No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998. The Chicago Blackhawks have the best chance to do it this decade after a trade for Andrew Ladd from the Winnipeg Jets that even drew ESPN’s attention Thursday, Feb. 25.
The Blackhawks did need a scoring-line forward and they could not have gotten one much better. Ladd was with them when they won their first of three Stanley Cups in 2010 and won another with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. Habitual 20-goal scorers that can defend are not easy to come by.
The thing is, Chicago paid a hefty price: Marko Dano is a top-tier prospect, even a late first-round pick usually has a significant NHL career and there is another conditional pick for good measure. The salary cap-strapped team will probably not be able to afford Ladd in free agency this summer.
Without Ladd, the Blackhawks were probably still the team to beat. They have the third-best record on the 2015-16 NHL season despite enduring the losses of Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa for more than 10 games each and playing through what has been the toughest division in hockey since realignment.
The Washington Capitals are the main reason the Metropolitan Division has taken over best composite record on the 2015-16 NHL season. They are running away with the President’s Trophy, up more than six games on everyone else with 23 to play.
However, they won the President’s Trophy by four games after the 2009-10 NHL season. They are structured differently with a different coach, but that is not truly new either and they will justifiably continue to have questions until they perform well in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The only other team better than Chicago to this point in the 2015-16 NHL season is the Dallas Stars. While three players won at least one Stanley Cup in the Windy City before coming to its Central Division rival, there is collectively much less postseason success to draw from and teams that allow more goals than 22 other teams usually are not successful in May.
Among teams beneath the Blackhawks in the 2015-16 NHL season standings, the Los Angeles Kings jump out as a contender since they have won two Stanley Cups in the last five playoffs. The current leaders in the Pacific Division have blue-line and scoring-line problems and are facing a stiff challenge from the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks.
There is no way Chicago gave up this much to rent Ladd because of being afraid of Anaheim (four postseason series wins in the last eight playoffs) or San Jose (statistically worst choke in Stanley Cup-playoff history and swept the only time the teams met up in 2010). If Los Angeles made a move to deal with the loss of Marian Gaborik, maybe this becomes necessary to stay ahead. Until then, it seems premature.
Sure, there are teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers and Islanders as well as perhaps the Pittsburgh Penguins that can challenge from the Eastern Conference. The Nashville Predators might join that group from the Western Conference and there are other teams that could be contenders by adding the right player at the trade deadline, but the Blackhawks would probably have still been the team to beat without Ladd.
Is it worth what is likely to be a star and another player at the top of the future depth chart from the traded prospect and top pick respectively for a boost from probably to definitely the team to beat for just the 2015-16 NHL season? It might make sense if the window on Chicago’s amazing core was closing, but Keith (32) and Hossa (37) are the only players not 30 or under and mortgaging the future to go from a one-in-five chance to win the Stanley Cup to a one-in-three chance seems unnecessary.