The rebuilding Winnipeg Jets jumped at the chance to receive a highly touted prospect and first-round pick from Chicago at the trade deadline, even if it meant giving up their captain and helping the Central Division rival Blackhawks in their pursuit of another championship.
That deal and the flurry of other moves haven't had the effect Chicago hoped, though.
Not only are the Blackhawks in the midst of a four-game skid, they'll be without goaltender Corey Crawford on Friday night as Andrew Ladd makes his first return to Winnipeg since the trade.
Contract talks ceased when the Jets (29-36-5) felt they couldn't afford the asking price of Ladd, who will be an unrestricted free agent following the season. Fearing losing him for nothing, Winnipeg struck a deal with Chicago to send Ladd to his former team in exchange for a package that included 21-year-old center Marko Dano.
The Blackhawks (41-24-6) also acquired Tomas Fleischmann, Dale Weise and Christian Ehrhoff in separate deals to help their bid for a second straight Stanley Cup title and fourth in seven seasons.
Ladd has two goals and two assists in eight games with Chicago, but it has gone 3-4-1 in that stretch while dropping to third place in the Central. The Blackhawks have been outscored 16-6 during their losing streak after falling 3-2 to Philadelphia on Wednesday.
“We're headed into a stretch here where we've got 11 games left and we've lost four in a row,” said Patrick Kane, who had an assist to give him an NHL-leading 90 points. “Obviously, not the stretch we want. I don't want to say it's panic time, but at the same time we have to shore things up before playoffs come into play here.”
Kane and Jonathan Toews scored in a 2-0 victory over the Jets in the last meeting Dec. 11, when Crawford stopped 25 shots for one of his league-high seven shutouts. It seemed coach Joel Quenneville simply gave Crawford the night off against the Flyers, but the club revealed Thursday that Crawford is dealing with an upper-body injury and won't make the trip to Winnipeg.
Scott Darling will get his second straight start in place of Crawford, who is considered day to day.
''We've got to get back to playing our kind of hockey,'' defenseman Brent Seabrook said. “This last stretch here, we've got to get some points to be where we want to be.''
Ladd scored the game-winner in Winnipeg's 3-1 victory over the Blackhawks on Oct. 29 and returns to the place he spent 4 1/2 seasons. He also spent a year with the organization in Atlanta when Chicago traded Ladd to the Thrashers after helping the Blackhawks win the 2010 Stanley Cup.
Dano has made a solid early impression with his new club, posting three goals and two assists over his last five. He had one of each in 13 games with Chicago after coming over in the offseason trade that sent Brandon Saad to Columbus.
The Jets failed again to win three straight for the first time all season when they allowed three first-period goals in Wednesday's 4-1 loss at Calgary.
“It's a challenge, mentally, to stay in what you believe in,” winger Blake Wheeler said. “But we believe that doing that is going to pay off in the not-too-distant future.”
Ondrej Pavelec has lost all six of his starts against Chicago with a 4.50 goals-against average. Coach Paul Maurice instead could go with Michael Hutchinson, who is 4-1-1 with a 1.33 GAA against the Blackhawks.