ST. LOUIS — The NHL trade deadline has passed, and the Blackhawks sold off two key pieces from their roster who were on expiring contracts to recoup some draft picks and prospects to their pipeline. They had no choice if neither player were going to be part of their long-term plans.
The return was underwhelming, largely because of how the market played out. But that isn't the real problem. The problem is the fact the Blackhawks are in a position where they subtracted from the roster because they're at risk of missing out on the playoffs for a third straight season.
GM Stan Bowman met with the media in St. Louis before Tuesday's game and was asked to provide an outline of the big-picture plan going forward.
"The biggest thing in today's game is having young players play an important role," Bowman said. "The last couple years, we've picked in the top 10. We hadn't picked there since we picked Patrick [Kane in 2007]. So, I think that's where you get some of those high-end players. The challenge is to try to get as many as those as you can and then build from that way out. Luckily, we still have some other established players that are difference-makers.
"But to answer your question simply, the way you become a really dominant team is you have some high-impact players and you need to have as many of them as you can assemble, but they're not easy to come by. Certainly hard to trade for. I guess it happens rarely when they become available. You typically have to draft them or develop them. Maybe trade for them or sign them as free agents. When you're signing a free agent, unless it's a European guy, they tend to be older and they might have some good years left, but their best years are probably behind them. There's no shortcut to it other than drafting and developing those players, so, then the question is how do you acquire those? And that's what we've been trying to do.
"We've been trying to acquire either young prospects or draft choices that we can use to hopefully find that next group. And then there's a little bit of a lag where you have to allow them to develop. Some of them. Obviously, Kirby [Dach] is the exception to be able to come right in. Usually it takes a little bit of time. Adam [Boqvist] it took one year. Now he's already in the NHL. For defensemen. That's a pretty quick ascent to the top. But we have to have a little bit of patience for those players to have time to develop. But you need to have those high-value assets and we're trying to get as many as those as we can."
To summarize it best: the Blackhawks are in a "lag" period.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are still at the top of their games at age 31, Duncan Keith has a lot of hockey left in him and Corey Crawford is showing no immediate signs of slowing down. Alex DeBrincat is part of that second wave and you figure Dylan Strome is too. Dominik Kubalik is playing his way into that conversation, as well.
And then there's Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach, both of whom broke into the NHL as teenagers this season and have the highest ceilings to turn into elite difference-makers. The challenge is balancing patience in their development while helping them get to their prime level as quickly as possible so that it coincides with whatever high-level years of hockey Kane, Toews and the other core veterans have left.
Surely, there will be conversations within the organization over the offseason about the direction of the Blackhawks. Kane hopes the players can provide input to some degree.
"I think it's good to ask the players what they think, to be honest with you," Kane said. "We're the ones who are playing every night. We see what's going on in the locker room. We see who's tough to play against in the league. What teams are tough to play against. That would be a good road to go."
Bowman said he doesn't believe it's necessarily fair to bring the players into the decision-making process but admitted the leadership group has earned the respect to have their voices heard based on what they've accomplished in Chicago.
"If we knew exactly what the future held then you could have that conversation but it's just a lot of guesswork on everybody's part as far as nobody knows what our team's going to be year to year," Bowman said. "You have a plan on what you're doing but then life happens, and things change. You have to have the willingness to adapt to what's in front of you. So, I think that's why their job is to play hockey and they're very good at that, and we let them do that.
"The other stuff, you might have conversations in the offseason more so. Day-to-day, talking to players about the management of the team, that's not the way sports work."
The Blackhawks are taking a long-term approach to their retooling process and it's difficult to predict when things are going line up to the point where they’re not only battling for a playoff berth, but becoming perennial Stanley Cup contenders once again. Are the Blackhawks on board with that?
"I mean, that’s the goal," Toews said. "Anything less than that is disappointing and frustrating."
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