GM Stan Bowman fails to significantly brighten Blackhawks’ future at trade deadline
Trading away Robin Lehner and Erik Gustafsson garnered meager returns that don’t move the needle, even for the years to come.
ST. LOUIS — Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman was dealt a difficult hand for the trade deadline Monday. He had no aces up his sleeve and no kings or queens, either.
Still, he did somewhat salvage the day. The eventual trades of goalie Robin Lehner and defenseman Erik Gustafsson, to continue the poker metaphor, were probably the equivalent of a pair of fives.
But after the deadline had passed, it was clear the deals had not significantly improved the Hawks’ long-term future and had significantly worsened the present.
To pass off the meager returns Bowman got for the two pending free agents, whose values had plummeted to new lows at the absolute worst time this month, as anything more would be insincere.
Still, that’s exactly what Bowman tried to do.
‘‘It’s all about asset management,’’ he said. ‘‘When you have an expiring asset whose rights you don’t retain anymore, it’s not as much a financial decision as it is trying to recoup some value and draft picks and prospects.
‘‘It was really to bring in some . . . assets that we can use to select young players and add them to our stable of prospects to make our team better in the coming years.’’
Sure, Bowman acquired some picks and prospects. But none truly will move the needle.
Young defenseman Slava Demin, whose rights were acquired from the Golden Knights, was a fourth-round pick in 2018 (although his value has increased since then). A second-round pick also came from the Knights, as did a third-rounder from the Flames.
Based on historical odds, however, none of those three ‘‘assets’’ has even a 50 percent chance of turning into an NHL player. Combined, their production is expected to equate to 0.96 of an NHL player. The definition of ‘‘NHL player’’ includes easily replaceable third-pairing defensemen and backup goalies — thresholds Gustafsson and Lehner greatly exceed.
A first-round pick would have made all the difference, and several first-rounders were dealt in the last week for relatively underwhelming players.
Unbelievably, the Lightning gave up one Monday for Barclay Goodrow, a 26-year-old forward who had 24 points this season and 17 last season for the Sharks.
That was the craziest overpay, but the Hurricanes also traded a first-rounder for Brady Skjei, an overpaid second-pairing defenseman, and the Islanders surrendered first- and second-rounders for Jean-Gabriel Pageau, a forward with a career high of 43 points.
Yet the Hawks managed to sell so low on Lehner, one of the NHL’s best goalies in the first half of the season, and Gustafsson, the NHL’s sixth-highest-scoring defenseman last season, that neither garnered a first-round pick.
It’s not Bowman’s fault that both declined as the winter wore on.
It’s partly his fault that he wasn’t more decisive about the Hawks’ status as buyers or sellers earlier in the season (although the team’s fluctuation around the playoff bubble did him no favors).
And it’s definitely his fault that the goalie situation reached this point. In recent months, Lehner and Corey Crawford both expressed keen interest in re-signing with the Hawks. Crawford might have been the cheaper and easier pick, but Lehner showed the potential (and interest) to become a franchise cornerstone.
So the we-might-as-well trades Monday must not be interpreted as we-had-to trades — or, worse yet, it’ll-fix-things trades.
‘‘It’s important to try to . . . build for the future, and I think we’re in a better position to do that now than we were yesterday,’’ Bowman said.
In that assessment, he was wrong.