The last time Artem Anisimov had a season like this, he found himself traded the following offseason.
Given Anisimov’s current disparity between contract size (two seasons left after this at a $4.55 million cap hit) and production (only nine goals and 25 points on the season), the 30-year-old center could be in for another tumultuous spring and summer of rumors.
But he’s hoping his goal in the Blackhawks’ 5-2 win Thursday night — his first in 12 games — will help jumpstart his scoring.
“The weight is off my shoulders,” he said. “Obviously the puck (hasn’t been) crossing the line that often, but I think right now that goal is going to give me confidence, and it’s going to cross the line a little bit more often.”
Anisimov has established himself as a productive No. 2 center throughout much of his career by crashing the net and efficiently converting on his opportunities. His goal Thursday was a prime example: he won an offensive zone draw, used his 6-4 frame to beat his defender to the crease and easily slid a rebound off an Erik Gustafsson shot into the half-empty net.
There hasn’t been nearly as much of that from Anisimov this season as usual, though. A career 12.9 percent shooter — who has shot at a tremendous 17.4 percent rate over his prior three seasons in Chicago, reaching the 20-goal plateau all three times — Anisimov is shooting only 9.8 percent this season. It’s mid-February and he’s still yet to eclipse 10 goals, much less 20.
It’s looking a lot like 2014-15, when Anisimov followed up an impressive 22-goal season in Columbus with a measly seven-goal one, partially due to his shooting percentage dropping from 13.6 to 8.0. That June, he was dealt to the Hawks in the first Brandon Saad trade.
Just like that year with the Blue Jackets, Anisimov’s playing time is also down this season, cut into by the emergence of Dylan Strome. His season average is under 16 minutes per game for the first time since 2011-12, his final year with the Rangers. And he’s been below even that average in 10 of his last 11 outings now.
“If coach puts me on the third line, I’m going to play on the third line,” he said. “Doesn’t matter what, I’m going to do my job out there and play hard every shift.”
The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported last week that the Hawks are willing to listen to offers on Anisimov, although the center does have a say in the matter — he has a modified no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to all but 10 undisclosed teams.
Anisimov, for his part, said Thursday that he hasn’t paid attention to rumors, instead focusing on his on-ice play.
That led to a much-needed goal against the Devils, giving the Hawks a two-goal cushion in what ultimately became their eighth win in nine games, but Anisimov will need several more in the coming weeks to ward off attention prior to the Feb. 25 trade deadline.
Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton, who seen his team flip from struggling to red-hot over the past month, is hoping a similar phenomenon will happen to his maligned veteran center after his monkey-off-the-back tally Thursday.
“It gives you a little life, you sleep a little better, your life is better, you’re better with your wife and your kids and all that stuff, not unlike what it’s like as a coach when you win,” Colliton said. “Yeah, hopefully he feels relaxed and some more pucks go in the net.”