For years, the Chicago Blackhawks searched for a consistent second-line center to compliment Jonathan Toews in their top-six. From Dave Bolland to Michal Handzus, to Brad Richards, and even Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad for brief periods of time, the second line center position in Chicago has been a revolving door.
All of the Blackhawks problems seemed solved after Artem Anisimov was acquired for Saad last off-season. Stan Bowman seemed so sure that he found his long-term fix for the position that he locked up Anisimov for five-years almost immediately after acquiring him from Columbus. There isn’t much to not like about the 28-year-old Russians’ game. His impressive two-way ability, his 6-foot-4 198 pound frame, and his ability to create opportunities for his line-mates are all assets that the Blackhawks should not overlook.
Another point in favor of Anisimov is the success that both Kane and Artemi Panarin had on his wings.
In 82 games last season, Kane put up his best season in the NHL by far, posting 46 goals and 60 assists for 106 points giving him the best point total in the entire league. Panarin, a first-year NHL player last season, found success alongside Kane and Anisimov. The young Russian scored 30 goals and posted 47 assists for 77 points in 80 games. Anisimov posted less-impressive point totals than his line-mates with 20 goals and 22 assists for 42 points in 77 games, but his 20 goals and his accountability on the ice as well as the success of his line-mates was enough to earn the respect and admiration of his fans, coaches, and teammates.
It’s certainly understandable to think that the Chicago Blackhawks would be crazy to trade away a player like Anisimov so soon after acquiring him and so soon after he put together such a solid season. Due to salary cap dilemmas and intriguing replacement options within the system, Stan Bowman might have no choice but to pull the trigger on a deal, however. With that in mind, should the Blackhawks trade away Anisimov this off-season?
Jay Zawaski of CBS Chicago seems to think so. Zawaski wrote an article highlighting the fact that the Blackhawks might actually be a better team by trading away Anisimov as his replacement might already be on the roster.
Who Would Replace Artem Anisimov on the Second Line?
It’s no secret that the Chicago Blackhawks have an intriguing player in Teuvo Teravainen who could benefit from a top-six role. At just 21 years old, Teravainen has already flashed signs of brilliance at the NHL level, most notably in the 2014-15 playoffs when he posted 10 points in 18 games. The 2012 18th overall draft pick could finally be in line for a long-term top-six role on the Chicago Blackhawks in between Panarin and Kane.
Another potential option for the second line center position could be pending-restricted free agent Andrew Shaw, or recently re-signed Marcus Kruger.
While it’s evident that both players would be less-than-ideal in a top-six position, both have been considered for the role in the past. When discussing moving Saad to the center ice position in 2013, head coach Joel Quenneville had this to say:
“I think that versatility in playing more than one or two positions up front gives us more depth over time and sometimes, on a need basis, you’ve got to try different guys in different situations,”
“We’re in a position now where we still have some other guys who we know can play in that situation, [like] Handzus, Shaw, Kruger and some other options. I just think that [Saad] can play with top players and he has that ability to still get better in his game.” – Joel Quenneville
With both Kane and Saad playing center on the Hawks’ second line in the past, there has historically been little hesitation to experiment with the role. With that being said, it still seems like the Blackhawks would be crazy to try and replace Anisimov without a sure-fire replacement in the mix.
There’s an argument that can be made that the money saved from Anisimov that can ultimately be spent on Andrew Shaw would be more worth it in the long-term for the Blackhawks.
Is Andrew Shaw More Important to the Blackhawks Than Artem Anisimov?
It’s hard to compare players like Shaw and Anisimov, as they both bring so much to the Blackhawks in different ways.
Shaw is still a young player in the NHL who hasn’t yet hit his prime. At just 24 years old, he is four years Anisimov’s junior. In a role that was much less clearly-defined than Anisimov’s, Shaw managed to compile just six less goals and eight fewer points than Anisimov last season. Neither player is known to stand-out for their offense, but the intangibles that go into both players are what make them so valuable to Chicago.
When looking at possession numbers, both players also contributed in a positive way for the ‘Hawks last season, although both under very different circumstances.
Shaw saw 53.2% of his zone starts come in the defensive zone, but despite that, he was able to post a solid Corsi-For rating of 51.4%. Anisimov saw only 32.9% of his zone starts come in the defensive zone, and he posted a 50.2% Corsi-For rating last season. In a situation where he could have done far worse, Shaw held his own and then some.
It’s important to note that Anisimov has started in defensive zone at a 53.6% rate or higher in each of his last three seasons in Columbus and he still managed to maintain a 47.5%, 50.4%, and 50.9% Corsi rating in each of those seasons respectively. While he produced a worse Corsi-For rating than Shaw with significantly more offensive-zone starts, he probably would have fared just as well if he was thrust into a similar situation to Shaw.
There are some negatives to Shaw’s game that shouldn’t be overlooked when considering his value over Anisimov’s on the roster. The most glaring draw-back to Shaw’s game is his recklessness on the ice at times that leads to ill-timed penalties. Sure, Shaw is an emotional player who plays with his heart on his sleeve, but that doesn’t help the Blackhawks when he’s in the penalty box, leaving his team down a man in must-win situations.
The Chicago Blackhawks have a plethora of players who can play center and who should be given the opportunity to play in more prominent roles in the future. The salary cap era is something that the Blackhawks have done well at navigating in the past by showing a willingness to pull the trigger on some shocking trades and transactions (as mentioned here). With that in mind, and with all that Anisimov brings to the Chicago Blackhawks, they should not look at trading him this off-season.
Teravainen could see an increase in ice-time next season, and he could even see himself slotting into the second line center role alongside Kane and Panarin at some point in an experimental situation. At just 21 years old, he has a long future in the NHL ahead of him that shouldn’t be rushed by trading out a proven veteran like Anisimov. Players who are accountable like Anisimov are a highly coveted asset in the NHL, and the Blackhawks would be wise to hold on to him, even if only for another year, to see if he can repeat his impressive first-season in Chicago.