Versteeg on Blackhawks ditching Crawford, Saad: Team veterans deserved better

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) celebrates his second goal of the game with teammates Duncan Keith (2) and Brent Seabrook (7) while playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs during second-period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Friday, Jan. 15, 2016.

    Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) celebrates his second goal of the game with teammates Duncan Keith (2) and Brent Seabrook (7) while playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs during second-period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. Associated Press

  • Chicago Blackhawks right wing Kris Versteeg with the Stanley Cup at the United Center in Chicago in 2015.

    Chicago Blackhawks right wing Kris Versteeg with the Stanley Cup at the United Center in Chicago in 2015. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/13/2020 4:44 PM

If Jonathan Toews is upset about what has transpired over the past week with the Blackhawks, who can blame him?

Same goes with Patrick Kane. And Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Three months after the Hawks eliminated the Edmonton Oilers in the play-in round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, GM Stan Bowman allowed goalie Corey Crawford to walk and traded forward Brandon Saad.

That arrow that used to be pointing up? Well, it's now flipped in the polar opposite direction.

"I'd be confused," said former Hawks forward Kris Versteeg, a friend to the veteran players who is now an analyst for SportsNet and SiriusXM NHL Network Radio.

Versteeg, who played 294 games in two stints with the Hawks, believes Bowman should have leveled with the three-time Stanley Cup winners and let them know he would be taking the Hawks in this direction.

"They've earned the right to be informed at every step -- and if they're being informed and they understand what's going on going forward, then it's up to them to make the decisions (about wanting to stay or go)," Versteeg said. "Being informed is always critical and key to keeping top players happy. ... If they've been left in the dark, that probably would (tick) someone off."

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Well, they were left in the dark. Toews, who declined an interview request with the Daily Herald, spoke with the Athletic on Saturday night.

"The expectation for the other leaders on this team and myself is to come ready to training camp every year to be a playoff team," Toews said. "We prepare ourselves to win a Cup for our fans.

"I've never been told that we were going through a rebuild. ... A lot of this comes as a shock because it's a completely different direction than we expected."

It makes one wonder how ugly things could get.

Would Keith be yanked off the power play? Will Toews lose his role as No. 1 center? Will Seabrook -- assuming his rehab goes well -- continue sitting out? Will young players be on the ice in the waning moments of a tight game?

Versteeg wouldn't bet against any of it.

"I would be interested to see ... whether young guys will start taking situations away," Versteeg said. "It'll be interesting going forward where you see time on ice for players and how they're going to manage that. I can't see (the veterans) getting a lot of the prime opportunity anymore."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Wait. All of them?

"I think everyone but Kane, yep," Versteeg said.

Bowman finally seems to have chosen a lane, but it's fair to ask why it took so long to shift into Rebuild Mode. Ever since the Hawks were ousted by Nashville in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, Bowman has been like trade-happy fantasy football owners who revamp their rosters every week.

This is strictly my opinion, but it feels like Bowman often looks at a player's contract status and cap hit but doesn't factor in how some moves will affect on-ice chemistry, as well as the atmosphere inside the room.

This was especially true when Niklas Hjalmarsson and Artemi Panarin were dealt in 2017. The Hawks felt the loss of both players in incalculable ways, with Panarin's departure hitting Kane particularly hard.

It's tough for any team to gel with so much turnover. Think of all the players who have left via trade the past few years: Brandon Saad, Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman, Dominik Kahun, John Hayden, Teuvo Teravainen, Phillip Danault, Vinnie Hinostroza, Jordan Oesterle, Henri Jokiharju, Jan Rutta and Gustav Forsling.

Were some moves justifiable and necessary? Absolutely.

But all of them?

Some writers were apoplectic over Saad and Dennis Gilbert going to Colorado for D-men Nikita Zadorov and Anton Lindholm. They felt Bowman was downright fleeced.

But I'm not so sure. If Zadorov turns out to be a solid top-four D-man, it may be a pretty big win for the Hawks considering he's a restricted free agent after the season.

In the bigger picture, though, it would be nice if Bowman hit the pause button and let the roster breathe.

While there will always be turnover and some moving parts, hockey teams -- much like NFL teams -- become consistent winners when guys know what to expect from each other on a nightly basis.

Bottom line: It figures to be a long, cold winter for Hawks fans. Maybe down the road a winner will spring from this plan and a new, championship era will dawn.

Big emphasis here on maybe.

Because right now it's awfully difficult to see that happening.

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