Blue Jackets asked about Artem Anisimov, but Blackhawks prefer to keep him, per report

It may take a major offer to pry the center out of Chicago.

The Columbus Blue Jackets asked the Chicago Blackhawks about a possible trade for Artem Anisimov, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman says in his latest 31 Thoughts column he’s heard the Hawks want to keep the veteran center. That’s an important distinction as we move forward in figuring out next season’s roster.

Anisimov, 29, is one of a few players being bandied about as possible trade candidates for the Blackhawks right now. He has full control over his situation via a no-movement clause, but given the fact that he loses leverage on July 1 when it becomes a partial no-trade clause, it seems conceivable he’d be open to leaving Chicago.

However, Friedman says that the Blue Jackets’ interest in Anisimov, who used to play in Columbus, may not matter. “Of course, the question is moot if, as I’d heard, Chicago prefers to keep him. Centres are hard to find,” he writes.

Given this is one of the more widely discussed possibilities for the Blackhawks right now, let’s consider the two sides of this situation.

Why the Blackhawks would want to trade Anisimov

Anisimov is a talented player, but he’s struggled at even strength this season, makes nearly $5 million per year, and turns 30 years old in May. A bunch of goals on the power play are propping up his numbers right now, and it seems like this could be an obvious opportunity for the Blackhawks to sell high on one of the costliest contracts on their books.

There’s no denying that losing Anisimov would take a good piece away from the Blackhawks’ lineup, but he’s also a man without a role right now. Nick Schmaltz seems like the best fit as Patrick Kane’s center going forward, and Anisimov has struggled badly whether he’s the left winger on that line or centering a different line.

Teams are clearly showing interest in Anisimov, and that’s while he’s owed a $4.55 million cap hit through the 2020-21 season. Finding centers in the NHL isn’t easy, as Friedman noted, but do you really want to pay that much for someone who has 11 even strength points in 50 games this season despite lengthy stretches with Kane?

You wouldn’t want to give away Anisimov, who could certainly help the 2018-19 Blackhawks, but you need to listen to compelling offers.

Why the Blackhawks would want to keep Anisimov

This hasn’t been a good season for Anisimov, but he’s still a true center who has recorded 109 points in 191 games with the Blackhawks. That’s roughly 47 points per 82 games, which is pretty good.

He’s also a different kind of player than the Blackhawks realistically have in their pipeline. Anisimov is a big, smart center who thrives through good positioning, hand-eye coordination, and understanding how to leverage his size in tight areas to create scoring chances. For all the excitement around Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Sikura, Anisimov is the kind of center the Blackhawks don’t have in development.

His contract also becomes increasingly easy to move over time. As we’ve noted countless times before, the full no-movement clause becomes a partial no-trade clause on July 1. And while he makes $5 million in salary this season and next season, that dips to $4 million in 2019-20 and $3 million in 2020-21, per Cap Friendly. Those factors make the contract far less worrisome than it might seem.

It’s not exactly a high-upside deal, but the commitment to Anisimov fills a hole that many teams work hard to secure on a regular basis. It’s not a fluke that, despite his lucrative contract, there would surely be teams willing to acquire him.

What’s going to happen?

The no-movement clause makes any Anisimov trade far more likely on or after July 1 than before it. With that said, if Friedman is right and they need to be blown away to consider moving him, there’s a good chance he’s still around by the fall. The flip side would be that this is all just posturing to maximize trade value on him and other players by positioning the team as lacking desperation.

Personally I think there’s a good chance that retaining Anisimov would be a mistake by a team that has limited cap resources and has seen little from him when he’s not between Kane and Artemi Panarin, but I can also understand if that’s the decision based on what we’ve heard.