In Stan Bowman’s first few seasons as GM, there was an aversion to “the big splash.” 2010’s big move was the now deceased Kim Johnsson. The following season saw Michael Frolik and Chris Campoli come aboard, and neither were anywhere near the hottest items on the board. After that Johnny Oduya was the acquisition, and again he wasn’t the big prize at the deadline (though Frolik and Oduya went on to play pretty big roles).
Even in free agency, Stan started out taking the more functional than revolutionary choices, like Montador, Brunnette, Carcillo, and other names that went on to just about nothing for the Hawks.
However, after two first-round exits there was little question Stan was facing just a bit of heat from upstairs. While it didn’t immediately result in bigger splashes, the Hawks certainly made it clear to everyone who would listen that they went after Zach Parise in free agency in the summer of 2012. That was certainly the biggest fish Stan had ever chased.
Lucky it didn’t work out, and luckier still that the 2013 team immediately gelled into some sort of mastodon that only needed tweaking with the likes of Handzus. But the past two years, you have to say Stan has seen what his team lacks and has gotten the best fit, big name or not, for that. First it was Brad Richards, whose contract wasn’t much of a risk but the name kind of was for a #2 center. Then it was Antoine Vermette, the best center available last year. Kimmo Timonen was a huge risk but the type of player the Hawks did need. It just didn’t work out for him. That clearly hasn’t made Stan gun-shy.
The best way to view Andrew Ladd is it’s certainly an upgrade on Andrew Shaw playing on the top line. The Hawks are better today than they were yesterday at this time. They are deeper. When Marcus Kruger returns (I’m assuming Game 1 for that) they will have three very good lines and close to four full ones. Obviously rolling 11 forwards in the playoffs isn’t that big of a deal, though having 12 last year made a difference. Though I don’t think Desjardins-Kruger-Sekac (or replace Kruger with Danault and have Kruger slot up) would let anyone down.
Ladd can play on the PK, and it could probably use him. He can be “Annette Frontpresence” on the non-2nd line power play unit, though Q would be loathe to remove Shaw from that. But Ladd is better at it, and simply bigger. Again, he provides options.
What he is not is a miracle worker, and I don’t think he’s as effective as Vermette was before coming to the Hawks and getting some strange usage until the playoffs. There’s no worry about that with a player Q already likes and has coached before. Ladd’s scoring and possession numbers are all at a career low for him this season, and physical wingers like Ladd can age quickly. It won’t hit him fully this season, and after this season isn’t going to be of any concern to the Hawks. Some may think that the upgrade in teammates is going to reverse that, but as I said in a previous post Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler are hardly incompetent. In reality, going from Wheeler to Hossa is not actually an upgrade, but Toews from Little is.
As for what they gave up, I’m just not sure it matters anymore. Even this year’s first round pick, if everything had gone right, wouldn’t have been on the Hawks roster until 2017-2018 at the very earliest, and more likely the season after that. Brandon Saad is really the only top tier pick (high 2nd round, and I guess you could count Nick Leddy if you wanted) to get to the NHL in less than two seasons after being drafted. I don’t think the Hawks are going to care too much about the 2018-2019 season if they’ve managed another parade or two.
Other organizations would be iffy about giving up Marko Dano, because 21-year old skilled forwards aren’t something you get to grab a lot of. We know how quickly Q and the staff can sour on kids and he may have already been down that path. I’m sure there’s a part of Stan though that isn’t quite comfortable with the trade now being Saad-for-Anisimov straight up, or it will be in June. But again, that will be softened by another Cup. Dano is going to get a chance in Winnipeg to just play and probably on his more favored right side, maybe even in the middle, and I’ll hardly be shocked if he becomes a very useful player. Still, a gap on the Hawks’ right wing in the top six won’t be open for at least another season, and depending what they do with Teuvo maybe not even on the top 9. I’m guessing in Stan’s eyes Schmaltz and Motte weren’t too far away from passing Dano on the depth chart anyway.
Ladd also doesn’t help the blue line, and for me that was the bigger problem. Now, I will fully admit that there’s a chance that Brent Seabrook is merely pacing himself. He looked somewhat like this in 2013 and then was very good in the playoffs. But he looked like this the following season and the Kings ate him alive in the playoffs (I’m sure he was very rich). He looks worse than both of those seasons now. He needs a partner who can skate, and Q is not going to be very comfortable entrusting that to Erik Gustafsson (who I thought had a strong game with some mistakes here and there last night). If the Hawks can get creative and get another team to hold some cash they can make another move for one. And Stan probably sees the same holes we do, because that’s kind of been his M.O. the past two seasons.
No one inside or outside the organization is going to be concerned with how much the window has been shortened on the back end. And that’s even hard to gauge with a new CBA coming in four years. The Hawks, with Hossa’s age, Seabrook’s contract, Keith’s age, might only have two or three more full swings at this. And as we’ve said, there’s an argument that they’re already on house money. Sure, it could get ugly in a hurry around here in four or five years time. But yesterday’s gone and tomorrow may never come.