Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has options now.
After a partial sell-off at the trade deadline, with Tommy Wingels and Ryan Hartman shipped out and a number of draft picks moving in, Bowman has some pieces to play with during the summer months. And how he elects to utilize those pieces could alter the course of the franchise for the immediate and distant futures.
For just the second time since 2001, the Hawks have two first-round picks to use following the Hartman trade. The last time they had this fortune was in 2011, when Mark McNeill (18th overall) and Phillip Danault (26th) were selected. Chicago also has a pair of third-round picks thanks to the Michal Kempny trade with the Washington Capitals.
And while the Blackhawks farm system is far from one of the deepest in the NHL, it has been restocked a bit in the last few drafts after a 2015 group of prospects that haven’t yielded much of anything. And having undrafted youngsters like David Kampf and Matthew Highmore find their way to the NHL suggests the Hawks can find talent outside of the draft.
Either way, Bowman certainly has plenty of ways to add more organizational depth through the draft and elsewhere this summer. And he can certainly elect to go that route. Or ...
He could go all in on another Cup run.
Not only does Bowman have some flexibility with the prospects in the organization, he could also have more wiggle room underneath the salary cap, which is expected to rise from its current ceiling of $75 million. For the first time in what feels like a decade, Chicago could be in a place to add proven NHL talent instead of gambling on young players to make the leap into becoming solid professional players.
That’s because the Hawks can offer something worthwhile to any trade partner. Want draft picks? They got draft picks, as detailed above. Want prospects? They got prospects: Henri Jokiharju, Dylan Sikura and Lucas Carlsson chief among them (although all three still need to sign NHL contracts). Want NHL-ready players? They got those, too, with guys like Jan Rutta, John Hayden and Gustav Forsling.
Chicago’s roster has been screaming out for another top-four defenseman for a few seasons now, and Bowman finally has the combination of worthwhile trade pieces and financial flexibility to take on a contract that isn’t an entry-level one. And judging from CapFriendly’s list of defensemen who’ll become unrestricted free agents after the 2019-20 season, there are options for expiring contracts that could be acquired. Take one moment and imagine how great Erik Karlsson would look in a Hawks sweater ... then put it away because that just seems too far-fetched. But perhaps Oliver Ekman-Larsson decides the Arizona Coyotes’ rebuild isn’t going fast enough? Maybe the Tampa Bay Lightning have to unload Ryan McDonagh after this season their run at the 2018 Stanley Cup? Or get really aggressive and pry Noah Hanifin away from the Carolina Hurricanes before that team has to give him a raise off the entry-level deal that expires this summer.
If nothing else, Bowman has options this offseason. Which is more than he’s had in the ones prior.