Last season left a bad taste in my mouth. Not because how the Blackhawks lost to the Coyotes. Not because the future of Marian Hossa was in jeopardy after Raffi Torres tried to end his career. The upsetting part was the impatience from Blackhawks fans about general manager Stan Bowman.
People questioned him not signing a big free agent the summer before. Fans were mad that he stayed loyal to Corey Crawford between the pipes. While Blackhawks fans blasted Bowman and wanted him gone, I knew he was the right guy for the job and wanted to give him more time.
The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup three seasons ago with a team assembled by former GM Dale Tallon. Uncle Dale was great at finding talent and hit home runs when Jonathan Toews fell to to the Blackhawks after the Blue hilariously selected Erik Johnson in 2006. Tallon made the wise choice in 2007 when he picked Patrick Kane first overall instead of James Van Riemsdyk or Kyle Turris. The problem with Tallon was giving out huge contracts that gave the Blackhawks salary cap problems.
Bowman stepped in before the 2009-2010 season and the team won the Stanley Cup. Bowman spent the weeks after the Stanley Cup parade trading role players who were making a lot of money for prospects and drat picks. It’s well documented who the Blackhawks let go and I don’t need to remind fans that own Byfuglien and Versteeg jerseys again. In general most of the moves were good in the short term to free up cap space and in return the Blackhawks loaded up their farm system.
Not all of Bowman’s free agent signings have worked out but several trades, draft picks and signings have been key to the 2013 team.
The Nick Leddy trade was one of the biggest lopsided trades in recent memory. Trading away Brian Campbell finally gave the Blackhawks some breathing room on their payroll and looks even better with the salary cap going down to $64.3 million. Trading for Johnny Oduya at the 2012 trade deadline may have not made an instant impact, but resigning the Swede was crucial for this season’s team. Bowman also picked up Michael Frolik in a trade, and the Czech forward has found his role this season even if his contract is a little high for a fourth line player. Bowman also did well keeping Niklas Hjalmarsson even though teams were interested in trading for him.
Bowman has avoided the temptation of overpaying for a big free agent and instead have made minor moves. An addition that looks genius is signing Michal Rozsival to a bargain $2 million contract right before the CBA expired in September 2012.
Where Bowman has shined has been drafting. Look no further to Wednesday night’s triple overtime thriller. Goal scorers Brandon Saad (2nd round) and Andrew Shaw (5th round) were both from the 2011 draft class. The group of players that Bowman picked in 2011 could be one of the franchises best. Saad was a second round pick but was the fourth selection by the Blackhawks that draft. First round picks Mark McNeill figure to be in the forward mix soon and defenseman Adam Clendening has a future on the blue line in Chicago. Saad was drafted seven picks after Clendening.
The most important move, or non-move, for Bowman was trusting Corey Crawford. A couple bad overtime goals given up by Crawford in the Coyotes series made it a long offseason for the netminder. Bowman stuck with Crawford and he obviously made the right choice.
I think we can all agree that the Blackhawks wouldn’t be in the Stanley Cup Final without Stan Bowman.