The Blackhawks didn't acquire another Antoine Vermette by Monday's trading deadline because they weren't in the market for another Antoine Vermette.
This isn't 2015. It's 2021, so Stan Bowman, president of hockey operations and general manager, did what he said he would do and has been doing since he committed the franchise to a rebuild. The past decade was extraordinary, the absolute best in Blackhawks' history, but it is time to move onward.
Bowman declared as much after last season, even after the youngest team in the NHL won a play-in series against the Edmonton Oilers during the pandemic bubble and then gave the mighty Vegas Golden Knights a challenge before bowing in the next round, officially the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
These current Blackhawks, energized by a flock of rookies, have outperformed experts who forecasted a dark winter and are in the hunt for a postseason berth. That would be nice, but not necessary, because what's transpired over recent months in a sense validates the master plan.
Bowman and his staff are focused on fortifying the organization's infrastructure by stacking assets, whether they are players to be named later or names to be played right away. By adding a few individuals already in the NHL, along with an array of draft slots without really depleting the current roster, the Blackhawks have accomplished just that. They were neither just sellers nor buyers but both.
It's about inventory. Inventory doesn't wear a sweater or skates, at least not yet. But there might be a day when you look at the Blackhawks as they take the ice and wonder, "How did they ever get this terrific kid Henrik Borgstrom?"
Video: Bowman on trade deadline, Pt. 1
Bowman resisted the temptation to alter priorities by seeking, say, a veteran who might propel the Blackhawks toward a playoff spot few thought possible. Instead, he parted with Mattias Janmark and Carl Soderberg, both of whom contributed well to the present cause, but they are unrestricted free agents, so Bowman deftly flipped them for the future. Janmark brought a 2021 second-round draft pick from Vegas -- comparable to what the Boston Bruins exchanged for notable Taylor Hall -- and a 2022 third rounder.
What message does that send now to the locker room? Well, as Bowman pointed out, he didn't replace them with nobody. In a previous deal with the Florida Panthers that secured the rights to Borgstrom, the Blackhawks also received some heft and experience. Riley Stillman logged 21-plus minutes Monday night on a defense thinned by Adam Boqvist's early departure, and Brett Connolly, a member of the 2018 Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, scored an unassisted goal toward a 4-3 overtime victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Vinnie Hinostroza, a local lad acquired from Florida in an earlier move, is happy to be back with the Blackhawks and performing accordingly.
Borgstrom, a 23-year-old center, is "one of the best college players I've seen in the last 10 years," according to Bowman, who watched him at the University of Denver. Borgstrom didn't quite click in Florida, but he starred in Finland, and you have to like the Blackhawks' knack for unwrapping Europeans. The task, as Bowman says, is converting "potential into reality," and he obviously trusts Head Coach Jeremy Colliton's crew with that assignment -- another implicit signal Bowman has transmitted by accumulating so much youth.
If it seems that Bowman stacks draft choices even in his sleep, the next question is does he even sleep? He also snagged a seventh rounder from Florida and then a fourth from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Madison Bowey, we hardly knew ye. Of greater import, however, the Blackhawks sent Matthew Highmore to Vancouver for Adam Gaudette -- a desired right-handed center and the 2018 Hobey Baker Award winner as best player in college hockey.
"We certainly see the potential in what he brings to the table," said Bowman. "He's got some size and we thought he really had a good year last year. We're trying to recapture some of that. When you're talking about building a team, there's always certainly the defense, goalie and the center as strengths. If you're able to play down the middle, I think you have value."
Gaudette, 24, had his moments with the Canucks, for whom he produced 52 points over 153 games in three seasons. But he might fit into the category of NHL players who welcome a fresh start (see: Dylan Strome.) Then there are those who are starting fresh like Ryder Rolston, 19, from Notre Dame, Bowman's alma mater. Rolston was part of the Soderberg transaction with the Colorado Avalanche, who also parted with forward Josh Dickinson.
Video: Bowman on trade deadline, Pt. 2
Draft choices constitute currency, and the Blackhawks own five in the first four rounds this year. Besides Hinostroza, the newest bodies are either L or XL. Meanwhile, the present team remains competitive and fun to watch. Most rebuilds compel fans to close their eyes for a year or two, but Bowman appears to be replenishing the talent pool without the Blackhawks ever enduring the dreaded nuclear option, bottoming out completely.
Parades are expensive, and during those halcyon days, the Blackhawks were right up against the salary cap. Now they have some elbow room. Example: Bowman took on Connolly's contract, but not without Borgstrom's inclusion in the package.
In 2015, Patrick Kane's long-term injury afforded salary cap flexibility. Bowman, smelling a third Stanley Cup, snagged Vermette at the deadline from the Arizona Coyotes. The Blackhawks still had to pay Kane, but that was no issue for ownership. Rocky Wirtz says he can't even recall being consulted, nor did he expect to be.
Vermette started quietly but finished with a flourish. He copped faceoffs and scored huge goals -- three playoff game-winners. One was in double overtime in a momentous conference finals against the Anaheim Ducks and two in the Cup Final conquest of the Tampa Bay Lightning. A spectacular rental, Vermette returned to Arizona the next season, jewelry on hand.
Bowman didn't chase anything quite as dramatic this week, but Gaudette does rhyme with Vermette.