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The Chicago Blackhawks, to the surprise of many, currently find themselves sitting comfortably in a playoff spot in the Central Division with a 9 point lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets as we close in on the final stretch of the regular season. This has led many to believe that the Blackhawks will make a significant move at the deadline to take one more run at winning a Stanley Cup but, according to several National Hockey League insiders, the reality may very well be that Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman is still looking towards the future.
Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun Times was able to confirm this week that Bowman has been "actively having conversations" with other NHL general managers, although Bowman played coy when it came to discussing whether he would be buying or selling at the deadline.
"I don’t know if you would call us a seller or a buyer," Bowman said as per Pope. "We’re willing to do a little bit of both, but we’re not going to sell off players we think have a future for us. We’re trying to add players that we think can be part of our future. I don’t think we’re going to be looking for rental players who will be here a couple of months and having to give up some top young assets to do it."
Reading between the lines here it sounds like, regardless of what may happen at the deadline, Bowman's focus remains firmly on the future. There is perhaps no better way to stockpile assets for the future in this era of the NHL than to take on bad contracts while acquiring picks and prospects for the cap relief provided to the other team in the deal, and there are now some early rumblings of a scenario that would lead to a big reunion for the Blackhawks.
In a recent article for the Athletic, Blackhawks insider Scott Powers and Islanders insider Arthur Staple suggested that the Blackhawks could pull off a move of this nature by bringing back veteran forward Andrew Ladd.
While Bowman and Lamoriello are talking, it might just make sense for them to discuss Andrew Ladd as well. A source said the Blackhawks are willing to take on a bad contract or two. Their preference is an expiring contract, but they’d explore something longer. They have a ton of cap space right now because of everyone who is on LTIR. They could easily fit Ladd’s $5.5 million cap hit into their books this season and next.
Although fans hoping to see the Blackhawks make another run at the cup in the short term would no doubt be disappointed in such a move, the current situation with Jonathan Toews ($10.5 million) and Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million) both on long term injured reserve gives them a unique opportunity to stockpile assets for the future. The biggest issue here for the Blackhawks is that Ladd is under contract for 2 more years beyond this current season but that also means that the price for giving the Islanders 3 seasons of cap relief would be astronomical.
The Islanders first round pick in 2021 would have to be on the table and even that would likely only be a starting point considering the term left on this deal. It may not be a sexy move in the short term for fans in Chicago, but it could be the kind of move that would provide a significant long term boost to the franchise, especially once Ladd's deal comes off the books at the end of the 2022 - 2023 NHL season.