In a span of just over 48 hours, the Blackhawks parted ways with franchise goaltender Corey Crawford and traded two-time Stanley Cup champion forward Brandon Saad for the second time in five years.
The decision to move on from Crawford was certainly surprising, but not as much as the fact the organization has no plans to replace his services with an experienced goaltender. The Blackhawks are committed to giving Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen and Malcolm Subban a chance to compete for the starting and backup positions in 2020-21 on a team that's given up the most scoring chances over the last two seasons.
The decision to trade Saad wasn't as surprising, but the return from Colorado was. The Blackhawks opened up $1.8 million in cap space by exchanging Saad's $6 million contract — Chicago retained $1 million — for defenseman Nikita Zadorov's $3.2 million contract but that's about it. Dennis Gilbert and Anton Lindholm were involved in the four-play deal in a swap of AHL defensemen, respectively.
If the Blackhawks were committed to being a playoff team next season, they would've used that extra money to bring back Crawford. But a decision had already been made to go young in goal and it appears it's not stopping there.
The Blackhawks have avoided using the word "rebuild" in years past and often replaced that word with "retooling" on the fly. But it's becoming increasingly clear that the Blackhawks might be trending more towards the former, and GM Stan Bowman indicated as much on Thursday.
"Now that we’ve made that decision [on Crawford], the way we’re going to move forward, there’ll be a lot more things we’ll talk about over the coming days, weeks, as we get into the offseason and planning next year’s team," Bowman said. "We spent a lot of time talking about what the right direction was for us moving forward, and I think, not just on our team, but you’re going to see a lot of different things in the NHL this offseason, relative to other years.
"There’s an impact, league-wide and there is, maybe not every team, but a lot of teams are focusing on looking for young players who can take that next step and play a bigger role. That’s really more the direction that we’re headed more than it was anything besides that."
The Blackhawks have had "more philosophical discussions as opposed to tactical" over the last several weeks, according to Bowman. The youth movement started last season when Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach became full-time NHL players. It will continue again this season with Ian Mitchell being part of the mix and a goaltending competition between three players with a combined 76 NHL starts.
Use whatever word you want to call this direction, but it's obvious the Blackhawks feel taking another step back to continue the growth of their younger players is needed before taking that next step into contention again.
"We’re not trying to do anything other than to grow through younger players, give them an opportunity," Bowman said. "We’re not going to have an entire team of young players. That’s unrealistic. I don’t know that’s a formula anyone’s using or that we’re saying here. What we’re trying to say is that, you do have to have an opportunity for young players to get into the league and play a role and to grow because that’s where you’re going to see progress. That’s how your team’s going to move to becoming an elite team, and that’s what we’re striving to be.
"The steps you can take to get there would be to give the opportunity, then help those players grow into bigger roles. ... We think we have a lot of good young players, pieces here who will play a huge role, but we want to incorporate more going forward. We think that’s the way to drive our team and to push us to the next level."