Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman did it again. His team will be better for it again.
For the second straight year, Bowman got out ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline and acquired the player he needed to acquire, paying a price that should be of no consequence to the Blackhawks at this time.
If left wing Andrew Ladd helps the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup, the way center Antoine Vermette did last season, Ladd will exceed the value the Winnipeg Jets got in return for him.
Chicago gave up promising 21-year-old forward Marko Dano, a first-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, and a conditional pick in the 2018 NHL Draft for Ladd, a likely rental who can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
The trade deadline isn't until 3 p.m. ET on Monday. Last year, three days before that deadline, Chicago gave up defenseman Klas Dahlbeck and a first-round pick to get Vermette from the Arizona Coyotes.
Vermette, who also was playing on an expiring contract, scored three game-winning goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to help the Blackhawks win the championship. The first-round pick Arizona got wound up being No. 30. That might be what Winnipeg gets in this trade for Ladd. At the very least, it's expected to be a late first-round pick because Chicago is better positioned with Ladd to win the Stanley Cup than it was without him.
Under most circumstances, it'd be fair to call Dano and a first-round pick, regardless of where it slots, a steep price to pay for a rental forward, particularly because Dano was a first-round pick himself (No. 27 in the 2013 NHL Draft). It's not fair in this case because of where the Blackhawks are, and how nothing but defending the Stanley Cup matters to them.
Late first-round picks and high-end prospects with untapped potential are for rebuilding or retooling teams like the Jets. Ladd, a veteran player who comes back to the Blackhawks six years after winning the Cup with them, his second Cup championship (Carolina Hurricanes, 2006), is the perfect player for Chicago as it tries to become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champion since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings.
Ladd fills the massive hole that has been visible in the Blackhawks' top-six forward group all season.
As soon injured right wing Marian Hossa returns, Ladd, who had 17 goals and 34 points in 59 games with the Jets, will slide in on a line with Hossa and center Jonathan Toews, becoming the final piece to Chicago's enviable top-six group.
The Blackhawks can contend with any team in the NHL with its other top-two line that features NHL leading scorer and Hart Trophy favorite Patrick Kane, rookie leading scorer and Calder Trophy contender Artemi Panarin, and Artem Anisimov.
Ladd's addition also puts Andrew Shaw back on the third line, where he has always fit best in Chicago. That gives Joel Quenneville the ability to play Teuvo Teravainen on the wing, where it appears the coach likes him best. Richard Panik also can go to that third line once Hossa returns. Andrew Desjardins can center the fourth line.
The Blackhawks are deeper, more experienced and better with Ladd. They could use a defenseman to add into their top six, which should be Bowman's next move before the deadline, but there's no doubting their ability to win the Stanley Cup again.
Bowman even has some wiggle room because the Jets are retaining 36 percent of Ladd's contract, according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.
That Chicago had to give up Dano and a first-round pick to become arguably the top contender in the Western Conference, so be it. No one ever said winning was cheap.
The Jets also made out well in this trade. The return they got for Ladd, a player they likely weren't going to re-sign, was maybe the best they could have gotten for a rental player.
It's like getting two first-round picks for him. That's key currency for Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. He has an extra first-round pick he could use to select another prospect or pedal in a trade that can make Winnipeg better next season.
The Blackhawks needed to get better now. Their window is wide open. They're arguably already a dynasty. They have a better chance at defending their championship than they did before this trade.
If they come through and do it, no one will remember what they gave up for Ladd, just like no one remembers what they gave up for Vermette.