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Blackhawks expect big things from Anisimov, Dano

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has won the Stanley Cup twice after retooling his roster, and that was on his mind again Tuesday when he traded Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Bowman wasn't confident with the direction of contract negotiations with Saad, who can become a restricted free agent Wednesday, and he didn't want to find out what kind of offer the 22-year-old forward might receive from another team.

So he switched gears and made the trade, acquiring four players and a fourth-round pick at the 2016 NHL Draft for Saad and two prospects.

The Blackhawks' haul is headlined by 6-foot-4 center Artem Anisimov and 20-year-old forward Marko Dano.

"My job is to prepare our team for next season to remain competitive and to have a chance to win the [Stanley Cup] again next season," Bowman said. "Sometimes that involves difficult decisions. It's a challenge to try and negotiate a contract. We gave it our best shot. We worked hard at it with Brandon and his agent, and weren't able to reach an agreement. And when that became apparent, then we turned our focus to trying to improve our team for next season."

Anisimov, 27, likely will assume the second-line center role and play next to right wing Patrick Kane. Bowman didn't mention pending unrestricted free agent centers Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette by name, but he alluded to their departures.

"We lost a couple centermen from last year's team, and I think that's a very important position for us," he said. "I think it was a reason we had success last year, so we filled a huge hole there in adding Anisimov. We definitely wanted to get a legitimate center with some size, and I look at our combination now of [captain Jonathan Toews] and Anisimov, and I feel very comfortable knowing we've got a strong 1-2 punch."

Anisimov has one year left on his contract with a salary-cap charge of $3.283 million, according to Bowman said he is negotiating an extension with Anisimov's agent.

"He's a player that we have been trying to acquire for quite some time," Bowman said. "I've talked a long time about our desire to find a big [center]. There's very few of them in the NHL. You just look around the 30 teams, and to be able to get a guy in the prime of his career, 6-foot-4, who can do a little bit of everything, it's someone we've been chasing for a long time. And we were finally able to acquire him."

Anisimov was limited to 52 games because of injuries this season, when he had 27 points (seven goals). The Russian has 192 points in 412 NHL games with the Blue Jackets and New York Rangers, who selected him in the second round (No. 54) in the 2006 NHL Draft.

"I think he fits in very nicely [into] our team," Bowman said. "He's able to play offensively, as well as a penalty-killing role. He's done a little bit of everything in his career."

Dano is on an entry-level contract and had 21 points (eight goals) in 35 games for Columbus in his first NHL season. He had 19 points (11 goals) in 39 games for the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League in 2014-15.

Dano has played in the Kontinental Hockey League and has represented Slovakia at the IIHF's World Championship (2013 and 2015) and World Junior Championship (2012-2014). The Blue Jackets selected him with their third first-round pick (No. 27) in the 2013 draft.

"He's an exciting player," Bowman said. "He came on to the scene with Columbus last year with maybe not a lot of fanfare, but I think he impressed people. He certainly impressed our scouts with his all-around game. I think when you look at the potential for [Anisimov and Dano] for years to come, we're very excited to have a [center] and a winger. Those are the main points of the trade."

The Blackhawks also acquired forwards Corey Tropp, 25, and Jeremy Morin, 24. They sent forward Alex Broadhurst and defenseman Michael Paliotta to the Blue Jackets along with Saad.

Morin, who spent four-plus seasons in the Blackhawks system before being traded to the Blue Jackets in December, will be given a chance to earn a roster spot, Bowman said. He has 16 points (eight goals) in 54 games with Chicago and six points (two goals) in 28 games with Columbus.

Bowman said he expects to re-sign center Marcus Kruger, who will become a restricted free agent Wednesday if he doesn't reach agreement.

Following the Saad trade, the Blackhawks have 18 players under contract for next season for about $69.9 million. Teams are allowed to exceed the $71.4 million salary-cap ceiling by up to 10 percent in the offseason but must be compliant by the first game of the regular season.

That means the Blackhawks do have some flexibility in free agency. Bowman also might trade higher-priced forwards Patrick Sharp, Bryan Bickell or Kris Versteeg, or keep somebody originally ticketed for a cap-saving trade.

His options increased by trading Saad.

"We've got a lot of options we can pursue now," Bowman said. "We've got a few different things. There's a lot of discussions that will happen over the next few days, with free agency, and we've got a few different plans. It's too early to tell what we're going to do, but I would say everything is a possibility going forward."

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