ST. LOUIS — The Blackhawks were always going to be sellers leading up to the NHL trade deadline, but the real question was to what degree? Chicago got its answer on Monday.
After a quiet morning, the Blackhawks struck two deals in the final hour: Erik Gustafsson to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a third-round pick in 2020 and, more notably, Robin Lehner to the Vegas Golden Knights for a second-round selection in 2020, goaltender Malcolm Subban and defenseman prospect Slava Demin. The Blackhawks also retained 50 percent of Lehner's salary in a complicated three-way deal that saw Toronto eat 44 percent of that for a fifth-round pick in 2020 to help Vegas become cap compliant.
And the immediate impressions on the return? Pretty underwhelming. But, at the same time, the market played a big role in that and it didn't favor the Blackhawks by any stretch.
The Carolina Hurricanes had two first-round picks and were as desperate a team as ever to acquire a goaltender at the deadline after relying on a 42-year-old Zamboni driver to get them through their last game. No doubt the Blackhawks were hoping to land at least a first-rounder for Lehner, but if the Hurricanes weren't biting on that price tag, neither was anyone else.
Six first-round picks were traded in February and not one of them was moved for a rental player. Five of those skaters had term left on their contract and the other signed a long-term extension after the trade, which helped justify it.
[MORE: Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Trade deadline recap plus Stan Bowman 1-on-1]
The reality is, the decision came down to whether the Blackhawks wanted to risk letting Lehner walk for nothing this summer or take the best offer on the table and just accept they won't get 100 cents on the dollar, especially if they weren't seeing eye to eye on a potential extension, and they chose the latter. Whether the Blackhawks should've re-signed Lehner is a separate discussion, but both sides could always revisit things on July 1 if they choose.
It's also difficult for Chicago to get excited about the return for Gustafsson after several similar-type impact defensemen were traded last week for more than that, and rightfully so. Did the Blackhawks wait too long to move him? Probably. But he wasn't going to fetch much on his own to begin with, and you have to wonder how hard the Blackhawks tried to package Gustafsson with another asset to help sweeten the deal and get the first-round pick they were looking for.
There's a large portion of the fanbase that felt Gustafsson should've been dealt in the summer when his value was highest after he turned in a breakout 60-point campaign. And that's fair. But the Blackhawks were hoping to make the playoffs this season and subtracting a key piece from their roster wasn't something that would've aligned with those goals.
In the end, the Blackhawks went into trade deadline day hoping to recoup some draft picks and prospects and continue building from within. They did that.
But the expectation in Chicago was this could've served as a prime opportunity to restock the pipeline with future assets and get fans excited about the retooling process. And while the Blackhawks didn't exactly strike out, they didn't hit a home run, either.
"The goal was to try to get some asset value in return for them and we certainly did that," GM Stan Bowman said in a conference call. "Going into a period like this at the trade deadline, you have to try to manage your assets going forward. When you have expiring assets and you talk around the league to teams and find out if there’s interest in them, then you do your best to try and get the maximum return you can. "
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