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Numbers Game: Blackhawks, Wild swap defencemen

Scott Cullen
2/12/2010 3:55:38 PM
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Just before the Olympic trade freeze, the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks swapped defencemen in a move prompted by Chicago's tight finances for next season.

Numbers Game looks at the swap of Cam Barker for Kim Johnsson and Nick Leddy.

The Wild Get: D Cam Barker.

Barker, 23, was the third overall pick in 2004 and had appeared to finally break through last season when he put up 40 points in 68 games, including 29 points while quarterbacking Chicago's power play.

This year, however, has been a different story, as Barker saw his ice time drop from an average of 18:20 per game in 2008-2009 to a paltry 13:05 per game this season.  Not surprisinly, then, Barker's production has also dipped to just 14 points (six on the power play) in 51 games. 

Certainly part of the reason for Barker's decreased ice time is that the Blackhawks didn't trust his play in the defensive zone, so in his protected role this year, Barker has a career-high plus-7 rating after going minus-6 for the Blackhawks last season.

With the Wild, Barker should be turned loose a little bit more and allowed to utilize his offensive instincts.  Minnesota' back end could use more offensive flair and Barker's ability to run the power play will not only help for the rest of this season, but could be of greater importance next season if Marek Zidlicky ends up leaving via free agency in the summer (or in a trade before then).

Barker is under contract for two more seasons, at a cap hit of a little under $3.1-million per season, a reasonable price if he can handle a top-four role with some, and potentially a lot of, power play time.

The Blackhawks Get: D Kim Johnsson and D Nick Leddy.

33-year-old Kim Johnsson has been a solid top-four defenceman in Minnesota for the last three-and-a-half seasons, but couldn't recapture the offensive part of his game that he had shown earlier in his career, scoring a career-high 42 points with the Flyers in the 2003-2004 season.  Since then, Johnsson has topped out at 27 points a couple of years ago and has 14 points in 52 games this season.

What Johnsson can do for Chicago, however, is handle a significant workload on the blueline.  Johnsson led the Wild with 23:46 of ice time per game, and he won't need to play that much for the Blackhawks, but Johnsson's presence could ease the pressure on a young defenceman like Niklas Hjalmarsson now that there is another reliable option to handle top-four minutes.

Johnsson's contract, which has a $4.85-million cap hit, will expire in the summer and that's the important part of this deal for the Blackhawks.  After signing Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith to lucrative extensions this season, the Blackhawks needed to create some room under next year's cap and shedding Barker's salary gives Chicago more financial flexibility.

Leddy, 18, was the 16th overall pick in last year's draft and is a freshman at the University of Minnesota.  An undersized blueliner who can really skate, Leddy only has five points in 19 games with the Golden Gophers, but is tied for the team lead with a plus-7 rating, despite missing time with a broken jaw earlier in the season.

There's no rush to get Leddy into the pros, so he can continue to develop in the NCAA and the Blackhawks can hope that he's NHL-ready three or four years down the road. 

Given that financial implications of this deal for the Blackhawks, they got good value, with immediate help from Johnsson and a long-range prospect in Leddy, while sacrificing Barker, who could turn out to be a 50-point defenceman in the right circumstances, but clearly wasn't going to get that opportunity with the Blackhawks under Joel Quenneville.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen




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