The Chicago Blackhawks acquired winger Andrew Ladd from the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night, and they paid a hell of a price in doing so. Chicago sent Marko Dano, a 2016 first-round pick and a conditional 2018 pick to the Jets in exchange for Ladd, forward Matt Fraser and defenseman Jay Harrison. If Chicago wins the Stanley Cup this season, they'll also send the Jets a 2018 third-round pick.
Dano was one of the key pieces that the Blackhawks acquired when they traded Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets in June 2015. The 21-year-old winger instantly became one of the organization's top prospects. We ranked him at No. 2 on our Top 25 Under 25 series during the offseason.
Dano offered a lot of promise to the future of the Blackhawks, but struggled to crack the lineup consistently this season. He started the year in Rockford before being called up in early November. He appeared in 13 games for the Blackhawks, but was only able to produce one goal and one assist before being sent back down to Rockford. He has scored four goals and 19 assists in 34 games for the Ice Hogs this year.
Despite his apparent struggles this season, Dano's status as one of the team's best young players remained. His talent and potential were obvious. He is going to develop into a very good player at the NHL level, and maybe even a star. Sending Dano and a first-round pick to Winnipeg for a rental player and two minor leaguers is an extreme risk on GM Stan Bowman's part.
However, it is a very calculated risk. The Blackhawks are in the golden era of the franchise, and they know it. The past seven years of Blackhawks hockey have been the best stretch in the history of the organization. It's unlikely that we will ever see a similar one in the future. The careers of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford are finite, and getting closer to their end each year.
The NHL salary cap doesn't appear to be going up significantly any time soon, with the value of the Canadian dollar languishing, and the Blackhawks have been fighting the cap for the past few seasons. With players like Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen and Artemi Panarin set to need new contracts in the next two offseasons, the cap issues are only going to become more glaring in the coming seasons.
The Blackhawks championship window is open now. They've been among the best teams in the NHL this season, in a season when many thought they might focus more on reloading for the future than going to another Cup. However, even with as good as they have been this season, the first line left wing position has been a glaring hole for most of the season. Acquiring Ladd addresses that need in full.
Ladd is a strong two-way player with a nice scoring touch and previous knowledge of Joel Quenneville's system. He was with the Blackhawks from 2007-10 and won the Cup with Chicago in 2010. Since being traded to Winnipeg, he has developed into a full fledged top-line forward. The former Winnipeg captain has 34 points (17 goals, 17 assists) in 59 games for the Jets this season, a strong showing following a 62-point season last year.
His two-way play also offers Joel Quennville a lot of flexibility in how he can use the 30-year-old. It's probably a given that Ladd will slot onto the first line with Toews and Marian Hossa right away, but he can play key roles on the power play and penalty kill as well. He offers a big body presence to go to the front of net, generate pressure and screen goalies. In a lot of ways, he is the perfect player for the Blackhawks' needs at forward. Bowman said as much:
Stan Bowman: "There’s the give and take of the future and the present, but we’re really excited for what Ladd brings to our group."— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) February 26, 2016
Giving up Dano, a first-round pick and (hopefully) a future third- round pick for Ladd, who will be strictly a rental, and two minor league players is certainly a steep price. The Blackhakws' front office has long been heralded for its ability to sustain the team's strong pipeline while also being the NHL's best team. Losing a good 21-year-old and a first-rounder will clearly be a blow to that system.
However, in spite of the deep price, the Blackhawks know that their time is now, and they're showing that they're unafraid to act on it. When you have the chance to win your fourth Stanley Cup in seven seasons, you damn well better go for it. The Blackhawks are showing that they want to win Stanley Cups now, and they're willing to pay whatever price is necessary.