The Chicago Blackhawks pulled off a massive seven-player trade (and a pick swap) with the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, with Marian Hossa waiving his no-movement clause to do the organization a big favor.
Hossa will never play again because of a skin disorder but he still had three years left on his contract with an annual cap hit of $5.275 million. Moving that deal was always going to be critical to the Blackhawks’ offseason plans and doing so was always going to be costly.
However, the price could have been much higher in retrospect.
Losing Vinnie Hinostroza is undoubtedly a blow, as the Chicago-area native likely would have slotted in on the top line with Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews with an extremely manageable cap hit of $1.5 million for the next two years. Meanwhile, Jordan Oesterle could have at least provided value as a seventh defenseman for $650,000 and third-round pick always has the chance to yield a prospect of substance.
But look back to two years ago and what it cost to get rid of Bryan Bickell’s bad contract. Bickell had just one year left at a $4 million cap hit, but it cost them Teuvo Teravainen to move that deal.
Granted, the Blackhawks got a second-round pick and a third-round pick in return to soften the blow but Teravainen carried some elite top-line forward potential. We’re seeing that come to fruition now after a 64-point year with the Carolina Hurricanes last season.
Hinostroza is a nice player because he can play all three forward spots, he skates well and he’s got some offensive skill. He could eventually develop into a consistent 20-goal scorer, but he’s nowhere near the caliber of Teravainen talent-wise and the Blackhawks got a couple assets to ease their pain.
For starters, they’ll bring Marcus Kruger back into the fold. You all remember Kruger from his role in two of the Blackhawks’ cup runs as a solid two-way center who was great in the faceoff circle and was capable of killing penalties.
Kruger hasn’t been particularly good since leaving the Blackhawks and was demoted to Carolina’s AHL affiliate before being traded to Arizona in 2017-18, but he played all of last season with a sports hernia and recently had surgery to correct it. He knows the system and he’s going to plug in comfortably as your fourth-line center next season.
Then the Blackhawks also added a fifth-round pick to dull the impact of sending away the third-rounder, added 18-year-old power forward prospect MacKenzie Entwistle (a former third-round pick who could have been a first-round pick if not for a lengthy bout with mono his draft year) and acquired minor leaguers Jordan Maletta and Andrew Campbell.
Even if Maletta and Campbell are apparent throwaways, Entwistle has some long-term value and, at this point, you have to have confidence in Stan Bowman’s ability to identify forward prospects given the history.
Of course, the true star of this deal is the cap space it creates. Scott Powers of The Athletic offered up a projected lineup (as well as how they might spend their money) that leaves the Blackhawks with just over $5.8 million in cap space to make a couple major additions via trade or free agency this offseason.
Just as important, the organization frees up space the following offseason to get extensions done for Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat. It’s a level of both short- and long-term cap flexibility that they haven’t really had since doing the Patrick Kane and Toews extensions.
All totaled, a top-9 forward, a fringe NHL defenseman and a third-round pick is a pretty small price to pay for all that. Although, we know these deals are always judged with the benefit of hindsight and many will want to wait to see how they use this added cap space before they reach their verdict.