Over the past couple seasons, the Blackhawks learned that the only way to win as a major buyer at the trade deadline is to win the Stanley Cup. In 2015, the team traded tons of assets for a pair of rentals who weren’t exactly difference-makers, but in the end it was totally worth it to win it all. In 2016, they did something similar, it didn’t work, and GM Stan Bowman’s efforts aren’t remembered so fondly.
This year, the Blackhawks seem confident they don’t need to make moves like that. Instead, Bowman went out and took a flier on 24-year-old winger Tomas Jurco in a trade with the Red Wings on Friday. It cost Chicago a third-round pick in the upcoming NHL Draft, which leaves its stable of prospects and picks mostly intact.
Just before the Jurco trade, the Ducks made a deal of their own for one of the most prominent potential Blackhawks targets, Stars forward Patrick Eaves. Anaheim paid a heavy price, agreeing to send Dallas a 2017 second-round pick that turns into a first-rounder if the Ducks make the conference finals and Eaves suits up at least 50 percent of the time.
That’s not quite as much as Bowman sent to the Jets a year ago to rent Andrew Ladd, but seeing the Eaves and Jurco deals come in so quickly after one another, it seems clear where the Blackhawks are coming from. If that’s the price for a non-star rental having a career-year at age 32, then why not take a shot on someone who is younger, cheaper, and under team control beyond this season?
Bowman mentioned Friday during a conference call that Jurco had been on the Blackhawks’ radar for years, and he was recently looking for a change of scenery after his career stalled in Detroit.
There have been comparisons to Richard Panik, which make sense given they’re both big-bodied Slovakian wingers, but the deal is actually more like a light version of the David Rundblad trade in that the Blackhawks gave up a real asset instead of Jeremy Morin.
What Jurco has in common with Panik and Rundblad is that Bowman and his staff saw a young player they liked failing to reach his potential elsewhere, and decided to bring each one in hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. That didn’t really work with Rundblad, but now Panik has 16 goals as a top-six forward in Chicago, so they’ve had some success here.
Maybe you’re disappointed that this isn’t the experienced, big-name player who might be more of a sure thing, but the Blackhawks presumably are looking at the cost of the market and asking what it’s worth. They already have a top-six rolling right now with Jonathan Toews playing out of mind next to Panik and Nick Schmaltz.
Sure, you’d love a Matt Duchene right now, just like everyone else, but the Blackhawks are suddenly boasting some pretty impressive young talent. You can see why they might be starting to wonder whether they can drag out this championship window longer than people might suspect.
If anything, what the Blackhawks needed is more depth to make sure they’re covered for a hopefully lengthy playoff run. Do you really want to break up Schmaltz-Toews-Panik right now anyway? If not, and you’re talking about giving up a potential first-round pick for a player like Eaves to play a bottom-six role, that’s not a price the Blackhawks should be paying.
Instead, they give up a third-round pick to get a player who is less of a sure thing, but one management targeted for his untapped potential. Maybe Jurco won’t pan out — I mean, zero points in 16 games this season, yeesh — but there’s also a very good chance that the Blackhawks just landed an affordable bottom-six forward who can be re-signed in the summer.
Toss in the fact that he could help the team’s expansion draft situation regarding the 40/70 rule if he plays another 10 games this season and re-signs before the draft, and you can see where the Blackhawks are coming from here. It’s not like they can’t call up Vinnie Hinostroza or Tyler Motte again if things aren’t working.
Maybe their scouting will ultimately be off, and Jurco won’t pan out just like Rundblad didn’t. Maybe they have another deal planned before the trade deadline on Wednesday afternoon, too. But Jurco sounds excited for the opportunity and depth (especially young, cheap depth) is crucial to any championship team in the salary cap era, so it’s hard to complain much about the Hawks going after a guy they’ve liked all along.