center that Duchene would be, he brings an ability to play big defensive minutes and be the net-front presence on the power play that the Canadiens lost when they gave up Shaw.
Anisimov would be a cheaper way for the Canadiens to fill out their center depth while letting more talented centers like Phillip Danault and perhaps Domi play more offensive minutes against weaker competition and compile more points.
Projected cap space: $6.65M
The Sabres probably hoped, when they traded Ryan O’Reilly last offseason, Casey Mittelstadt would have a better rookie season. The 20-year-old, meant to be the Sabres’ long-term second punch behind Jack Eichel, had just 25 points and a 48.9 percent Corsi-For. He was probably worse than even those stats would suggest.
Like the Canadiens, the Sabres don’t have the greatest center depth while Mittelstadt continues to develop. They recently brought in Marcus Johansson, but he’s more of a middle-six winger than center.
Anisimov, in the short term, could be the center who does a lot of defensive work while giving Eichel the opportunity to play in the offensive zone more, and could help Buffalo’s special teams at the same time. Ralph Krueger, the new head coach in Buffalo, also has experience getting the best out of veterans like Anisimov, leading Team Europe deep in the World Cup of Hockey, and the Sabres have the necessary cap space.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Projected cap space: $15.76M
Anisimov’s former team is now loaded with talented wingers but has a dearth of natural centers. Besides Pierre-Luc Dubois, who Columbus is still gambling on being the franchise center of their future, the Blue Jackets have had struggles with their young centers. Alex Wennberg has been up and down, Brandon Dubinsky disappeared last season and Riley Nash can be used as a winger.
The Blue Jackets also have a good amount of cap space and only Zach Werenski really left to spend on. The team could also get in on the Jake Gardiner free agency hunt, but their defense is pretty well rounded as is.
Getting a middle-six center like Anisimov could be a priority for the Blue Jackets, especially with the amount of cap space they have. A good short-term deal, which is what Anisimov is on, could be what the Blue Jackets need in the wake of all of their major free agents leaving town.
Projected cap space: $3.93M
The Oilers should have one of the best center pools in the league. With Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all on the roster, the Oilers have a lot of talent down the middle. But they could realistically move one of those three to the wing out of lack of talent there. Even if you have the best centers, if you have nothing to surround them with, like the Oilers don’t, you’re not going anywhere.
Which means Anisimov could fit in on their third line and provide a necessary center depth boost and allow one of those three to transition back to playing with McDavid. The Oilers also don’t have a ton of penalty killing help, although GM Ken Holland’s hope is likely that their offseason moves help address it. Bringing in Anisimov, who significantly boosted the Blackhawks’ penalty kill, could help more. The Oilers would also have to find a way to create enough cap space for him.
Also, the Oilers have a lot of outside shooters on their power play and nobody who drives the net hard. Milan Lucic was supposed to do that, but let’s just say he’s not very good at it, at least not anymore. Anisimov could eat third-line minutes for the Oilers while helping supplement the special teams, exactly what the Oilers need right now.
Projected cap space: $8.01M
The Rangers are another team Anisimov has already played for, but another team who could be interested in re-acquiring his services. Besides Mika Zibanejad, the team doesn’t have the greatest center depth at present, although Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson look like they’ll develop into something.
Also, the Rangers just signed Artemi Panarin to a long-term contract, and bringing in somebody who has experience with Panarin could help make him more comfortable in New York, even if that player isn’t necessarily playing with Panarin — although putting Anisimov and Panarin together on the power play might not be a bad thing.
Bringing Anisimov back to New York for the short term makes sense, while Chytil and Andersson develop together on the third line, Anisimov can be on the second with young Russians in the Rangers’ system like Vitali Kravtsov and Pavel Buchnevich on the second. He’s had experience playing with more talented players in the past and can do heavy lifting in the dirty areas and defensively to make a line like that better.
The most natural destination
The most natural destination is likely the Canadiens, although all of these options make sense. Returns may differ, but the Blackhawks would likely get more for Anisimov than they would get out of him in terms of production in the future.
It depends on how much salary cap each of these teams have to work with as the offseason rolls on or at the trade deadline, but if one of these teams is the one who does acquire Anisimov, be ready. He’s likely halfway out the door already.