Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov looks woefully out of place now that he isn’t centering two of the league’s most dynamic wingers. Is it time to consider moving the Russian forward?
Over the last two seasons, it would be hard to imagine the Chicago Blackhawks breaking up the trio of Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. Panarin and Kane had a sort of sixth sense when it came to playing alongside each other, and Anisimov was someone who could win board battles and get to the net to finish some chances.
Flash forward to the present, and the Blackhawks have traded Panarin while breaking up Anisimov and Kane. And while Kane has looked pretty much as he usually does, Anisimov looks lost on the ice most nights.
Anisimov was centering Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Sharp to start the season, and that resulted in him being anywhere from invisible to noticeably bad. While Anisimov has boosted his faceoff win percentage early this season (probably due in part to the league’s crackdown on faceoff violations), he looks slow and is rarely involved in scoring chances for the Blackhawks.
It’s resulted in Anisimov moonlighting as fourth-line center, and the most recent lines have him centering Sharp and John Hayden ahead of tonight’s game against Nashville.
So, with the Blackhawks carrying a 29-year-old center who has struggled mightily away from his former regular linemates, and who also costs $4.55 million in cap space through the 2020-21 season, is it time to consider moving the big Russian?
Question 1: Is it possible?
Unlike the Brent Seabrook contract, I don’t think Anisimov’s deal is immobile. The no-movement clause in Anisimov’s contract is certainly problematic, though that changes to a modified no-trade clause next season.
Still, Anisimov could waive his no-movement clause if the right opportunity came along for general manager Stan Bowman. Would Anisimov do that? I’m not entirely sure. There’s no reason to suggest he doesn’t like playing in Chicago, but perhaps the fact he’s gone from being a key top-six guy to struggling in the bottom six would make him desire a change of scenery.
From a financial perspective, Anisimov’s $4.55 million hit this year and each of the next three could be a difficult sell for many teams. There’s a good enough chance the Blackhawks would have to eat a little of that salary to trade the center.
Question 2: Do the Blackhawks want to do it?
This is far different than “Do the fans want to do it?” Since I’m writing this post, you can draw the assumption I want to see Anisimov traded. I think of it more as I see opportunities for the Blackhawks to improve if they trade him.
But do the Blackhawks think this is a smart move? Well, considering Anisimov went from having a career year between Panarin and Kane to pulling a disappearing act many nights, I think they could see it that way.
Yes, some of this probably has to do with Anisimov’s lower-body injury last season — specifically affecting his speed. He was never the fastest guy anyway, but he now looks like he’s skating in mud (not an exclusive problem with these Blackhawks).
Regardless, the Blackhawks have to ask themselves if dumping Anisimov would make the team better. That question is answered by knowing who you replace him with in the lineup, first and foremost. You’re talking about moving an everyday player for the last two-plus seasons, after all.
Should the Blackhawks not acquire someone in an Anisimov deal who could directly replace him, I think two guys the Blackhawks could turn to at center are Laurent Dauphin and David Kampf. Both guys showed solid flashes in training camp/preseason action, and both would offer a younger, cheaper, more mobile option than Anisimov.
Beyond this, you have to assess Anisimov’s value to the team. Before, it was being the center for its two biggest offensive threats. Now? He wins more faceoffs. That’s about all I can come up with. Do you really want a $4.55 million-sized hole in your payroll for that reason?
So maybe Bowman does or doesn’t want to trade Anisimov, but I think Bowman could make a logical argument that it’d help the team to move him.
Question 3: Who would take Anisimov?
This, of course, is the ultimate question. You can talk about trading a guy until you’re blue in the face, and it means nothing if there’s no trade partner.
I’m not going to go into specific trade proposals, because that goes so far beyond guesswork that it’s not really worth exploring. I’d rather look at teams that could 1) viably take Anisimov and 2) arguably benefit from doing so.
Before that, though, you might wonder why any team would take him with the way I’ve run him down in this post. But it’s not like Anisimov is useless — he just doesn’t fit what the Blackhawks need right now.
Anisimov is still 29 and coming off a career season. It’s not like he needs to be taken out to the pasture. There is a place for him in the NHL, but the Blackhawks are not in a solid position to provide that anymore, in my opinion.
So let’s next look at some viable trade partners (in no particular order), and which guys the Blackhawks might be interested in receiving in return for Anisimov.