The hardest thing in sports is to get a player that can truly lead a franchise. Once you do have that piece however you realize the harder part of that equation is to actually surround that player with the talent necessary to compete and win. Just look at all the teams in sports that had (or have) a true franchise player that couldn't (or are still trying) to win? Connor McDavid currently with the Oilers, Andrew Luck with the Colts, Eric Lindros with the Flyers, Charles Barkley over his career or even Mr. Cub himself..... Those players all come to mind.
So should we be patient, let some of our prospects mature around Bedard and hope our team naturally comes together.... or maybe, with all of the assets we've acquired, swing on a bigger deal to try and guarantee (or at least increase the percentage of) a more competitive roster sooner rather than later?
Here are 3 "big swing" avenues we could look at in order to accomplish these feat:
1. Use our draft capital, cap space, and veterans to acquire a younger top 6 forward for not only Connor Bedard's first few seasons, but for his prime seasons as well. Let's keep in mind that only 6 of the top 47 highest paid players do not have any sort of NMC / NTC / M-NTC-NMC. That means that in order to acquire a player of the stature we are looking for, the field of players is quite small.
High Cost: Clayton Keller, Sebastian Aho, Matt Barzal, Kyle Connor and Travis Konecny
These 5 players are established top 6 star players that are all in the prime of their careers. They are also all on favorable deals in situations that they may (or may not, they did sign the deals afterall) want to see what another team has to offer. Any one of these players is going to command a substantial return for their current team.
Why would they want to play with Chicago? One of the worlds best cities that now has a young franchsie player combined with alot of high draft picks (some will be lost in the exchange), the most cap space available to help the team, and a player friendly coach that has the respect of the league. All 5 players are currently playing for teams that's longterm outlook may appear non-linear compared to the Blackhawks' future.
Arizona is rebuilding (still) and just lost out on a stadium deal. The team may eventually sell and Keller is now a star player in his prime. He likely would love the chance to change course. The Canes are down 0-3 in the conference final and despite consistently having one of the leagues most well-rounded rosters, Carolina doesn't seem destined to win a cup. Their roster will be aging quickly and while their prospect pool is good, it lacks star power to help the team get over this hump it appears to be stuck on.
The Isles made a big move before the trade deadline that made it appear to be making its big push toward the top of the standings. Style of play has been an issue for the Islanders and a player like Barzal, with his speed and offensive IQ, is likely seeing a team destined for the middle of the NHL for years to come. Though recently signed to a longterm deal, the Islanders could see a big exchange as a way to overcome their placement in the league.
Winnipeg has had well documented issues over the last few seasons. While a very talented roster, there appears to be a divide in house about the direction in which the Jets are headed. Kyle Connor is the best player on the team, a dynamic goal scorer that is good for 35-45 goals a season. From an outside perspective it appears that when not if a roster reconstruction is going to happen. Would they trade Connor? Perhaps not, but an offer that nets them a return they can quickly rebuild with could possibly entice them.
Lastly, the Flyers appear to be in true disarray. A hardened veteran coach, an aging underperforming roster, and a powerful new GM with full ownership support will likely see a roster that needs to start over. To me it's obvious that they need to sell their best players like Konecny, Hayes, and Provorov immediately. I do not believe Konecny would demand the same return as the first 4 players, however I do not think it will come cheaply either. Konecny has the speed, position flexibility, and skill that could thrive playing alongside Connor Bedard.
Would it be difficult to trade say #19 this season, the Tampa Bay 2024 1st, and a top prospect like an Alex Vlasic, Colton Dach, or Ryan Greene? Yes that would be a lot to give up, but if it nets us a true top 6 forward to play with and help Connor Bedard, it would be more than worth the cost to me.
2. Use said assets to make a play to move up in this draft and acquire a player for Connor Bedard to play with sooner rather than later. Emphasis on the sooner as the higher we draft the more likely it is that player is quicker to the NHL than if we stayed at #19.
Medium Cost: To move up in the (pick 8-12) range of the draft for players such as Zach Benson, Oliver Moore, Ryan Leonard, Dalibor Dvorsky, or Gabe Perreault.
With 4 second round picks in hand and a bevy of defensive prospects in the pipeline, other teams may have a higher return ask for the Blackhawks than with others. The Caps, Red Wings, Blues, Canucks, and Coyotes will likely all have players at their draft slots they like, so the return would have to be more than the typical return here.
If one of the 5 mentioned players is available in the 8-12 ranges with a team willing to take on 19 (combined with likely #35, and a future 3rd and 4th) than Kyle Davidson should jump at the chance. I see those 5 players as complimentary top 6 future NHLers that are 9-12 months ahead in projection than the players that are in the 17-21 range we are currently slated for.
Low Cost: Take on a "project" player that's term and salary is no longer beneficial for their team. While still a good player, likely needs a change of scenery while at the same time creating useful cap space for the former team. Players like Conor Garland, Brock Boeser, Anthony Cirelli, Anthony Mantha, Andrew Mangiapane, Tuevo Teravainen, and Mason Marchment appear to me as players in the "in between" with how their organizations may view not only them, but their contracts and futures within their franchise.
This is a list of very good veteran forwards. While some of them will likely be off limits, their cap hits and play of late may make them expendable to a team that's able to easily take on their term and salary. Some of the players I listed will require draft pick compensation as their play and age are still desirable. I do not however believe that any of these players will demand our #19 pick (or shouldn't at least) and in some cases (like with Mantha) could be acquired with mid round pick accompaniment just to move the cap hit.
Analysis: These 3 tiered ideas are just speculative, but it is a good template to gauge the potential cost in this risk / reward exercise. If you were GM, now seeing the potential cost, would you make one of these moves or just stay where we currently are going to pick? It obviously takes two GMs to be in agreement, so you must give up good assets to get a good player in return. Either one of these options to me accomplishes the main objective which is to get Connor Bedard help so he isn't on an island. The future is exciting, let's now fortify it.