When the Chicago Blackhawks shuttled defenseman Gustav Forsling to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2019, few fans blinked an eye. Sure, some wondered if the then 23-year-old needed more time to develop. Though he’d played 122 games at the time of the trade, he’d registered just 27 points.
Three seasons and 196 games later with Florida, he’s posted 95 points (28-67). From a proportional standpoint, it looks like a massive loss for the Blackhawks.
It likely stings for Chicago fans watching his success in Florida, especially after his game-winning goal Thursday night. The heavily favored Maple Leafs are now in a two-game hole.
It also made many Blackhawks fans wonder “what if.” But it’s a little more complicated than that.
Blackhawks, Forsling Were on Different Paths
When acquired back in 2015 from Vancouver for Adam Clendening, the trade seemed a win for Chicago. Forsling was seen as a young defenseman who could come along with veterans Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook, and Duncan Keith.
He’d continue the success of Chicago developing strong NHL caliber defensemen.
When the then 20-year-old defenseman broke into the lineup during the 2016-17 season, he appeared in 38 games. The Blackhawks were the top seed in the West but were stunned by Nashville in four games. Categorizeit however one wants, but it marked the moment where Chicago lost its footing as a power in the West.
The plan, as it looked then, was for Forsling to work his way in as a top four defenseman. He would keep the momentum going. But before that momentum could take hold, the earth shattering Hjalmarsson trade to Arizona killed it.
The following season, Forsling played in 41 games and registered 13 points. Chicago also missed the playoffs. A season later, he played in 43 games, notching just nine points. Joel Quenneville was fired, and again, the Blackhawks missed the playoffs.
Forsling fought through injuries, and his numbers looking back were pedestrian.
The trade then that sent him to Carolina for Anton Forsberg and Calvin de Haan netted the Blackhawks a far more solid option in the latter. Chicago was retooling its defensive corps and trying to make room for a future with Adam Boqvist, and Henri Jokiharju meshing with the old guard.
That too would fail as the Blackhawks would ship the latter to Buffalo during the 2019 offseason for Alex Nylander. Boqvist went to Columbus with draft picks for Seth Jones during the 2021 offseason.
Months later, Stan Bowman, the architect of these deals, was broomed.
It’s Far More Complicated
Forsling never gained a foothold in Chicago nor did he in Carolina either. Instead, he was scooped up on waivers by Florida and signed to the extension. With each passing season, Forsling has improved and in the 2023 playoffs, he buried the game winning goal to put Florida up 2-0 in its series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
A balanced, more calculated glance sees that the timing inevitably was off. In Bowman’s final years with Chicago, his wheeling and dealing often hurt more than help. Forsling appeared to need more time and development, and in many ways, he appeared rushed before Chicago ultimately gave up on him.
Had it been a few years earlier, say 2014, things might have looked different. But the four-game sweep at the hands of Nashville seemed to hasten their demise when at the time, it was chalked up as overconfidence. Missing the playoffs over the next two seasons showed that there were far more problems than they thought.
Forsling would be one of many casualties.
Instead of being the future of the blueline, Forsling ended up being one of several young footnotes. The Blackhawks made one final, desperate lunge at relevancy heading into the 2021-22 season. It failed miserably.
Chicago went into full rebuild mode as a result. Forsling, meanwhile, has rebuilt his career.
Both have ended up in different spots. But when it’s all said and done, it’ll work out for both the Blackhawks and Forsling in different ways than they ever would have imagined.