Stan Bowman’s detractors had a funny surprise on Wednesday.
The Chicago Blackhawks have just completed a management restructuring. Not only does Bowman keep his position as GM, but he’s also just been promoted to president of hockey operations !
After several glorious springs, the Hawks have had some tough seasons recently. Bowman has been heavily criticized for a year.
Chicago hasn’t made it through the first round of the playoffs since its 2015 Stanley Cup. They would miss the playoffs for a third year in a row, before being saved by the pandemic… like the Canadiens.
Bowman was crowned with glory between 2010 and 2015, but he is also responsible for the downfall of the team. He had the delicate task of complying with the salary cap with a batch of stars, but he made a disastrous trade.
Trading Phillip Danault and a second-round pick for two rental players, Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann, in February 2016 hurt. Danault would have become the second or third center long awaited in Chicago. The Hawks might not have drafted Alexander Romanov in the second round, but there were still good players available.
Another talented young player, Teuvo Teravainen, was wasted to get rid of the gruesome contract awarded to Bryan Bickell, a winger limited offensively but still at his best in the playoffs. Teravainen was 21 years old. He was not yet producing enough for the management’s taste. He arguably would have had a second straight season of 75 points or more this year in Carolina without the season hiatus.
But no exchange hurt more than that of Artemi Panarin in June 2017. Panarin had yet signed a two-year bridge contract at a respectable salary of six million a year six months earlier in order to allow Bowman to comply with the salary cap. He hoped to spend his career in Chicago.
Bowman would repatriate his former winger Brandon Saad, under contract for an additional five years at six million per season. Panarin rose to star status in Columbus. Saad was a flop. He had seasons of 35, 47 and 33 points, before being traded this summer to the Colorado Avalanche for the tough but rather limited Nikita Zadorov. Chicago is also withholding a million from Saad’s salary for the last year of his contract!
Hawks coach at the time, Joel Quenneville, reportedly left United Center in a fury after learning the news of Panarin’s departure. Chicago missed the playoffs for the next two years and Quenneville lost his job.
“When I was in Chicago, I thought I would be there for the rest of my career,” Panarin said this winter during a visit to the New York Rangers. Then this exchange happened. I still don’t understand it today… ”
Bowman is privileged to have a good recruiting manager. Mark Kelley makes mistakes, as they all do, but some of his wise choices have helped Chicago integrate good youngsters into their core.
Alex DeBrincat, drafted in the second round thanks to the Canadiens’ selection for Andrew Shaw a few years ago, suffered a downturn last winter but scored 41 goals the year before. He had six points in nine playoff games this summer.
Defenseman Adam Boqvist, just 20, a first-round pick in 2018, is expected to secure a leading role this year.
Ditto for young right-hander Kirby Dach, third overall in 2019, the spearhead of the Canadian team at the World Junior Championship this year, after reaching the NHL at 18.
Obtained for Nick Schmaltz, center Dylan Strome, 23, has amassed 89 points in 116 games since arriving in Chicago.
Behind Jonathan Toews, the center line will be strong for a long time to come. On the wings, there’s Patrick Kane, obviously, DeBrincat, but also Dominik Kubalik, 25, who got a bite of the cake from the Los Angeles Kings because he refused to get along with them. Kubalik has just had a season of 30 goals in 68 games.
Stan Bowman is hoping to have made another big find in Europe: Switzerland’s Pius Suter, 24, 5 feet 11 inches and 170 pounds, dominant in Zurich in the Swiss National League for a few years. Suter signed a one-year contract after being named the MVP in Switzerland. He was shunned in the draft despite a 43-goal season in Guelph, Ontario Junior League.
Chicago also just signed its 2017 second-round pick Ian Mitchell, one of the NCAA’s top offensive defensemen. A late first round pick in 2018, Nicolas Beaudin, hopes to earn a position as well.
Despite his bad moves, Stan Bowman has therefore managed to begin an interesting phase of rejuvenation. The owners of the team must have noticed that.
On the other hand, the Hawks have lost their regular goaltenders from last year, Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner. Young coach Jeremy Colliton has to rely on Malcom Subban and Collin Delia for now. Neither has proven, at 26, to have the makings of a number one… or even a solid number two for that matter.
That’s Bowman’s challenge if he wants to silence the critics.
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