Following their early playoff exit, Chicago Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman vowed there would be change. Bowman did not specify how much change there would be, but promised that it would be significant enough to hopefully get the team back on track. From there, Bowman proceeded to fire longtime Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Kitchen. Although this move upset Joel Quenneville and some fans, no one could have predicted the move that Bowman would make next. In a stunning turn of events, Bowman traded Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for defenseman Connor Murphy and forward prospect Laurent Dauphin.
While many fans continue to question Bowman’s decision to trade away one of the most underrated defenseman in the league, it is important to see why the Blackhawks made the trade that they did. First and foremost is the age factor. Chicago – just like other teams – has a strong core made up of players the organization drafted and has developed over the years. Unfortunately though, their core is aging quickly. With 4 out of 6 defencemen over the age of 30 and the loss of Trevor Van Riemsdyk, the Hawks were smart to make a trade to acquire a young, talented defenceman. Perhaps one of Hjalmarsson’s best attributes was his willingness to block shots. Last season, Hjalmarsson blocked 181 shots and placed 6th among NHL defencemen. Murphy only blocked 119. However, Murphy makes up for this with his ability to hit. Last season, Murphy registered 201 hits, placing him in the top 10 in the league in that category. This upgrade in physicality fills a gaping hole that has festered since the departure of “Big Buff” (Dustin Byfuglien). In fact, the Hawks haven’t had a defenseman place in the top 10 for hits since the 2010-11 season.
Aside from physicality, the team also managed to regain some cap space from the trade, something that the organization needs to focus on in future trades. The Hawks regained about $250,000 in cap space and now have Murphy locked up for the next 5 years. So, while the team may not save money in the near term, they will in the long run. Hjalmarsson’s contract would have expired after the 2018-19 season and the Hawks would have been forced to pay him more, something that they clearly could not have afforded to do. As the Nashville Predators proved last year, having defenseman that can move the puck quickly up the boards and can join in on the attack can startle teams and lead to more quality scoring chances. Murphy makes the Hawks blueline younger and faster and more importantly, the team overall is better positioned for the future.