Blackhawks deal Antti Raanta, but no big trades made


Blackhawks deal Antti Raanta, but no big trades made

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Blackhawks came away with exactly what they were looking for on the second day of the NHL Draft.

Well, they came away with the desired draft picks, anyway. As far as making any deals to solve their salary-cap woes, well, that didn’t really happen. So as the Blackhawks head home, their money problem still exists. And general manager Stan Bowman said the Blackhawks will figure it out in due time.

The Blackhawks made one trade on Saturday, sending goaltender Antti Raanta to the New York Rangers in exchange for minor-league forward Ryan Haggerty. But that hardly solves their cap problems. Raanta’s contract, which he signed last summer, would’ve been just a $750,000 cap hit for 2015-16. No, the pieces the Blackhawks must ultimately part with to get under that $71.4 million cap for this season are going to provide more cap relief than that. But after a weekend of wondering where Patrick Sharp and/or Bryan Bickell and/or Kris Versteeg would go, as of now, they haven’t budged.

So when will those necessary moves start happening?

“We don’t put a timetable on it,” Bowman said. “When the deals are there, they’re there. You just keep working. There’s nothing now, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be things to come. So you just keep plugging away.”

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Blackhawks make seven picks in 2015 NHL Draft]

Perhaps the right deal just wasn’t there this weekend. Bowman said there was plenty of talk. He wouldn’t say if he was close to making a deal. So let’s shift to the most likely scenario, shall we? Free agency begins on Wednesday, and we all know how that goes: A couple of players will get signed to contracts that likely have too much term and too much money. Then things settle down, and teams that still have needs see what else is out there. That might be the Blackhawks’ best bet. Their likeliest trade candidates come with sizable cap hits — Sharp’s is $5.9 million per year, and Bickell’s is $4 million — but they each have just two years remaining on their respective deals.

“Obviously the way the market works is you’ve got a few players, and there’s a lot of bidders, and they’re usually looking for long terms and big dollars," Bowman said. "The players that might be moved are on shorter terms than that, so I think at that point teams start to say, ‘Oh well, I don’t know if I want to sign a guy to a five- or six-year contract. I might look at players on shorter terms.’ They become more attractive at that time. That’s all stuff that can happen, but we’re not there yet.”

It's doubtful the Blackhawks wait until September/early October to make all of their moves as they did last fall, when they traded Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders on Oct. 4. Yes, the Blackhawks can go over that $71.4 million cap by 10 percent this summer as long as they're under it again when the regular season begins. But do the Blackhawks really want to be going through that again just prior to their season's start?

So the wait continues. The moves will happen for the Blackhawks because there’s no other way around it. When they’ll happen remains to be seen.

“Our job is to keep making calls and try to find something that works,” Bowman said. “When it does, we’ll do it.”

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get your Blackhawks Stanley Cup champs gear right here]


— Now that the draft is over, signing Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger has moved to higher-priority range for the Blackhawks. “We have a lot of things to look at over the next week or so,” Bowman said. “But those guys are certainly part of it.”

— Bowman said he’s talked to Brad Richards’ agent about a possible return, but it’ll depend on the money. Richards made $2 million on his one-year deal in 2014-15. “They need to decide where they’re going to go dollar-wise, and we need to figure out what we can possibly offer,” Bowman said. He said the same is true for defenseman Johnny Oduya, who also becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade


Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade

The Blackhawks and Blue Jackets blockbuster trade from the 2017 offseason is always a hot topic in Chicago when things aren't going great. It especially is when the two teams square off against each other, like Saturday at Nationwide Arena for the first time this season.

If it wasn't already apparent in Chicago, Artemi Panarin has emerged as a real NHL superstar and is set for a giant payday when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2019. He set a Blue Jackets record with 82 points in a single season and has nine points (three goals, six assists) through six games this season.

Brandon Saad, on the other hand, had a challenging first year back with the Blackhawks in 2017-18 after netting only 35 points in 82 games and is off to a slow start this year as well with zero goals and two assists through six games. After a demotion to the fourth line, he was close to being a healthy scratch on Thursday, which only magnifies where things are at as the two get ready to clash.

But Saad was never going to be able to replace Panarin's offensive production. Everybody knows that. Yet, the offensive comparisons will always be there as a barometer and that's something Saad doesn't think about, no matter how much fans talk about it.

"I don't think I do it," he said. "We're different players. He's a great player. Fans are going to do whatever comparisons they want, but at the end of the day you've got to be true to yourself and do what you bring to the table. He's a great player around the league. You can see his highlights and his goals, he's definitely a special player. But at the end of the day I've got confidence in my abilities too. We both bring different attributes, but they're going to make comparisons regardless."

A big reason why the Blackhawks reacquired Saad, other than his ability to play a 200-foot game, is because he carries a $6 million cap hit through 2020-21, which is two years more than Panarin at the same cap hit. (It's also important to note that the Blackhawks hoped they were getting a reliable, young backup goaltender in Anton Forsberg, but the injury to Corey Crawford thrust him into a role he wasn't exactly prepared for.)

It's not all rainbows for Columbus right now regarding where things stand with Panarin, who has made it clear he's not ready to sign a long-term extension. All signs point to the 26-year-old winger hitting the market, putting the Blue Jackets in a tricky situation ahead of the trade deadline. The Blackhawks very well could have found themselves in this position, too, had a deal not been made.

Both sides are dealing with their own challenges of the trade. Saad is still a key piece to the Blackhawks' puzzle and they're hoping to get more out of him, for no other reason than the team's overall success.

"You want to have success regardless of who you're playing for, who you're traded for, things like that," Saad said. "Naturally, just as competitors, you want to bring that excitement and you want to have success with the team and personally."

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks


Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

Anthony Duclair knew what kind of opportunity he had in front of him when he was traded to the Blackhawks in January. The first day he stepped into the locker room, he admitted he was a little "star-struck."

But the marriage didn't last very long. 

After recording only two goals and eight assists in 23 games, the Blackhawks chose to move on from the restricted free agent by not extending a qualifying offer. Duclair later latched on with the Columbus Blue Jackets on a one-year, $650,000 "prove-it" deal.

"I wasn't surprised," Duclair said before Saturday's game against his former team. "I knew that I didn't perform as well as I did when I was there. I think I was there for only 20 games and didn't live up to the standards. As soon as I didn't hear anything from my agent I sort of got the message. But it was time to move on."

Duclair made no excuses for what went wrong in Chicago and accepted responsibility for not taking advantage of his opportunity, even though a leg injury sidelined him for the final month that prevented him from giving the Blackhawks a larger sample size.

"I just didn't perform well," he said. "It's going to be one of my regrets, to get that opportunity in Chicago and not perform in the way I did. It was something I had to look in the mirror this summer and move on obviously, but at the same time whenever a team comes next I think I'm going to take that opportunity and run away with it."

It's obvious that Duclair's got the potential to be an effective offensive player in the NHL. But we've only seen that in flashes, which is a large reason why it didn't work out in Chicago and why, entering his fifth season in the league, he still finds himself trying to play for a long-term contract.

"Just being more consistent," Duclair said. "Thats comes up a lot and my agents talks to a couple GMs around the league and it's something I'm trying to work on. It's not something you can work on in the summer, it's more preparing mentally and physically and that's what I've been trying to do."

So far, so good in Columbus.

Duclair has two goals and two assists through six games and is averaging 15:22 of ice time playing in a top-six role, on track to shatter his previous career high in that category (14:23) when he did so as a sophomore in 2015-16 with Arizona. He even made headlines on Thursday after scoring a highlight-reel goal against the Philadelphia Flyers, saying his "phone blew up quite a bit."

How he scored it is what stood out and his perspective after it is encouraging for his overall growth, as well.

"I've already put it behind me to be honest with you," Duclair said. "I'm just focused on Chicago now. I want to be consistent throughout every shift. Look at that goal, [it was] second and third efforts. That's what I want to bring to the table every shift, especially with the guys I'm playing right now. I just want to be having the puck whenever you can and being big on the forecheck."