With each passing trade, the Blackhawks seem to be tipping their hand that something larger is in store.
The Hawks acquired defenseman Calvin de Haan and forward prospect Aleksi Saarela from the Hurricanes on Monday for goalie Anton Forsberg and defenseman Gustav Forsling, both of whom were restricted free agents.
The deal comes less than a week after the Hawks sent forward Dominik Kahun to the Penguins for defenseman Olli Maatta.
Forsberg was not expected to return while Forsling was a possibility, though he was expendable given the depth of blueliners the Hawks have in their system and at the NHL level.
De Haan, 28, had shoulder surgery last month and is expected to be out four to six months, which means he might miss the start to the regular season. But with a $4.55 million cap hit, now third among Hawks defensemen behind Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, he'll be in the lineup the moment he's healthy.
The Hawks have around $12 million in cap space left after the trade, according to capfriendly.com. That figure is sure to come down when the Hawks re-sign some of their restricted free agents, including Brendan Perlini, David Kampf, Dylan Sikura and John Quenneville.
The trade gives the Hawks seven bona fide NHL defensemen: Seabrook, Keith, de Haan, Erik Gustafsson, Connor Murphy, Maatta and Henri Jokiharju, who finished the year in Rockford but who many believe is ready to break into the NHL for good.
Seabrook and Keith have no-movement clauses and can't be dealt without their permission. There was a report out of Vancouver that the Hawks discussed sending the third overall pick to the Canucks for the 10th pick in the draft on the condition the Canucks pick up the remainder of Seabrook's contract. Seabrook grew up in the Vancouver area and still has a home there.
Gustafsson is in the final year of his contract that has a $1.2 million cap hit and is coming off a 60-point season but was a defensive liability much of the season. He was benched by Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton in early December before turning his season around shortly afterward.
Despite his breakout season, Gustafsson is not a sure thing to be re-signed. Top defensive prospect Adam Boqvist is perhaps a year away from joining the Hawks and also has elite offensive skills.