The Chicago Blackhawks are almost undeniably the NHL's most successful salary-cap era team, but their three Stanley Cup wins since 2010 have not come without a trade-off.
The Blackhawks' success has been built on general manager Stan Bowman's annual dealing of prospects and picks in exchange for a chance to win now. And it's worked.
Bowman's front-office effort helped the team capture the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013, and again in 2015, starting rumblings of a modern dynasty.
It's inevitable that Chicago's movement of assets will catch up to it eventually, and leading up to the season, there was discussion that it would be this year.
After a rough start, the Blackhawks have climbed back into second place in the Central Division, holding a 10-point buffer on the Nashville Predators with 20 games remaining.
The comfortable playoff position meant another shopping spree for Chicago at the trade deadline. The team was subtle this year, bringing back long-time Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya and taking a flier on 24-year-old winger Tomas Jurco.
Chicago absolutely could have made bigger deals, but it would have likely cost the Blackhawks their 19-year-old prospect, Alex DeBrincat -- and that was a no-go.
Chicago drafted DeBrincat 39th overall last summer after consecutive 51-goal seasons with the OHL's Erie Otters.
A native of Farmington Hills, Michigan, DeBrincat oozes with skill and a tremendous shot but is limited by his 5-foot-7, 170-pound frame. Even as an undersized winger, DeBrincat plays a gritty game and his fearless effort of getting to the dirty areas has helped him have a career year in his third season with Erie.
In 54 games this season, the feisty DeBrincat has put up another 55 goals and 113 points. Last week, he surpassed Rob Schremp to become highest U.S.-born goal-scorer in OHL history, with 155.
Moreover, DeBrincat became just the second player in the past 40 years to register three consecutive 50-goal seasons.
The Otters have nine regular season games remaining and should DeBrincat hold his scoring pace, he could add another nine or 10 goals and around 20 point, which would take him from 30th in all-time OHL goal scoring to the top 15.
Crunching Numbers For 2017-18
DeBrincat will graduate from the OHL for the 2017-18 season, but the question is whether he can make a big enough impact in Chicago's training camp to earn a spot with the Blackhawks on opening night next year.
There are two major things that would hold DeBrincat back from leaping to the NHL. First, history is against him. OHL players who leap to the NHL usually do it straight out of the draft. They likely went top five and were among the best of their draft class, showing without a doubt they're ready for the elite level of play.
Second, Chicago will be sure to bring its top prospect along at the right pace due to the Blackhawks' low stock of players nearing the NHL.
Yet, DeBrincat has dominated at each level and could be more enticing to Chicago due to the low salary of his entry-level deal.
The salary cap currently sits at $73 million, and there isn't much change anticipated for it next season. Next year, Chicago's big contracts include Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford, Artem Anisimov, and Niklas Hjalmarsson as well as Artemi Panarin's $6 million extension.
Those eight players alone add up to almost $60 million, leaving Bowman roughly $13 million to fill out 18 other roster spots. While most of the lineup is already filled, Bowman has alot to figure out ahead of October.
If DeBrincat quickly shows NHL poise, he could provide significant help in filling a scoring void. But that's only if Bowman looks to move a big contract, or two.