By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Blackhawks pride themselves as a championship organization. The banners hanging from the rafters are a reflection of that standard set the past decade.
But the Blackhawks have been humbled the last two years, knocked out of the first round in consecutive postseasons. In April, they were embarrassed by the Predators in a four-game sweep. The top-seeded Blackhawks scored three goals in four games and looked far removed from their Stanley Cup form of the past.
General manager Stan Bowman set the tone for this critical offseason by pledging change for his organization. He couldn’t let the Blackhawks slip from that standard. Bowman promised change and delivered on a frantic Friday of moves.
The Blackhawks traded defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson — a three-time champion and member of that core — in a swap with the Coyotes for 24-year-old defenseman Connor Murphy and 22-year-old forward Laurent Dauphin.
A bombshell followed moments later, with the Blackhawks dealing star forward Artemi Panarin to the Blue Jackets in a blockbuster that brought winger Brandon Saad back to Chicago.
Bowman promised change, and he most certainly delivered.
“We’re trying to look forward and get better,” Bowman said Friday night after the first day of the NHL Draft. “I’m excited about it. Sometimes change is good. You have to make some tough decisions sometime. But at the same time, we’re really excited about our team next year.”
Bowman suggested that the Blackhawks are done with making major moves after an eventful day ended with the selection of 18-year-old defenseman Henri Jokiharju of Finland. While coach Joel Quenneville was notably absent from the draft Friday, it was clear who’s taking the lead. Bowman is putting his best foot forward.
In Murphy, the Blackhawks swap out a 30-year-old defenseman for a 24-year-old. After their blue line appeared slow compared to the Predators, the team believed it needed to seek younger options. Dauphin should add speed on the attack.
The stunning move to reacquire Saad — dealt from Chicago shortly after winning the Stanley Cup in 2015 — gives the Blackhawks the two-way presence they’ll be missing with Marian Hossa’s hockey career likely over. The cap ramifications are minimal, but Saad is a year younger than Panarin and comes with two extra years of team control.
Saad can be that important presence on both ends of the ice, while Panarin isn’t as strong defensively. With Alexander DeBrincat rising through the organization, the Blackhawks are ready to add goal-scoring impact down the road.
Friday marked the opening of the NHL Draft at the United Center, with the Blackhawks creating the most buzz of any team. Their swap of Panarin and Saad was the talk of the league. Panarin had just won the Calder Trophy as hockey’s top rookie in 2016 and had emerged as one of the game’s next stars. He and Patrick Kane had become quite the tandem.
But Bowman had to do his part for change. The Blackhawks were out-classed by the Predators and left limping out of the postseason in just four embarrassing games. They’re better than this — or so we’ve been led to believe.
That championship standard is driving Bowman and the Blackhawks to change.