This was going to be a post breaking down the Chicago Blackhawks’ trades for Christian Ehrhoff, Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann, all of which occurred Friday. It was going to be similar to my post yesterday regarding the Blackhawks’ move for Andrew Ladd. But then I started thinking.
There is a lot to think about regarding the Blackhawks and these three deals. It’s almost inconceivable, considering Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman’s lack of a penchant for big-time deals, especially at the trade deadline. That somewhat changed last year when he made a move on Arizona’s Antoine Vermette. But Bowman absolutely blew up that theory over the last two days when he completely altered the Blackhawks’ current roster and their future.
I’ll be honest — these moves have me very excited about the Blackhawks’ direction for the immediate future. I still think the defense needs more fortifying, but you can’t say Bowman isn’t trying to make this team Stanley Cup ready. And maybe that thought is why I changed the direction of this post.
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This is the first time in the Bowman Era in which I’ve felt as though the Blackhawks were in must-win mode. The phrase “all in” has been used heavily already regarding Bowman’s approach to the NHL trade deadline, and it’s a fair assessment. When you trade multiple high-level prospects and high draft picks for impact NHL players, you’re going all in. There’s no doubt about it anymore, whether or not Bowman has one more move up his sleeve before Monday’s deadline (Bryan Bickell seems to be the popular name being thrown around).
And while a lot of the immediate focus will be on these four new acquisitions, I think more of our focus should be on the guys who have been here for some time, and who have a major role in the Blackhawks’ success and failure. I’m talking about Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Corey Crawford, a healthy Marcus Kruger, coach Joel Quenneville — hell, even guys who haven’t been here as long but are still absolutely critical to the current team’s final result, like Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Teuvo Teravainen. Throw Andrew Shaw in if you really want to (I won’t, because I think he’s gone after this season). These are the guys we need to be looking to right now, because Bowman just told us this team is all in. The pressure isn’t on the guys who have come to Chicago as a result of that — it’s on the guys who have built and continue to build the team’s dynasty-like mold.
If you’re expecting Ladd, Ehrhoff, Weise and Fleischmann to come over and exhibit statistical domination night in and night out, to make the Blackhawks unbeatable each night, you really need to rethink that line of consideration. These guys were brought in to support the current product, not run it. If Bowman didn’t think this team had the capability to win a Stanley Cup minus some manageable moves, he wouldn’t have traded for those four guys. He clearly thinks the Blackhawks are a few moves away, and he made those few moves to make a Cup happen.
And so, we have to look to Toews, Kane, Hossa, Keith, Seabrook, Hjammer, Crow, healthy Kruger, mad-scientist Q, Bread Man, Anisimov and Teuvo. Because what happens from here on out is heavily placed on their shoulders. They’re the ones sticking around, the ones who will be left to deal with a less than excellent situation moving forward regarding prospects, draft picks and the salary cap. They’re the ones who Bowman is expecting to lead this team to the promised land — because that’s what he’s spent the last two days setting them up for. Bowman has not so silently tasked these current Blackhawks with delivering one more Cup before it becomes a hell of a lot more difficult to bring that chalice back to Chicago on a yearly basis.
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And just look at this season. How impressive has the Blackhawks’ roster been up to this point? They’ve called up what seems like 50 different prospects to get a look at forward and defense. Seemingly random guys have been brought aboard for five to 10 games at a time. And yet, the Blackhawks are among the league leaders in points. Why? Because of the core group I mentioned above. It’s the biggest piece in the Stanley Cup potentially coming back to Chicago this year, and it needs to step up in a major way moving forward.
Obtaining new players — or, in the case of Ladd, a previous Blackhawk — is always fun. It’s one of the more entertaining parts of the NHL season. But that’s not what’s most important right now for the Blackhawks. That would be the core group of players, because if that tandem doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain, no amount of Bowman wizardry will be able to will the Cup back to Chicago.