CHICAGO (AP) — General manager Stan Bowman promised changes were coming after the Chicago Blackhawks were swept in the first round of the playoffs.
Boy, he wasn’t kidding.
Chicago re-acquired Brandon Saad and parted with Niklas Hjalmarsson and Artemi Panarin in a pair of surprising trades Friday, giving the Blackhawks a younger look and more cost certainty for their roster.
“This is a day of highs and lows,” Bowman said. “There’s some tougher conversations, but there’s also, we’re moving ahead, we’re excited about what we have coming in.”
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The Blackhawks won the Central Division last season with a 50-23-9 record, finishing with the most points in the Western Conference. But they were swept by Nashville in the opening series, managing just three goals in 13 periods in an embarrassing performance for a team with three championships since 2010.
Bowman angrily called it a complete failure, and then overhauled coach Joel Quenneville’s staff and replaced the coach of the team’s top minor league affiliate.
Turns out he was just getting started.
Bowman traded forwards Panarin and Tyler Motte and Chicago’s sixth-round selection in this weekend’s NHL draft to Columbus for Saad, goaltender Anton Forsberg and a fifth-round draft pick next year. The deal was announced less than an hour after Hjalmarsson was traded to Arizona for defenseman Connor Murphy and forward Laurent Dauphin.
“I certainly like the fact that we’re getting younger,” Bowman said. “I think we saw last year with some of our young players really take that next step, and I think, if anything, you know you have to have a measure of youth in your lineup nowadays. I think the league is getting younger and younger.”
The 24-year-old Saad spent his first four seasons with Chicago, helping the Blackhawks win two Stanley Cup championships. He became a restricted free agent after the title run in 2015, and Bowman traded the rugged winger to the Blue Jackets when the team was unable to hammer out a new deal with the Pittsburgh native.
Saad had 24 goals and 29 assists in 82 games for Columbus last season. His return should help make up for the loss of Marian Hossa, who announced this week that he won’t play next season because of severe side effects from medication to treat a progressive skin disorder.
“It was definitely a thought in my mind where it could end up, one day ending up back in Chicago,” Saad said. “I didn’t think it would happen this soon, but that’s just the way it happened.”
Saad said he heard from Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and defenseman Brent Seabrook after the trade. Toews and Saad played together on Chicago’s top line for much of the time during his previous stint with the team.
“There’s no doubt that the guys who’ve been here for a while are excited to have him back,” Bowman said.
But the departure of Hjalmarsson and Panarin creates two more holes that need to be filled.
The 30-year-old Hjalmarsson had spent his entire 10-year career with Chicago, where he had 23 goals and 120 assists in 623 career games along with the franchise record for most playoff games played by a Blackhawks defenseman at 128. The Swede had five goals, 13 assists and a team-high 181 blocked shots in 73 games last season.
Panarin teamed with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov to form one of the NHL’s most potent lines. The 25-year-old Russian had at least 30 goals and 40 assists in each of his first two seasons in the league.
“This is a dynamic player who’s got tremendous speed and quickness and that 1-on-1 ability to create odd-man situations, and with his skill just create time in space and scoring opportunities,” Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “I think he’s one of the most dynamic forwards in the league.”
Panarin agreed to a $12 million, two-year contract extension in December that runs through the 2018-19 season, while Saad’s $36 million, six-year contract runs through the 2020-21 season.
Forsberg will get a chance to replace Scott Darling as Chicago’s backup goaltender, and the deal with the Coyotes brings back a promising young defenseman in the 24-year-old Murphy, who had two goals and a career-high 15 assists in 77 games with Arizona last season.
“I just have nothing but exciting feelings going to a great organization,” Murphy said. “It means a lot to me that Stan Bowman has put the trust in the trade, believing that I can help the team.”
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Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap