By Jay Cohen
AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO — General manager Stan Bowman promised changes were coming after the Chicago Blackhawks were swept in the first round of the playoffs.
Boy, he wasn’t kidding.
Chicago re-acquired Brandon Saad and parted with Niklas Hjalmarsson and Artemi Panarin in a pair of stunning trades on Friday, giving the Blackhawks a younger look for their forwards and defensemen.
The Blackhawks won the Central Division last season with a 50-23-9 record, finishing with the most points in the Western Conference. They were considered one of the favorites to make it to the Stanley Cup.
But they were swept by Nashville in the opening series, managing just three goals in 13 periods in an embarrassing performance for a team with three championships since 2010. Bowman angrily called it a complete failure, and then overhauled coach Joel Quenneville’s staff and replaced the coach of the team’s top minor league affiliate.
Turns out he was just getting started.
Bowman traded forwards Panarin and Tyler Motte and Chicago’s sixth-round selection in this weekend’s NHL draft to Columbus for Saad, goaltender Anton Forsberg and a fifth-round draft pick next year. The deal was announced less than an hour after Hjalmarsson, a stalwart for the Blackhawks, was traded to Arizona for defenseman Connor Murphy and forward Laurent Dauphin.
The 24-year-old Saad spent his first four seasons with Chicago, helping the Blackhawks win two Stanley Cup championships. Concerned about their ability to re-sign Saad when he became a restricted free agent in 2015, the Blackhawks traded the rugged winger to the Blue Jackets.
He had 24 goals and 29 assists in 82 games for Columbus last season. His return should help make up for the loss of Marian Hossa, who announced this week that he won’t play next season because of severe side effects from medication to treat a progressive skin disorder.
But the departure of Hjalmarsson and Panarin creates two more holes that need to be filled.
The 30-year-old Hjalmarsson had spent his entire 10-year career with Chicago, where he had 23 goals and 120 assists in 623 career games along with the franchise record for most playoff games played by a Blackhawks defenseman at 128. The Swede had five goals, 13 assists and a team-high 181 blocked shots in 73 games last season.
“Niklas’ contributions to the three Stanley Cup championship teams are well known but his dependability as a teammate, selfless attitude and the way he represented the Chicago Blackhawks on and off the ice are what made him such a beloved member of the organization,” Bowman said in a release.
Panarin teamed with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov to form one of the NHL’s most potent lines the past couple seasons. The 25-year-old Russian had 31 goals and 43 assists in 82 games last season.
“His rookie year will always rank among the best in franchise history and his exciting style of play provided many memorable moments for our fans during his two seasons as a member of the team,” Bowman said.
Panarin agreed to a $12 million, two-year contract extension in December that runs through the 2018-19 season, while Saad’s $36 million, six-year contract runs through the 2020-21 season. The deal with the Coyotes brings back a promising young defenseman in the 24-year-old Murphy, who had two goals and a career-high 15 assists in 77 games with Arizona last season.
This story has been updated.