The worst place to be in the NHL is hovering around the middle of the pack, and that's exactly where the Blackhawks found themselves at the end of the 2018-19 season: Just outside the playoff picture, but not low enough in the standings to put themselves in a favorable position to land a high draft pick and add a potential franchise-altering player immediately.
But for the third straight year, a team jumped inside the Top 3 from outside the Top 10 as the Blackhawks moved up nine spots to No. 3 overall in the 2019 NHL Draft. Perhaps this is the hockey gods' way of saying they've had enough of the whole tanking theory.
"I just believe that's the only way it works is you've got to try to win the games," GM Stan Bowman said. "I never believed in trying to lose games. I've said that before, and honestly, our guys want to win. And we owe it to our fans to try and win as many games as we can. Athletes are competitive. We pushed our team all year. Don't try to worry about the draft, those things have a way of working themselves out. Obviously I didn't know it work out this way. ... There's no question that we're in a different category now picking in the Top 3. It's sort of poetic justice that it worked out that way."
It doesn't matter how the Blackhawks got there. It only matters that they did.
While the draft positioning may not change the overall approach this offseason, it certainly speeds up the retooling process in a significant way. The Blackhawks were already going into this summer with lots of money to spend in free agency and a chance to turn things around quickly with the right moves. Now they might be getting a bonus game-breaker that could step into the lineup as soon as next season and for many years to come.
"You're in a different pool of players there, no question," Bowman said. "This is a very good first round, so we were very optimistic that we would be getting a good player even if we were staying at 12. But this just is a game-changer because you don't often get a chance to get these players in the top couple picks of the draft. That's where the elite players usually come from. Of course there's some outliers year to year but if you look back at those early picks of the draft you get a chance to get a difference-maker and that's what we expect this year as well."
Does Jonathan Toews ring a bell? How about Ed Olczyk and Denis Savard? Those are a few notable players in Blackhawks history that were selected at No. 3 who went on to alter the direction of the franchise. Obviously, not all of them pan out — see: Cam Barker (2004) and Terry Caffery (1966). But more often than not, they do.
Three days ago, the Blackhawks had their exit interviews and expressed disappointment and frustration about missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season. They also expressed optimism about the future. Maybe it was cautiously or wishful thinking more than anything.
The Blackhawks have been given a golden opportunity to add a five-tool player before they could even digest the season, and that certainly must inject some life into the organization and the players determined to bounce back in a big way.
"These are the kind of moments that really energize a franchise, energize a team," Bowman said. "Players get excited when they know they have a chance to play with these elite talents. It's great for everybody on our team currently, guys that are on their way to this team, members of our organization and most importantly our fans. Gives them excitement for what could be in the years to come."Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.