Chicago Blackhawks: The Ones That Got Away

Sometimes even the most storied franchises have a hard time keeping their top talent. Cap restrictions, loaded depth at spots, and coach differences leave these players without a spot and on the move. One year ago, the Chicago Blackhawks parted with two of their top minor league talents – one by choice and one by force. While many Blackhawk fans may have washed their hands of these players after they took off the Indian head sweater, they have gone on to have pretty solid 2015 campaigns.

Brandon Pirri Panthers
Brandon Pirri has been scoring at a torrid pace as of late, but can he keep it up as the Panthers try to sneak into the Eastern Conference Playoff bubble? (Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports)

Brandon Pirri

Brandon Pirri was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2nd round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. After spending a year in the minors, Pirri made his NHL debut on October 9th, 2010. After being sent back down to AHL Rockford, Pirri put up big numbers, but still struggled to crack the NHL roster.  While having all of the offensive ability in the world, Pirri struggled to find a role in Coach Joel Quennville’s offense, often times struggling on the defensive side of things. Viewed as only a 100-ft. player, he was never awarded an opportunity to compete for the 2nd line center job.

With all of this in mind, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman had to make a choice – did he keep Pirri in the AHL or did he trade him away and get as much value as he could? Bowman chose the latter, sending Pirri to the Florida Panthers on March 5th, 2014 in exchange for a 2014 3rd round pick – a pick Chicago used on RW Mathias Iacopelli and a 2016 5th round pick.

Here is what Stan Bowman had to tell the Score regarding the deal:

“There’s a good chance he could have made our team right out of camp, but as we sit here today, I wasn’t 100 percent sure he would be the player out — we have (Teuvo Teravainen and) some other good players coming. Because of that, the longer you hold onto him, his value goes down because teams know they’re not gonna trade for a player next September when they could pick him off waivers. Some of it is managing the time with things, and I think Brandon’s gonna be a good NHL player.

“There’s nothing wrong with the way he plays, he’s talented and he’s put up a lot of offense,” Bowman continued. “He’s definitely grown. But we’ve got some good players that we’re excited about as well and it’s your job to sort of look ahead and be sure. If he’s not gonna be on your team, then the timing was right to get some value for him.”

In a nutshell, the Hawks viewed center Teuvo Teravainen as a better fit than Pirri. So how have these two fared since that deal?

Teravainen would come over late in the 2013-14 season, only appearing in one game for Chicago. In the 2014-15 season so far, he has accounted for three goals and four assists in 28 games. While at the time Teravainen was viewed as a better fit, he too has struggled to crack the Hawks line, virtually getting the Pirri treatment by either being a healthy scratch or spending time in Rockford. Even after Patrick Kane’s injury, Teuvo has been in and out of the Blackhawks’ lineup.

Pirri would go on to score seven goals and have seven assists in 21 games in the 2013-14 season. After being a healthy scratch for the beginning part of the 2014-15 season, Pirri finally clawed his way into the Panthers’ starting lineup and all of the potential that both teams had known about finally came out. In 44 games for Florida, Pirri has scored 21 goals and added two assists, good for 2nd in goals on the team. His 15.6% shooting percentage is tops among all Panthers and, in the month of March, Pirri recorded nine goals in 12 games.

Unlike in Chicago, Pirri has his coaches’ confidence in his corner, as he had this to say to in a article om the Panthers website in March:

“It’s been a combination [of myself and coaching staff],”said Pirri. “We’re not the highest scoring team, so everyone has to do what they can. But for me, I’ve been on the power play especially put in situations where I’m the trigger man. For me, I’m trying to shoot everything and obviously the more you shoot, the better chance you have to score. I kind of treat it as a law of averages type of thing.”


Kevin Hayes New York Rangers
Kevin Hayes has had a nice rookie season, and his production as of late has definitely given fantasy managers something to think about. (Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

Kevin Hayes

Hayes was a 2010 1st round pick for the Chicago Blackhawks and played four years of college hockey at Boston College. While Hayes first three years at Boston College only produced marginal numbers, his senior season made him a hot commodity. Scoring 28 goals alongside current Calgary Flames players Bill Arnold and Johnny Gaudreau, who won the Hobey Baker award that season, Hayes earned a reputation as a two-way forward with a big shot. Sounds like someone you would want on your team, right? For the Hawks, it was not so simple.

The Hawks had until August 15th, 2014 to sign Hayes; if they could not come to terms on a contract by that date, he would become an unrestricted free agent. How, you ask?

Section 8.6 (c) (iv) of the CBA, which states:

“A club holds exclusive negotiating rights to a college player through Aug. 15 of the fourth year following his selection in the draft. That fourth year can be either his senior season or, if he spent his first post-draft year in the USHL or a non-major-junior league, his junior season.”

Once the allotted time passes, the player is free to play for whomever he likes.

Although this option was available, it never seemed like Hayes would use it, attending three summer camps hosted by the Blackhawks. As time passed though, and a contract had yet to be finalized, the crowded front end started to pose an obstacle for Hayes. With the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Brandon Saad firmly planted on the top six for Chicago, there wouldn’t be any room for Hayes right away. It was at that point the little known option came into view.

On August 17th, 2014 Jimmy Hayes became a UFA, free to sign with any team who desired. After being courted by many teams, including Calgary, home of two former teammates, Hayes chose to take his talents to the bright lights of Broadway and play for the New York Rangers.  In return, Chicago received the 54th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

Once again, Chicago would lose a top talent, and just like Brandon Pirri, Hayes would go on to post solid numbers in the 2014-15 season.

Instead of starting his rookie campaign in AHL Rockford, Hayes would crack the Rangers’ opening day roster, making the rookie maximum $925,000. Centering the third line alongside Carl Hagelin and JT Miller, while also playing on the 2nd Power-Play Unit with Miller and Mats Zuccarello, Hayes has put up 15 goals and 24 assists over 73 games played. Compare that to winger Kris Versteeg, whom Chicago traded Jimmy Hayes (Kevin’s brother) for, who has posted 13 goals and 20 assists. Versteeg’s annual contract? 4.7 million.

While the Blackhawks will always have solid players coming through the ranks, it is easy to imagine the damage these two players could cause if they still played in the Windy City.