Six days remain until the beginning of the NHL Draft, but the trading has started with a flurry.
On Thursday, the St. Louis Blues dealt forward prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz to the Montreal Canadiens for postseason hero, goalie Jaroslav Halak.
Then, on Saturday morning, the Philadelphia Flyers dealt defenseman Ryan Parent to the Nashville Predators for the rights to RFA Dan Hamhuis. Later Saturday, the Preds dealt Jason Arnott to the New Jersey Devils for a 2011 second round pick and prospect Matt Halischuk.
All of these deals involve teams in the Central Division and both of the Halak and Hamhuis deals the rights to restricted free agents, which is an intriguing mix from the perspective of the Chicago Blackhawks.
First, the move of Halak to St. Louis makes the Central Division arguably the best group of netminders of any division in the NHL. Starting next year, the Central will be the home of Halak, Jimmy Howard, Pekka Rinne and defending champion Antti Niemi. All four of these goalies ranked in the top 13 in goals against last year, and combined for 22 shutouts.
That doesn't help the Blackhawks.
However, the Nashville deals might be a huge win for the Hawks.
The initial benefit to the Hawks is Hamhuis, who has always played the Hawks well, getting out of the Central Division. But that's the smallest part of this deal being a potentially big deal for Hawks fans.
Hamhuis is a good defenseman but, at 27, is still growing in the NHL. In 2009-10, he posted five goals and 19 assists and was +4 on the season. He was also credited with 148 hits and 98 blocked shots during the regular season. Most believe he'll command over $4 million per season on his new contact, which is why Nashville was willing to move him--that's out of their price range.
Parent, 23, played in just 48 games last year for the Flyers and had only one goal and two assists while averaging over 14 minutes per game on the ice. He was minus-14 and was credited with 46 hits and 42 blocked shots during the regular season. He is also a restricted free agent, but likely won't receive much of a raise from his $855,000 cap number from the past couple years.
Which is why the return for Hamhuis is intriguing, and will likely benefit the Hawks.
Parent was originally drafted by Nashville 18th overall in the first round of the 2005 draft. Similarly, Eller was considered the Blues' second-best prospect before he was dealt, and will get a shot at the Canadiens roster this season. Young, good, inexpensive players are being dealt for the rights to deal with restricted free agent.
Consider the numbers from Hamhuis at 27, the return Nashville received, and the potential cost for Philadelphia to keep him. Now consider these numbers: one goal, seven assists, plus-3, 50 hits and 120 blocked shots in over 14 minutes per game. Those were the numbers put up by Brent Sopel last year, for a $2.3 million cap hit, and he has one year remaining on his contract.
While Sopel is older than Hamuis (33), his postseason performance and excellent play all season on the penalty kill should make him an attractive player for a team looking for a fourth, fifth or sixth defenseman. In light of the organizational depth on the blue line, and the Hawks cap issues, Sopel is likely to be an odd man out this summer.
If the Blackhawks asked for a second round draft pick for Sopel, the relative return in a market established by this deal wouldn't make that an outrageous pricetag for the veteran.
But carry these two deals one step further.
Andrew Ladd is a restricted free agent this summer who is eligible for arbitration. He had 17 goals and 21 assists this year and was plus-3 in over 13 minutes of ice time. He was also credited with 104 hits and 33 blocked shots.
And he has two championship rings at only 24 years old.
Ladd will almost certainly be gone next year, and the Hawks could look to deal his rights while the receiving team would still have exclusive negotiating rights with him. He could easily become a second line forward for a handful of teams looking to add a good, young power forward.
Now look back at the return received for Halak and Hamhuis.
For Halak, the Canadiens received two prospects. The consensus is that Montreal got destroyed on that deal, but they nevertheless received one of the top prospects in the St. Louis organization for a 25-year-old goalie. For Hamhuis, the Predators received a former top-20 draft pick. Arnott, who is older, landed a second round pick in next year's draft and a good prospect as well.
While the Blackhawks might not be able to ask for a first round pick for Ladd, receiving a solid prospect from a team looking for a solid forward isn't out of the question. Considering what New Jersey was willing to move for Arnott, a pick late in the first round might not be out of the question for Ladd any more, either.
This could also elevate the value for other restricted free agents on the Hawks roster like Ben Eager and Colin Fraser as well.
So while the Blackhawks will have players moving out of Chicago because of their cap issues, the market for good young players is hot right now.