The trade deadline isn’t easy for anyone. From the players rumored to be moving, to the general managers who are trying to improve the team’s future, to the teammates watching their friends move, to the players leaving a contender to join a rebuild, it can be a tough time of year. But for some, change can offer opportunity.
Monday night’s 5-0 win over Ottawa was a good example. Anders Bjork, acquired at the deadline from Buffalo for future considerations, had five goals and three assists for the Sabres last season. He picked up three primary assists in the second period on Monday. Small sample size, sure. But after averaging 12:02 of ice time in Buffalo, he’s jumped to 15:16 in his two games in Chicago so far. Granted, it’s a very small sample size, and anyone can luck into a three-assist night, but if you watched Monday’s game, you say a guy making a difference when he was on the ice.
“Confidence is such a huge thing in sports,” Bjork said after the game. “It’s nice to get some offensive production. But I think for me personally, I’m trying to have a complete game and play the right way and do the little things right and be a two-way forward.”
Opportunity breeds confidence. Before the trade, Bjork spent all but one game this season with the AHL’s Rochester Americans. Just the vote of confidence from the Blackhawks organization to take a flyer and give him an opportunity can make a world of difference.
I caught up with Bjork after practice on Tuesday. Here’s what he had to say:
It’s really the opportunity of a lifetime for me. I’m trying to take full advantage of it and do all I can to make the most of this. For me, this is the one team I really wanted to go to. There is some opportunity here. That’s extremely exciting for me and for where I am in my career right now.Anders Bjork
Bjork isn’t the only example on this Blackhawks team.
Jason Dickinson, acquired from the Vancouver Canucks (along with a second-round pick) for defenseman Riley Stillman, has been one of the Blackhawks’ most consistent players all season. He has a career-high 23 points this season, and has averaged 15:22 of ice time in Chicago, the most since his 2021-22 season with the Dallas Stars.
Max Domi, who was traded at the deadline to Dallas, is a higher-profile example. As an unrestricted free agent last summer, Domi wasn’t getting the attention he felt he deserved from contenders. When Chicago came calling, he jumped at the opportunity.
“Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are two of my favorite guys growing up,” Domi said weeks after the signing. “A chance to play with those two guys, wear that jersey, and to play for Luke (Richardson) were the biggest reasons why I chose Chicago.”
Domi knew he’d get a shot in the top six all year, and he was right. He left Chicago as the team’s leading scorer…something very few would have predicted on July 1 when he signed.
Kyle Davidson’s first acquisition as general manager was Sam Lafferty. Davidson traded former Buffalo first-round pick Alex Nylander to the Penguins for the gritty forward. Lafferty, who averaged less than 10 minutes of ice time during his tenure in Pittsburgh suddenly jumped up to over 14 minutes in Chicago. This season, Lafferty averaged over 15 minutes a game with the Blackhawks. Since his trade to Toronto on February 27 his average has slid to 12:50 per game.
How about defenseman Jarred Tinordi? Despite myriad injuries this season, Tinordi has played a career-high 32 games with Chicago this season and has averaged 16:09 per game. He’s become one of the team’s on-ice leaders, often taking on the task of dropping the gloves when an opponent comes calling. He averages 1.56 blocked shots per game. From a waiver claim toiling in the AHL to a top-four NHL defenseman (on a rebuilding team), Tinordi suddenly looks to be in line for another NHL contract next season.
Aside from Domi, the players listed here would not have the opportunity they’re getting in Chicago on a better or deeper team. Whether they are part of things when the Blackhawks are contenders again remains to be seen, but rebuilding teams are scouted teams. If their futures aren’t in Chicago, the chance they got here might help them land their next NHL deal.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, March 8 @ Detroit Red Wings
6:30 pm on TNT & WGN Radio
It’s always special when the Blackhawks and Red Wings get together, and while Detroit’s move to the Eastern Conference has taken some of the starch out of the rivalry, it’s always great to rekindle those memories of the past. This season hasn’t gone the way the Wings GM Steve Yzerman expected. Detroit was one of the teams projected to take a step into the playoffs. Instead, they were sellers at the deadline, moving Tyler Bertuzzi to Bosto, Filip Hronek to Vancouver, Jakub Vrána to St. Louis, and Oskar Sundqvist to Minnesota. After the deadline passed, Yzerman quipped, “I Was Not Going to Be a Buyer Under Any Circumstances.” OK then. At least he’s a realist.
Friday, March 10 @ Florida Panthers
6:00 pm on NBC Sports Chicago & WGN Radio
Two Tkachuks in one week? The Blackhawks better keep their heads up. Monday, it was Brady Tkachuk, was was thrown out of the game for acting a fool as the game was winding down. To his credit, he was the one player in a Senators jersey showing any fight. Now, the Blackhawks face his brother Matthew. He leads the Panthers with 81 points in 61 games, and is one of my favorite players in the league. Like his father, Tkachuk is a pain in the ass to play against and can adapt his game to any situation. He’s a true power forward with the hands and finesse of a sniper. As a whole, the Panthers have been a huge disappointment. They were a Cup favorite last year, and expectations were high coming into the 2022-23 season. They’re currently three points out of the last Wild Card spot, but would have to leapfrog three other teams.
Saturday, March 11 @ Tampa Bay Lightning
6:00 pm on NBC Sports Chicago & WGN Radio
The Lightning have become one of those teams that are so good, so consistent, that they’re almost boring. You’ll hear pundits break down the Eastern Conference race talking about Toronto, Boston, New Jersey and others. As the conversation winds down, someone will say, “Well yeah and there’s always Tampa.” Yep. There is always Tampa. The Lightning are headed to a first-round matchup with their division rival Maple Leafs. The two teams battled in the first-round last season, with Tampa winning the series in seven games. This sets up to be another war.
Checking in on our old friend Brandon Hagel, he’s been everything the Lightning hoped he’d be when they traded for him. His 22 goals and 27 assists have him fourth on the Lightning in scoring, behind the big three of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Steven Stamkos. If the two first-round picks the Blackhawks received in return pan out, this could be one of those rare trades where both teams feel like the deal was a win.