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Blackhawks counting on new players to defend Cup

by Brian Hedger / NHL.com

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

CHICAGO -- The more things change with the Chicago Blackhawks, the harder their front office works to attain the same results.

The Blackhawks have proven during the past seven seasons that sustained success is possible in a salary-cap system, but only for teams that continually prepare for offseason roster turnover.

It helps to have a core group of elite players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith to build around, as Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman does in Chicago, but that alone won't win anything. Bowman has built the Blackhawks' past two championship teams after parting with established role players and replacing them with players who have thrived in those supporting roles.

"I think change is good, and I think we've embraced that in the past and been able to bring in some players that now are household names … but at one point they were new," Bowman said. "It's going to be the same thing for some of the new guys that are part of this group next year. They might be new to the fans and media, but as you'll see in time, I think we're really going to fall in love with some of these guys."

Artemi Panarin, Marko Dano and Erik Gustafsson, three players 23 or younger, each could play his way into a regular role, as could forward Teuvo Teravainen, 20, after opening some eyes with an impressive performance during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Panarin, a 23-year-old left wing, was one of the most exciting players in the Kontinental Hockey League last season; Dano, a 20-year-old right wing, made an impressive NHL debut with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2014-15; and Gustafsson, a 23-year-old defenseman, turned heads in the Swedish Hockey League.

Panarin and Gustafsson signed with the Blackhawks as free agents last spring, and Dano came to Chicago in a trade that sent forward Brandon Saad to the Blue Jackets. That trade also brought in Artem Anisimov, 27, who's expected to center the second line.

Defenseman Trevor Daley and left wing Ryan Garbutt were acquired in a trade that sent left wing Patrick Sharp to the Dallas Stars.

Defenseman Johnny Oduya, who spent three-plus seasons in Chicago, signed a two-year contract with the Stars, and center Brad Richards signed for one year with the Detroit Red Wings.

"Every year you have a new mixture that you're trying to put together, and I think the one thing that I try to remind people is that each year is unique and each year is different," Bowman said. "I know the tendency for everybody, whether it's fans or even people around the team, is to look backward: 'Well, this is how we had it last year, so this guy is going to replace that guy.' But when you look back on it, we had a different blueprint each year that we won the Cup. It wasn't the identical same team and one player replaced another one."

Trading Saad took most by surprise, including Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. Bowman agreed to it when it became apparent Saad's asking price for a new contract was too much for Chicago's cramped payroll.

"It's tough losing a young kid who could be a real good player in our league," Quenneville said. "We [will] miss a dimension to our team as well. That's today's game. That's one of the things you have to deal with when you're a championship team. Guys are going to earn more money based on their performance and what they've achieved, [and] deservedly so. [Saad] falls into that category."

Yet the Saad trade is a good example of how Bowman has kept the Blackhawks among the NHL elite. It hurts to lose a talented two-way player who has two championships at the age of 23, but the return might net something even better for Chicago.

Dano could develop into a two-way force, and Anisimov, at 6-foot-4, 198 pounds, is the big, talented center the Blackhawks have long sought to acquire. Anisimov signed a five-year contract extension that doesn't begin until 2016-17 and has a manageable cap charge ($4.55 million, according to war-on-ice.com).

"We have some new players [coming] in," Bowman said. "So when you look at it from that perspective, you get excited about what the possibilities might be for next year with some of the new players we have coming in."

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