2015-16 saw the emergence of several new staples within the Chicago Blackhawks’ lineup. Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, Trevor van Riemsdyk, and Teuvo Teravainen all established themselves as productive lineup regulars over the 82-game campaign and will look to maintain their respective roles entering 2016-17.
Next season, however, may the last for at least one of these players in a Blackhawks uniform, as severe salary cap restraints could force the team to part with valuable players once again. This situation will only be made more difficult by Panarin’s impending free agency that offseason, as his new contract could easily cost the Blackhawks upwards of $6 million per season long-term.
So why does that affect fellow forwards like Teravainen and Anisimov? Well, Teravainen’s contract also expires after 2016-17, while Anisimov’s $4.55 million cap hit kicks in this summer. And since both player seem more comfortable playing center in Joel Quenneville’s lineup, one of them may have to be moved out.
A quick review of 2015-16 reveals that both center-men had incredibly productive seasons. Anisimov had the second highest goal (20) and point (42) totals of his career while centering Chicago’s dynamic second line with Panarin and Patrick Kane on his wings. The trio dominated opponents all season to the tune of a 54.79 GF% and a 53.41 CF% – some of the best marks of any regular line the Hawks used this season. That grouping also combined for 23 goals on 5v4 power plays when used together, according to Corsica.hockey.
Meanwhile, Teravainen emerged as one of the top shutdown options for the Blackhawks while playing every forward position throughout the season. Not only did his iCor/60 of 12.37 rank fifth amongst regular forwards for the Hawks, but he produced that while drawing the second toughest matchups on the team.
The above usage chart (again courtesy of Corsica.hockey) shows that only Jonathan Toews faced tougher competition based on the CF% of opponents, while only Marcus Kruger and Andrew Desjardins received fewer offensive zone starts. For a player that was once a healthy scratch near the beginning of the season, seeing him trusted with a role of such importance does a lot to highlight his development.
One factor that Anisimov definitely carries over Teravainen though is his ability to play effectively with Kane and Panarin, who form arguably the best offensive combo in the entire NHL. The trio’s effectiveness both at even strength and on the power play has already been mentioned in this article, but what hasn’t been considered is the drop off the team experienced when Anisimov wasn’t playing between the two stars.
While it may seem like the speed and skill of Teravainen would be a natural fit between the similarly skilled Kane and Panarin, the three did not play well together in limited time throughout the season. They recorded a disappointing 47.75 CF% during 5v5 play together and failed to score a single goal during that time as well. It would be tough for the Blackhawks to consider moving Anisimov if they knew that his replacement would constitute such a steep drop-off in production.
Granted, the small sample size and dynamic skill level of that line combination leads me to believe that they would finish an entire season with significantly better production, but that is a tough gamble to take when even a small stretch of poor play could sink a team in the highly competitive Central Division. Still, it looks like each player will return to their role from 2015-16 this coming season, although with hopefully a little more support for Teuvo on the third line.
What the Season Will Say
Both players are entering critical career junctions entering the 2016-17 season. While Stan Bowman already committed to Anisimov for the foreseeable future when the center was given a new contract last offseason, but time will tell if Bowman decides that Panarin and Teravainen are more valuable uses of the team’s limited cap space.
The contract’s average annual value isn’t an exorbitant amount for productive veteran centers nowadays (it compares to those of Craig Smith and David Backes), but it is a significant amount for a roster that has only five forwards signed past 2017. With all of this in mind, I think the best approach would be giving Teravainen a fair shot at locking in the second line center role this summer to see if he can handle the extra offensive expectations.
If the young Finn runs with the role – as I expect he would – moving Anisimov may be the best option for the Hawks while they try to bring back other young players such as Panarin. Unfortunately, this is yet another example of the price Bowman has to pay for the success of his team over the years.