The Tampa Bay Lightning will visit the United Center tonight with Brandon Hagel making his triumphant return to the barn where his NHL career began. Tyler Johnson is expected to skate against his former teammates as well, making this a game where there could be hugs and handshakes from both sides before the puck drops.
How those two players moved, and the performance of the Lightning this year and next year, will have a significant and direct impact on Kyle Davidson’s rebuild efforts in Chicago.
In July of 2021, Stan Bowman did the Lightning a financial favor, trading Brent Seabrook’s contract (permanently on LTIR) to Tampa for Tyler Johnson and a second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. The move gave Tampa some cap flexibility. Johnson brought injury issues and a $5 million cap hit to Chicago that expires after the 2023-24 season.
The win in the deal for Chicago was the pick. Tyler has been a nice forward for the team when healthy, but having a second pick in the second round of what has been billed as a great, deep draft class is the real value.
Fast forward to mid-March of last year. Bowman was gone and Kyle Davidson was the newly-named permanent general manager of the Blackhawks. His first big trade as GM came on March 18 when he made his first eyebrow-raising trade. GMKD sent Hagel, who was a productive forward under control for a couple more years at a very efficient $1.5 million cap hit, to Tampa for a package of two players and two picks.
The two players the Blackhawks brought back have provided different returns thus far. Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk had combined cap hits in the range of Hagel’s number. Raddysh has grabbed his opportunity and stuck in the Blackhawks’ top six most of this season. Katchouk has been in and out of the lineup and hasn’t provided much value.
But, again, the win in this trade was the picks Chicago acquired.
The Blackhawks own Tampa’s first-round picks in the 2023 and 2024 drafts, provided neither is a top-ten pick. With the Lightning firmly in a win-now window — they look like a championship contender again this year — it’s safe to assume at least this year’s pick will be in the late-20s at least. But it’s a first-round pick. Next year one has to assume the Lightning will again be in playoff contention, so staying out of the top ten overall selections is a good bet once again.
As the Blackhawks look to accelerate their rebuild by adding assets, picks have been paramount. And teams are treating first-round picks in 2023 like gold bars, so the Blackhawks being one of three teams with multiple selections before the trading frenzy begins this year is huge.
So while we watch the game this evening, keep in mind that the Tampa Bay Lightning’s go for it mindset could provide the Blackhawks with valuable assets as they turn the ship around. And, if used wisely, those picks could help the Blackhawks’ future be much brighter than the present.