Chicago Sun-Times


With deal deadline approachin­g, he ranks high on NHL’s list of trade targets

- BEN POPE | @BenPopeCST

While raving Wednesday about forward Sam Lafferty’s strong recent stretch, Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson made an eyeopening comparison.

‘‘He’s starting to put the pieces together and really understand where he’s effective in the game with his speed and size,’’ Richardson said. ‘‘It’s unique. We had a guy like that in Montreal, Josh Anderson, and everybody in the league wants one of those guys. He’s starting to become that, and that’s great.’’

The interestin­g thing about Anderson is that he was the subject of one of the more memorable trade-and-sign instances in recent NHL history.

With Lafferty, 27, attracting serious attention before the trade deadline March 3 and skyrocketi­ng up leaguewide trade rankings, Hawks general manager Kyle Davidson surely would like to execute a similar maneuver.

In October 2020, Anderson was coming off a miserable final season with the Blue Jackets in which he had only four points in 26 games. Although terrible shooting luck was involved — and he had 47 points in 82 games the season before — his value seemed fairly low.

But the Canadiens gave up a sizable package of a third-round pick and (coincident­ally) Max Domi to acquire him, then immediatel­y signed him to a seven-year contract.

(In the three years since, Anderson has been decent but unremarkab­le, producing at a prorated 36-point pace.)

Lafferty’s current value can’t quite match Anderson’s 2020 value. They are both hardnosed players with great skating ability, but Anderson was two inches taller, one year younger and had proven his productivi­ty over a much longer period.

Although Lafferty’s pace of 1.62 points per 60 minutes this season (17 points in 43 games) is close to Anderson’s pace of 1.68 during his tenure with the Blue Jackets, Lafferty never has done anything like this before. He has only 49 career points; Anderson had 115 at the time.

Nonetheles­s, Lafferty probably could fetch a larger return than, say, Mason Appleton, who also had 17 points (in 49 games) when he was traded from the Kraken to Jets for a fourthroun­d pick before the deadline last year. And he definitely would fetch a larger return than Alex Nylander, whom Davidson used to get him from the Penguins in January 2022.

That’s because buzz is building. Lafferty is No. 12 on the Daily Faceoff ’s trade targets board, ahead of much bigger names such as the Flyers’ James van Riemsdyk and the Blues’ Vladimir Tarasenko. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman recently called him the ‘‘most popular Blackhawk.’’

And there is good reason: He brings far more than just moderate production. His speed has become game-breaking, almost rivaling Andreas Athanasiou at this point. He’s an excellent penalty-killer and is winning 53.6% of his faceoffs. And he has another season left on his contract with an affordable $1.15 million salary-cap hit.

‘‘The more aggressive a guy can play with that speed and size, it’s really hard to handle,’’ Richardson said. ‘‘Especially with the rules nowadays, you’re not allowed to hold [him] up. As a defenseman, if you see him coming, you’re concerned. And he can make a play with the puck and finish off things when you turn it over. He’s just being a dominant player right now, and we’re lucky to have him.’’

Lafferty, for the record, said he loves Chicago and would ‘‘love to stay,’’ but he recognizes trades are ‘‘part of the business.’’

It’s certainly possible he will stay — not only past March 3 but potentiall­y for the long term — if he maintains this surge into and through next season. He fits Davidson’s post-rebuild vision for a team predicated on speed and work ethic.

But he will turn 28 in March, and his trade value might never get higher than this. How the next few weeks play out will be interestin­g.

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 ?? AP (ABOVE), GETTY IMAGES ?? Coach Luke Richardson compared Hawks forward Sam Lafferty (above) to the Canadiens’ Josh Anderson.
AP (ABOVE), GETTY IMAGES Coach Luke Richardson compared Hawks forward Sam Lafferty (above) to the Canadiens’ Josh Anderson.
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