By Jay Zawaski–
(CBS) Since the Blackhawks’ premature postseason exit, I’ve been trying to figure out how the team’s roster will shape up next season.
General manager Stan Bowman has been active already, adding defenseman Michal Kempny and a couple other inexpensive European players who could compete for roster spots, but his work is far from done. As it stands right now, the Blackhawks have about $6 million to fill five roster spots for the 2016-’17 season. That figure doesn’t include new contracts for free agents Andrew Shaw, Richard Panik, Andrew Ladd, Dale Weise, Tomas Fleischmann, Brandon Mashinter, Dennis Rasmussen, Michal Rozsival or Christian Ehrhoff.
Ladd and Ehrhoff will be gone for sure. I believe there’s an outside chance the Hawks try to find a way to bring Weise or Fleischmann back into the fold. I’d say Rozsival is done for sure, but we’ve said that twice already, and both times he’s signed a new deal. It’s expected that Panik will return to the club, while Blackhawks fans may have to face the reality that Shaw has played his last game in a Chicago sweater.
Bryan Bickell and his $4 million cap hit are on board for another season, unless Bowman can move all or part of that contract, and of course we can’t forget Artemi Panarin’s bonus, which moved him from a $812,500 cap hit to a $2.575 million cap hit.
Needless to say, the Hawks are in a bit of salary cap trouble again. Without a major cap relief move, they won’t be able to upgrade a roster that could struggle for a playoff spot.
Unless they trade center Artem Anisimov.
I know this will be an unpopular proposal, and truth be told, I’d hate to see the Blackhawks lose him. The Hawks finally have their answer at second-line center, and winger Patrick Kane responded by putting together his best season as a pro. Why mess with a good thing?
Anisimov’s new contract kicks in next season. It carries with it a $4.55 million cap hit. That’s fair money for a player of his caliber, for sure, but eliminating that contract opens the door for several other opportunities. Anisimov does have a modified no-movement clause, but those are seen more as a speed bump than a barrier when it comes to making a trade. The attractiveness of this move for the Hawks would be to open up $4.55 million of cap space without moving a member of the core.
Part of that $4.55 million could be used to sign Shaw long term.
Maybe part of that $4.55 million could be used to upgrade the defense with a veteran puck-moving free-agent defenseman like, oh, let’s say, Brian Campbell.
Or perhaps part of that $4.55 million could be used for the contract extensions due to Panarin and Teuvo Teravainen.
Speaking of Teravainen, trading Anisimov theoretically opens up a spot at second-line center. Teravainen plays his best in a top-six role, and while his face-off performance this past season is a huge concern, there’s not a huge drop-off between Anisimov (44.2 percent) and Teravainen (40.5 percent) at the dot — and that’s assuming the 21-year-old Finn doesn’t improve.
(Editor’s note: The original version of this story mentioned Russian Vadim Shipachyov as a possible target for the Blackhawks to pursue as a second-line center, but since the story posted, news broke that Shipachyov will remain in the KHL.)
Now let’s imagine the Hawks find a taker for half of Bickell’s contract ($2 million). That definitely allows room for Shaw and Campbell.
This is always easier to imagine on paper, so let’s take a look at potential lines for next season in the two scenarios we’ve been breaking down.
Which of those teams looks better to you?
Bowman said there would be some surprise moves this summer. Trading Anisimov would be a surprise and solve a lot of problems, so stay tuned.
Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score and the Blackhawks columnist for CBSChicago.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast with James Neveau of NBCChicago.com that you can listen and subscribe to here. Follow him on Twitter @JayZawaski670.