After decades of fostering a reputation as one of the NHL’s premiere tortured franchises, the Chicago Blackhawks recast their reputation when Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and company won the Stanley Cup in 2010. In the decade since, there have been two faces to the Chicago franchise: cup contention on the one hand, and salary cap concessions on the other.
Stanley Cup Championships in 2010, 2013, and 2015 put Captain Serious and the Blackhawks in contention for the franchise of the decade. But the core that helped the Hawks to nine consecutive playoff appearances was costly to keep together. The resultant sell-off of quality players became the other trademark of the 2010s-era Blackhawks. Quality rotations players were sent packing in an effort to manage the salary cap: Dustin Byfuglien, Brandon Saad, Andrew Ladd, Brent Sopel, Nick Leddy, Antti Raanta, Robin Lehner, Andrew Shaw, Artem Anisimov, Artemi Panarin, Kris Versteeg, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Patrick Sharp, Teuvo Teravainen, Bryan Bickell, Troy Brouwer, and the beat goes on. Basically, when all these guys get together at the annual meetup for players traded away from the Blackhawks, they require a larger space than the visiting locker room.
Of course, as a group, they’re still pretty well connected in Chicago. A surprising number of the players GM Stan Bowman has traded away have at some point found their way back to Chicago (Saad, Ladd, Versteeg, Shaw, Oduya, etc.). So before Bowman trades for Nick Leddy again, let’s take a look at the deal that sent the defenseman packing.
The deal – reported here by Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune – sent blueliner Nick Leddy (and minor league goalie Kent Simpson) to the New York Islanders after the 2013-2014 season for T.J. Brennan, Ville Pokka, and goaltender Anders Nilsson. Like many of Bowman’s trades post-2010, this one was necessitated by a contract sheet bursting at the seams. Three months prior, Bowman locked Toews and Kane into dueling 10-year deals, and two days after that, the salary cap figure came in from the league for the 2014-2015 season at about $2MM less than expected.
Leddy carried a $2.7MM cap hit at the time with one season before restricted free agency. He would become the first – if much-anticipated – collateral damage of locking their two superstars into long-term deals. He was, by then, a fixture in Chicago, having won the cup in 2013 while serving on the third line of defenders and on the power play for the Hawks. They had to make a move to get under the cap, and with Leddy’s impending restricted free agency, it made a certain amount of sense that he’d be the fall guy.
Assume Bowman figured to move a defender. They could have broken up their second defensive pairing, as both Hjalmarsson and Oduya carried larger cap hits ($4.1MM and $3.375MM, respectively). Both were older than Leddy, considerably so for Oduya (entering his age-32 season). That might have played into Bowman’s thinking, as Oduya wasn’t likely to command as much future salary as Leddy. Hjalmarsson had signed a five-year extension the summer prior, and he routinely put his body on the line to defend the net. He was, if not inner circle in Chicago, then the first guy knocking on the door.
By moving Leddy, Chicago kept their top-two blueline pairings intact. Given Leddy’s youth, there’s an argument to be made that he was the right piece to move because of the value he could return.
That’s where this particular trade falls apart. Goaltender Anders Nilsson signed with Kazan of the KHL the following May, never to play for the Blackhawks. Defender T.J. Brennan barely spent the night in-pocket: Bowman traded him to Toronto a couple of months later for Spencer Abbott. Brennan didn’t accomplish a ton in the league, but he lasted longer than Abbott, who appeared in exactly one game for the Blackhawks. Pokka was the other defender in the deal, and at 26-years-old, he has yet to make an appearance for Chicago, spending the last two seasons in the KHL. Abbott’s 8 minutes and 34 seconds of ice time from January of 2017 – his one shot on goal – make up the entirety of the production received from the Leddy trade.
Granted, Leddy isn’t an all-world defender, but he became a top-pair defender in New York. He can hit the back of the net and bring some punch to the backline, even if his plus/minus scores leave something to be desired. He signed a 7-year, $38.5MM deal that the Blackhawks weren’t likely able to afford – which really puts him on par financially with, say, Brent Seabrook. If keeping Leddy meant trading Seabrook, well, maybe this deal was bound to happen. But again, the real issue with this deal isn’t losing Leddy. It’s that despite the volume return, those pieces added essentially zero long-or-short-term value to the Blackhawks’ roster.
Maybe the deal had to happen to duck the salary cap, and maybe given another chance, Bowman would make the decision to move Leddy again, but one thing is for certain, the Blackhawks would like to have this trade back – even just to try their hand at trading him again. He wouldn’t be the first guy to get traded away from Chicago more than once.