Leave it to Stan Bowman to turn nothing into something.
With less than 24 hours to go before the trade deadline, the Blackhawks GM put together a deal to bring Stars defenseman Johnny Oduya back into the fold while giving up the equivalent of some outgrown clothing and a scratch off lottery ticket. On the official trade call those items are titled Mark McNeill and a conditional draft pick (with Dallas retaining 50 percent of Oduya’s salary).
Really, it’s the same difference.
None of that is to insult McNeill — a sturdy AHL player who never got a shot with the Hawks. When Bowman drafted the center in the first round of the 2011 draft, the team was in quite a different position. The first salary cap exodus was about to begin and the Hawks would be losing key components of a championship roster. It made sense to select a two-way center like McNeill who could develop into another cornerstone of the lineup.
But then Marcus Kruger emerged, followed by Dave Bolland’s growth, Brad Richards was brought in, and Teuvo Teravainen was drafted. By the time McNeill was finally ready to get a crack at the roster, the Hawks had added Artem Anisimov and solidified all the center openings. He sat in Rockford as the Hawks brought up guys like Ryan Hartman, Tyler Motte, and Nick Schmaltz. It wasn’t that McNeill couldn’t play for the Hawks — there was never room to give him a chance. To date he’s only played in one NHL game. Chicago outgrew him faster than anyone could’ve expected. Rock bottom came when McNeill hit waivers at the beginning of this season only to end up back in Rockford.
Now he gets a new chance at playing in the league and the Hawks get to bring back a solid defenseman who has already won two Stanley Cups with Chicago.
And if anyone is worried about the conditional pick Bowman gave up (a fourth-rounder that turns into a third if the Hawks reach the West Finals and Oduya plays at least 50 percent of the games), consider that TSN found only about 20 percent of fourth-round picks end up making the NHL. Third-round picks only enter the league at a 30 percent clip.
Meanwhile, the Hawks suddenly have one of the deeper blue lines in the league.
The pairings are expected to look something like this once Niklas Hjalmarsson returns from injury:
- Campbell-van Riemsdyk
Even if Oduya is limited, or becomes a liability on the ice, it’s not as though Chicago gave up anything of significant value to the team in order to bring him back. The team took a chance a veteran player who already understands the club’s system, and there really isn’t any risk involved since the Hawks couldn’t use either asset they traded to help them win a Stanley Cup right now.
Which brings us back to Bowman and his impressive resume of trades.
The guy who manufactured Klas Dahlbeck and a first-rounder for Antoine Vermette, Cam Barker for Nick Leddy, and who got back Anisimov while trading an un-signable Brandon Saad, may have just pulled off his biggest heist yet.
Sure, Oduya is 35 years old and an unrestricted free agent after this season. But Bowman saw his team heating up, noticed a weakness, and addressed it without jeopardizing either the current roster or the team chemistry.
The Hawks did the improbable and pulled off a trade that’s virtually impossible to lose.