It was one of Stan Bowman’s most egregious miscalculations to give Richard Panik a two-year, $5.6 million contract this past summer after a breakout, 22-goal season. It was one of his more impressive coups to rid himself of that deal on Wednesday, acquiring a cheaper, younger, faster, and more promising winger in the process.
The Blackhawks dealt Panik to the Arizona Coyotes for 22-year-old winger Anthony Duclair. The Hawks also reacquired minor-league defenseman Adam Clendening, while the Coyotes reacquired minor-league forward Laurent Dauphin.
Bowman shrugged off the cap savings, calling it an “added bonus” that he plans to use to sign top prospect Dylan Sikura once his senior season at Northeastern ends in March. Bowman said he’s not looking to make any more moves ahead of the Feb. 26 trade deadline, though that can always change. He said he wants to give his surging, revamped lineup a chance.
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“Right now, I like this group, I really like our team,” Bowman said. “Obviously, I wish we had a few more wins under our belt, but I’m very excited about this group.”
The trade was part of a clear effort by the Hawks, who slogged through the first two months of the season looking old and slow, to get younger and faster. The recalls of Vinnie Hinostroza and David Kampf, the emergence of Jordan Oesterle on the top defensive pairing, and the acquisition of Duclair all make the Hawks a quicker, younger team — a necessity in the modern NHL.
Bowman noted that there are now 13 players on the roster aged 25 or younger, and that at this point last year, there were only four.
“The game today is about speed and about being able to pressure the puck,” Bowman said. “In a matter of a year, we’ve been able to get considerably younger, but we’re still a team that wants to win. We’re not playing for the future. The game today really is predicted on being able to skate. It’s really hard to play if you don’t have the quickness and the speed.”
Duclair, a speedy left wing, has nine goals and six assists in 33 games this season. He had 20 goals and 24 assists in 81 games in 2014-15, his first full season in the NHL, but has struggled to reach that level since, and reportedly requested a trade last week. It’s a similar situation that Panik was in when the Hawks acquired him from Toronto, a promising player in desperate need of a change of scenery.
Duclair carries a $1.2-million cap hit and will be a restricted free agent after this season, so it’s a low-risk, high-reward move for Bowman, who preached patience as Duclair adjusts to coach Joel Quenneville’s system.
“Sometimes there’s expectations he’s going to come in and set the world on fire, and that would be great, but we’ve got to give him a chance,” Bowman said.
But Duclair’s talent is undeniable, and he ideally is a top-six winger, which could make things awfully interesting up front, especially when Artem Anisimov returns from an upper-body injury (likely after next week’s bye week). Throw in the expected eventual return of John Hayden from Rockford and the expected signing of Sikura, and competition for jobs will be heated.
Panik has been a colossal disappointment. His goal Tuesday night in Ottawa was his first since Oct. 21, and his first 5-on-5 goal since the second game of the season. After bursting on to the scene last year as a big, physical presence and a finisher around the net, he has been mostly passive and ineffective, with six goals and 10 assists in 37 games. He has been a frequent healthy scratch of late.
The Hawks had lost patience with Panik, but the Coyotes, with an eye on his still-solid analytics, believe a correction is coming.
“We feel like some of it this year has just been some unluckiness,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said. “His shooting percentage from areas he’s scored in the past is just slightly down this year. We expect that to bounce back.”
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