Would the Blackhawks trade a star player at a draft held in their own arena?
Someone has to go to fit Panarin’s contract under the cap, meaning Bowman might have to make a move in front of his team’s fan base.
The NHL Entry Draft is famous for its rapid trades. Get every franchise and power broker in the same room and of course the building becomes a madhouse of rumors and deals.
There are years when it’s inevitable that a big name gets moved. More recently, those trades have been happening in front of the fanbases they impact most. It brings up a potentially interesting scenario with the Chicago Blackhawks set to host the 2017 draft at the United Center this summer.
Now that Artemi Panarin has been signed to a two-year, $12 million deal, the Hawks will need to make moves to clear space under the salary cap. That could mean losing someone like Artem Anisimov — though if you’re going out on a limb to keep the best line in the conference together for two more years, trading away the guy centering it doesn’t seem ideal — or it could mean moving different members of the roster.
The situation potentially puts guys like Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger, Corey Crawford, and Marian Hossa on the block for a bunch of teams (which will likely hold the upper hand in negotiations). Only Kruger and Hjalmarsson don’t have complete no-movement clauses among those players.
The best chance the Hawks have at regaining some leverage could seemingly be to make a deal during the draft — when they could pit teams against each other in person. That would also create the most awkward transaction process for GM Stan Bowman since he took over the team. Not only would he be negotiating with Blackhawks fans staring down at him, he’d have to stand there while the trade of a star player is announced to their faces.
Gary Bettman might never get booed louder in his life.
And it’s not like this situation hasn’t come up before.
In 2011, with Minnesota hosting the draft, the Wild sent Brent Burns and a second-round pick in 2012 to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi and Charlie Coyle.
A year later in Pittsburgh, the Penguins traded Jordan Staal to Carolina for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin, and a first-round pick.
And in 2013, with the draft held in New Jersey, the Devils sent their first-round pick to Vancouver for goalie Cory Schneider.
It’s not impossible to imagine Bettman walking out on stage at the draft and telling Hawks fans to quiet down because he “thinks you’re going to want to hear this.”
The Hawks’ brass have already made it clear they want the Chicago draft to be a spectacle, with Bowman telling ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun that it’s unlikely the team trades any of its early picks for 2017.
"We're trying to make it a big event, and everyone [here] is excited about hosting it," Bowman said of the draft. "So from that perspective, we're probably going to try to hang on to those picks. Now, anything is possible. But it's unlikely that I would be moving the early picks in the draft.
If the goal is still to make this a special, happy day for Hawks fans, Bowman will want to clear cap space before late June. Otherwise, fans will be sitting through the those two days tense and anxious, waiting for a fan favorite to get moved. The draft would become unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.
There’s also some urgency to the Hawks’ situation given that they need to shed salary by the end of the offseason. The draft is far from a hard deadline, but it represents a time when teams tend to be more willing to deal. If they pass that event and are still set to be over the cap, it could present some difficult circumstances.
Still, after moving someone like Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and/or Kruger — however vital it is — it would be tough to get excited for the Hawks to step on stage and draft a new player.
Bowman has trained fans to handle the band-aid getting ripped off during summer roster purges. Save for trading Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews, there shouldn’t be any surprise at what’s coming. Certainly not after Chicago unceremoniously dumped Brandon Saad in Columbus.
And yet, trading one of the guys who helped the Hawks win three Stanley Cups at the draft, in front of their fans, would be a situation no one in Chicago would feel comfortable with in the slightest.
It would be a vital move to get under the cap. It would be one of Bowman’s best chances at getting a solid return.
And it would undoubtably sting long after the draft has finished.