The Blackhawks may have won a trade with Florida, but are they better?

Henrik Borgstrom #13, Chicago Blackhawks Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Henrik Borgstrom #13, Chicago Blackhawks Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports /

Last year, the Blackhawks put together a deal with the Panthers that saw mostly depth players exchanged between the two teams. Previous general manager Stan Bowman saw a low-risk opportunity to try and bolster the line-up and he took it. At the time, this deal made sense.

If the five-player trade doesn’t ring a bell,l the players that left the Chicago Blackhawks were Lucas Carlsson and Lucas Wallmark. They were swapped for Riley Stillman, Brett Conolly, and Henrik Borgstrom.

Wallmark had played previously with Florida, and Carlsson, despite being a decent player, was having trouble staying the lineup because he was a bit further down Chicago’s defensive depth chart. Looking back at this trade, Chicago didn’t lose it. Carlsson has played a total of four games for Florida, Wallmark is now playing for CSKA Moscow in the KHL.  The key player was most certainly Borgstrom, at least when the call was initially made between the teams.

What’s more, this deal has “Stan Bowman” written all over it. It primarily involves depth players, and it includes a reclamation project with yet-to-be reached potential. Bowman made a few deals like this when he was with the team. Some hyped players that have come through the system over the years are Dylan Strome, Brendan Perlini, Alex Nylander, Richard Panik, and Malcolm Subban, to name a few of the players that fit the mould of Bowman’s negotiating. He tried to buy low on players that hadn’t shown their full potential and weren’t yet seen as busts. Borgstrom is exactly the same kind of player, but has he turned things around as hoped? And more importantly, Did Chicago come away on top in this deal?

Based purely on Borgstrom’s games in Chicago, it’s not much of a win. Moral victory? However, there’s more to it than that.

As you can see from Borgstrom’s stats, he’s not lighting the world on fire with his play. He has two points for the year. He’s at about 40% at the dot, which isn’t good considering he’s a center but on par with his past performance. For those interested in his other metrics, even those aren’t earth-shattering. Corsi, Fenwick, PDO are all about average, for example.

When Borgstrom came into the organization, it was back towards the end of 2020-21 when Strome started his fall from grace. Colliton seemed to have a thing against Strome and started playing him less. My assumption at the time was that Strome would be dealt during the offseason, and the third line center spot would be occupied by Borgstrom. That hasn’t been entirely wrong, but Borgstrom has played wing as much as he’s played center, and with Derek King taking over as coach Strome is back in the lineup again.

The sample size is small, and Borgstrom hasn’t played an 82 game season yet in the NHL. After the 2022-23 season, Borgstrom becomes an RFA. He’s just kind of OK so far, but with a new coach perhaps he can take another step and develop his game further.

If one player came to Chicago and stood out, it has been Riley Stillman. He’s become a defensive staple since joining the team and plays a rough physical game that Chicago lacked before his arrival. He’s not going to contribute much offensively, but he’s a fairly reliable third-pairing defenseman.

Rounding this out is the veteran Brett Connolly. He’s plying his trade in Rockford after an underwhelming stint in the NHL with Chicago. To be fair, he probably was never really a long-term part of Chicago’s plan. He’s a veteran depth player that can score goals. He’ll be a UFA after the 2022-23 season winds up. It’d be surprising if Chicago brings him back, but until then the team has an experienced player in the system that help the next crop of players or chip in the bottom-6 as needed.

The question here is, did the deal make the Chicago Blackhawks better? It’s hard to say yes to that definitively. Players come and go all the time, but when they arrive it’s (almost) always with the understanding that the team will be better off with them on it. History proves that this isn’t always the case. Adam Gaudette came and went, and never really made his mark on the team. Dylan Strome is in and out of the lineup all the time now it seems,  despite people insisting that he’s a top-6 forward.

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However, what’s most important is that Chicago ended up with any worthwhile players at all. This can’t be understated. Compared to how Florida fared in this deal, it was basically just a salary dump for the Panthers. That may have been all that was needed for Florida, but Chicago is looking for young talent to improve the roster for years to come. We’ll have to wait and see for sure, but Chicago may have ended up better off for the long haul.