It's almost impossible to believe the Chicago Blackhawks made the playoffs only once between 1998 and 2008. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane arrived in 2007 as teenagers, Joel Quenneville in 2008, and nothing has been the same since.
In five of the last seven springs, since 2009, the Blackhawks have been one of four teams left standing. They've been to the Stanley Cup Final three times, winning each. It's been a remarkable run. The fruits of a lost decade, you could say. And there are zero signs it's ending, thanks to a man who's never seen the ice or the bench: general manager Stan Bowman.
And another one
Bowman traded for Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd on Thursday evening, adding to an already formidable Chicago roster. It's a fantastic fit, Ladd a strong possession player and two-time Cup winner, one of which came with the Blackhawks. It made too much sense to not happen.
The cost, for a Blackhawks team with a .653 winning percentage, third-highest in Quenneville's tenure, was Marko Dano, who has four goals and 19 assists in 34 AHL games, and a first-round pick in 2016. A price any reasonable Blackhawks supporter will tell you is more than fair.
Dano may turn out to be a fine player - there's something there, if the Jets can tap into it. And a conditional third-round pick is worth another Cup. But by adding Ladd without touching his roster, Bowman is proving it may indeed be possible to put together a dynasty in the salary cap era. The point is: He's trying. And that's damn exciting. While Michal Handzus and Antoine Vermette contributed to two previous Cups, Ladd is a far more dynamic player, and there's no reason to think he won't thrive in his new old home. He's got a contract to play for.
The Blackhawks have the Western Conference's best goal differential, allowing 24 fewer goals than the Dallas Stars, the West's "best" team. Quenneville and Corey Crawford - for some reason - don't get enough credit outside of Chicago. Whatever they're doing, it works. It's still working. Chicago doesn't need Ladd. But perhaps this move is about more than simply fit, because the Blackhawks have played a lot of hockey over the years. That's the price winners pay. We can't see it, but there's mileage on the legs of Kane, Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa, and Niklas Hjalmarsson. This is the beauty of Bowman, and his ability to remake his team while somehow keeping his core intact. Ladd's played four playoff games in five years. Artemi Panarin hasn't played one.
As for the first-round pick, that's another price to pay for winning. No matter. Bowman inherited the only three he truly needed.