Stan Bowman was in a different spot this season. For the past decade, the goal around this time of year has been to go for it and add a player or two that will enhance the Blackhawks' chances at another Stanley Cup run.
This season? Sell whoever you can for draft picks and prospects, and reset for 2018-19.
The Blackhawks made the first big splash of the day by trading Ryan Hartman and a 2018 fifth-round pick to the Central Division rival Nashville Predators for forward prospect Victor Ejdsell, a 2018 first-round pick and 2018 fourth-rounder.
Hartman wasn't necessarily on the market, but the phone calls picked up over the last seven to 10 days after he generated interest from multiple teams and the pros eventually outweighed the cons when the right offer was presented.
"The things that were being proposed to me weren’t really appealing at all," Bowman said. "In the case of Nashville they made a really strong offer. The value we were getting for him, it was a really tough deal to pass up."
It's as simple as that.
Hartman is a pending restricted free agent and could command up to — or even more than — $2 million per season, and a strong postseason run with the Predators would certainly strengthen his case. That wouldn't have been a problem for the Blackhawks to pay, despite having Nick Schmaltz to extend in 2019-20, with the salary cap ceiling expected to increase to $80 million.
It's getting a first-round pick in return plus a prospect like Ejdsell, who the Blackhawks reportedly pursued last summer, that intrigued Bowman enough to pull the trigger.
"All you have to do is look back to last year’s draft," he said. "We ended up taking Henri Jokiharju at 29th overall and we took Ian Mitchell 57th. Those are two of our best up-and-coming prospects, so you can get really good players in that range. You throw in the center, Victor Ejdsell, he’s not a throw-in, he’s a very talented center, big kid about 6-5, highly skilled player.
"He’s a bit of a late bloomer. ... He’s probably closer to being an NHL player. We have high expectations for him. We have to get him over here and see where he fits, if he’s ready for the NHL next year. He could be, but we’re not trying to put too many high expectations on him. So in the short term, obviously it’s hard to let a player like Ryan go but I felt we had two really high-value assets to compliment."
The Blackhawks also traded Tommy Wingels for a conditional fifth-round pick in 2019, spreading out the wealth of their selections.
But what the Blackhawks ultimately did is give themselves more options going forward and new ideas to toss around, such as packaging some of those additional draft picks into an immediate need like, say, a Top 4 defenseman. They still haven't utilized Marian Hossa's long-term injured reserve cap space, either, which allows for more flexibility in the offseason.
The rest of the regular season will serve as as an evaluation period, maybe even more-so for the kids. Matthew Highmore was recalled hours after the deadline ended, and he certainly won't be the last.
However, it's those younger players that emerged onto the scene this season that held up their end of the bargain the most and the offseason will be a time for everyone to look in the mirror.
"We're not going to have the same exact group, that's for the team that wins the Cup and for the team that just misses the playoffs and the team that wins one round," Bowman said of next season. "There's changes for sure. The magnitude of the changes, we're gonna have to see how that goes over the next couple months.
"But the players that are here right now that will be back, they've got to find a way to grow their games. If they're young players, they've got to find a way to expand their arsenal. And for the veteran players who were better in previous years, they've got to find a way to get back to that level. I'm looking at improvement from across the board."