The Chicago Blackhawks reached the pinnacle of NHL success several weeks ago by winning the Stanley Cup.
But nothing stays the same for long in professional sports, and in the time since GM Stan Bowman has started to revamp his roster with the goal of maintaining that elite status.
The wheeling and dealing continued Wednesday night when Kris Versteeg became the latest member of the championship squad to wind up with a new address. Versteeg and prospect Bill Sweatt were traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for forwards Viktor Stalberg
, Philippe Paradis
and Christopher DiDomenico
"We're always trying to improve and sometimes you have to make tough decisions," Bowman said in a conference call announcing the deal. "I've been looking for ways to warn fans that this team we've all fallen in love with won't stay the same. No championship team does. But we want to keep the core together."
At the same time, the Blackhawks continued to shed salary in advance of the free-agent signing period that begins at noon on Thursday. Prior to last weekend's Entry Draft, they traded playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien and two other members of their Cup-winning squad, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel, to the Thrashers.
In this deal, the Blackhawks get some intriguing young talent. Stalberg will be expected to contend for a roster spot at training camp in September, and Bowman didn't think Paradis or DiDomenico were far behind in their development.
"We're very high on these three guys," he said. "Each of them brings something different to the table."
Stalberg showed promise during his rookie campaign, scoring 9 goals and 14 points in 40 NHL games. A sixth-round choice in 2006, the 24-year-old was a Hobey Baker finalist during his time at the University of Vermont.
"We love his speed and his size," Bowman said. "He's a guy with a lot of speed -- he's one of the fastest guys in the League. He's also got size, which is a very attractive attribute. We've got a good cast to join him with, and if we can put him with guys who make plays, he can be a good goal-scorer for us."
The 19-year-old Paradis is a former first-round pick of the Hurricanes in the 2009 Entry Draft who was then dealt to the Leafs in December. He made the jump from Shawinigan of the QMJHL to the Marlies and posted 2 assists in four AHL games.
DiDomenico, 21, was taken in the fifth-round in 2007. He has played the past four seasons in the QMJHL for Saint John and Drummondville, totaling 90 goals and 251 points in 203 games. DiDomenico led Drummondville during the last postseason with 14 assists and tied for the team lead with 21 points.
"Our philosophy has been the way you become a good team is to acquire star players," Bowman said. "You look at our roster and we have a plethora of them. But to maintain a good team, you need to have young players to fill in around those guys. Most of our young players are already playing in the NHL, so we're trying to fill the pipeline. We've added a lot of young assets in the last week."
Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs, who surrendered their first-round picks in this year's and next year's drafts to the Bruins in the Phil Kessel trade, added some proven firepower to their attack, as well as a player who could factor in down the road.
Versteeg, 24, recorded 20 goals and 44 points this past season, adding 6 goals and 14 points in 22 playoff games. That included a goal and a pair of assists in a 7-4 win in Game 5 that gave the Blackhawks a 3-2 series edge headed back to Philadelphia.
Originally a fourth-round pick by the Bruins, Versteeg has career totals of 44 goals and 101 points in 170 NHL games, all for Chicago.
"The thing we really liked in Kris Versteeg is he's a versatile player," Bowman said. "We used him at center when we had some injures, he can play left wing or right wing, he can play a checking role, on the power play, really anywhere across the board. He's a fun-loving kid and a likable guy with a lot of skills."
Sweatt, 21, was taken in the second round by the Blackhawks in the 2007 Entry Draft. An Illinois native, he has recorded 46 goals and 109 points in 143 games at Colorado College.
"You talk to people who know Bill Sweatt and they'll tell you his calling card since he was drafted has been his skating," Bowman said. "He's an excellent skater."
Asked whether the trades of Byfuglien and Versteeg would enable the Blackhawks to go after unrestricted free agents they might otherwise not have been able to afford, or if there might even be more deals in store, Bowman played his cards close to the vest.
"I don't think you ever want to map out if you're done or not done," he said. "We're always looking for ways to improve the team in the long term and the short term."
Author: Brian Hunter | NHL.com Staff Writer