By Chris Emma–
(CBS) Through their run to becoming a hockey dynasty, the Blackhawks have followed the same formula. There’s a method to their madness.READ MORE: Private Insurance Now Covers At-Home COVID-19 Testing
General manager Stan Bowman annually builds a team around that elite core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, among others, constantly adding and restocking quality depth that complements that core. In keeping these stars locked in with huge contracts, this is the price to pay.
When 22-year-old star forward Brandon Saad reportedly sought out $6.5 million annually in his next contract, Bowman had to make a move knowing an offer sheet was coming. In a stunning turn of events Tuesday afternoon, the Blackhawks dealt Saad to the Blue Jackets for four forwards — likely second-line center Artem Anisimov, promising 20-year-old Marko Dano, former Blackhawk Jeremy Morin and Corey Tropp.
Essentially, Bowman’s hand was forced by Saad’s heavy demand that Chicago simply couldn’t match due to its cap crunch, so he found a way to gain assets. Really good ones, in fact.
“This is a business, and we have a job to do,” Bowman said of the deal. “My job is to prepare our team for next season to remain competitive and to have a chance to win the Cup again. Sometimes, that means difficult decisions.”
Perhaps this is Bowman’s most difficult call, because he wanted to keep Saad in the Blackhawks’ core. But Chicago simply couldn’t counter the incoming offer sheets with big bucks. This was a careful, calculated move by Bowman, a proven master at revamping the roster, as his three Stanley Cup rings show.
In 2010, the Blackhawks won the Cup with homegrown talents like Dustin Byfuglien, Troy Brouwer and Antti Niemi, then signed key players like Tomas Kopecky, Andrew Ladd and Brian Campbell. These were the depth pieces to the star-powered core.
What do all those names have in common? They were all gone when the Blackhawks earned another banner in 2013, with names from the organization like Dave Bolland, Nick Leddy and Bryan Bickell joining acquired veterans such as Michal Handzus, Michael Frolik, Viktor Stalberg and Ray Emery.
Catching the trend? In 2010, the Blackhawks won with the ideal cast to complement rising stars like Toews and Kane, then rebuilt it again for 2013. Cap casualties didn’t close the championship window, because the Blackhawks came back for a Cup refill in 2015.
It remains likely that Bickell, Kris Versteeg and Johnny Oduya are headed out the door, but perhaps the Saad deal means that one of either Brad Richards or Antoine Vermette could stay. There’s a lot for Bowman to sort through.READ MORE: Woman Struck and Killed While Entering Vehicle In West Garfield Park
“We’ve got a lot of options we can pursue now,” Bowman said.
But this roster revamp will be much different — better — than it was in the summer of 2010.
Anisimov, 27, becomes the second-line anchor the Blackhawks have long coveted, Dano is another rising star to build around (he and Teuvo Teravainen would be fun as linemates), Morin gets a second chance to join Chicago’s lines and Tropp could add depth, too.
Solid in-house role players will return, such as Marcus Kruger, Joakim Nordstrom and perhaps even Andrew Desjardins, with added hope in cap room without Saad’s contract to be of concern.
Chicago is home to what has to be the most attractive destination for discount free agents. Richards is the perfect example — a guy who signed on with the Blackhawks for $2 million and one year, that after completing a mega deal. He hoisted the Cup as he hoped. He took a major discount for a chance to win a championship, and he got rewarded. Others could follow this model, the possibilities Derek Roy, Shawn Horcoff or potentially even Martin St. Louis out on the market.
However, one of the greatest differences comes from Rockford, where the Blackhawks have a solid squad to count on in the farm system. Ideally, Philip Danault takes Vermette’s spot, Ryan Hartman replaces Versteeg and Stephen Johns jumps in for Oduya. Keep an eye on Mark McNeill, Kyle Baun, Erik Gustafsson and — eventually — the thrilling Artemi Panarin.
There was uncertainty following the 2010 roster reworking simply because Bowman was still a relatively new general manager and the Blackhawks had only laid the foundation. This time around, it’s completely different. The trade of Saad was a stunning but necessary move, and Bowman made the most of it.
The Blackhawks are stronger than ever before as an organization, with Bowman as the strong leader in charge and a cast of hockey Hall of Famers that have now hoisted the Cup three times in six years.
Believe in Bowman and the changes to come, because the Blackhawks always seem to bounce back.MORE NEWS: Crime Stoppers Offers $1,000 Reward For Information In Hit And Run In Austin
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.