Montreal-born Bowman rebuilds Hawks depth

stu1

The Blackhawks’ signing of Patrick Sharp to a five-year $29.5 million contract extension last week represents the culmination of some excellent work by their GM Stan Bowman, the Montreal native whose father Scotty named him after the Stanley Cup.

It’s strange to think that a team that won the Cup 14 months ago required major attention from its general manager, but the Blackhawks were in need of a remake even before winning the Cup and entered this offseason with some serious areas of concern. Now it seems as if Bowman has met the challenges and has his team ready to take another run at the Cup in the wild Western Conference.

As is widely known, the Hawks won it all with a player budget that was teetering on the edge of salary cap disaster, the result of some generous spending by Bowman’s predecessor, Dale Tallon, and the subsequent need by Bowman to contractually lock up the very talented young core of this team. When Bowman signed contract extensions for Johnathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith all on the same December 2009 day, it was clear that by the end of the 2009-10 season, some key players would have to go to keep Chicago under the cap.

But he didn’t panic. Assessing his roster carefully, Bowman adroitly avoided moving those players he and his hockey department identified as untouchables, namely defenceman Brent Seabrook and Sharp, who had 34 goals and 37 assists last season and is becoming an elite player in the NHL. The rumours began flying even before the Hawks’ Cup victory that they would be forced to move Sharp or Seabrook — maybe even both — to get under the cap and the rumours kept flying all through last season and into this summer. But Bowman held on.

Bowman was instead forced to jettison other Cup veterans, starting with nine players in the 2010 offseason. Trading some of them — like big Dustin Byfuglien, 20-goal scorers Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg, and Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi — not only raised eyebrows but decidedly weakened the team last year. Also departing were Brent Sopel (who eventually ended up in Montreal), Ben Eager, Colin Fraser, John Madden and Adam Burish and, totaled up, it meant the Hawks’ depth and physical dimension were severely compromised. They were no longer a tough team to play against, which is a big reason they struggled for a playoff spot all last season (slipping below the eighth spot at one point), and why they ultimately succumbed to their rivals in Vancouver in a thrilling first round series last spring.

Bowman went back to work this offseason. He had already had signed Seabrook, Keith’s partner on one of the NHL’s top defence tandems, to a long-term deal during last campaign. Then, starting in late June, he cleared more cap space by trading Troy Brouwer to the Capitals for a first round pick (that became Victoriaville captain Phillip Danault) and then engineered the huge trades of Brian Campbell (the NHL’s highest-paid defenceman prior to Shea Weber’s arbitration award last week) and Tomas Kopecky to Tallon in Florida.

Trading a giant contract like Campbell’s was no easy task but Tallon needed to rebuild and add salary to get his team to the cap floor. It didn’t hurt that the Panther’s GM had been Bowman’s mentor in Chicago and also had negotiated Campbell’s big free agent contract for the Hawks; he’d be glad to get Campbell back.

Then Bowman started rebuilding the depth and grit he had lost last summer. He traded picks for free agent defenceman Steve Montador and signed him. Then on July 1, he signed free agent forwards Andrew Brunette, Dan Carcillo, Jamal Mayers, Brett McLean and defenceman Sean O’Donnell. He later re-upped Viktor Staalberg and Michael Frolik, two veterans he acquired last year. He also signed UFA Sami Lepisto, which allowed him to walk away from d-man Chris Campoli, who was asking for almost three times what he’s giving Lepisto. Bowman also invited goalie Ray Emery to training camp for a tryout, trying to regain depth there behind Corey Crawford.

Signing Sharp last week nailed down a very important asset. “It’s no secret teams would ask about Patrick all the time,” Bowman said after the signing. “They’d say ‘What about Sharp? Would you trade him?’ And the answer was always no. So you know there’s a lot of value there and a lot of interest in him.”

Bowman is not a GM whose name is often in the headlines. But when you look at this series of moves as well as his 2010 under-the-radar trade that brought Nick Leddy from the Wild, it’s clear that he knows how to make deals to address his hockey and contractual needs. This is now his team, not the one assembled by Tallon, and it could be time to start thinking of him as one of the better GMs in the NHL.

15 Comments

  1. markd9 says:

    Some Hawks love. Fantastic. Don’t kill me but they have been my Team B for awhile (Habs vs Hawks game last year was my favourite of the season). I’m 100% with you Stu. Bowman has done an amazing job this offseason in terms of rebuilding the Hawks depth. The only thing I dislike is the signing of Carcillo. I hate that guy.

    I’ve long dreamed of Patrick Sharp to Montreal but staying with the Hawks works for me too. I’m happy they kept him and was sure that he would eventually be a cap casualty.

    The Campbell move gives me hope for a Gomez trade which would save our asses in the Price and Subban negotiations next year. Still hoping that Gomer picks himself up and battles back this year. Moving him now is virtually impossible due his horrendous season. So it really is for the best to hold onto him now and hope he gives us a good season so we can get some return for him in the offseason or at the deadline.

    I sometimes wish that all other NHL teams had a site as good as this representing them. IF anyone is aware of sites like this for other teams please let me know (Except for the Bruins, Flyers, and Leafs… shag them).

  2. HabinBurlington says:

    I didn’t realize Stan was named after the Cup, that’s pretty cool. Gotta figure at that point in time Scotty was getting pretty used to winning it every year.

    Will be interesting to see how all these “characters” fit into the room their in Chicago. Carcillo I think was let go by philly for a reason.

  3. thehabsfan29 says:

    Wild trade Sheppard to sharks for 3rd round pick.

  4. otter649 says:

    Shane Doan & his brother Brook beat The Mantracker in tonight’s episode……

  5. takuto97 says:

    Here’s a well-written article about prospect Brendan Gallagher. Apologies if it has been previously posted by someone else elsewhere on the site.

    http://www.theprovince.com/sports/Little+Giant+Brendan+Gallagher+edge+land+national+team/5217579/story.html?cid=megadrop_story

    • Trisomy 21 says:

      Not a bad atricle. It would be nice to see Gallagher, Beaulieu and Bournival all make the cut. But it would be even nicer to see them turn into decent NHL players

    • HabinBurlington says:

      Thanks for the link Otter! This kid is getting good help, having a good coach like Hay, his father is strength and conditioning coach and he has the Oilers Skating coach helping! I suspect we could have Gionta’s replacement here. The fact he is talented and willing to be a disturber on the ice. Perhaps he can be our version of Marchand! (of course he will be classier)

  6. Exit716 says:

    Do you, or have you ever written for a living?

  7. SyntaxLove says:

    I know I’VE had a bad day when I post a comment about syntactical errors, but I don’t care. I wish this article had been reviewed, because there’s a lot of mistakes. I can’t take something seriously if it isn’t done properly; If a clown tried to sell me life insurance, for example. I apologize if I’m being obnoxious, but I try to hold HIO to a standard that this article falls short of.

    The content is good. I like what Bowman’s done with the club. I can’t stand Dan Carcillo, but he could be useful for the team. I remain skeptical about the defence though.

    Chinchillin’

    • twilighthours says:

      I posted the same sort of comment when Stu started writing for HIO, and I got killed for it. If he’s going to be a professional writer, he needs to start writing like one.

    • Stu Hackel says:

      Syntax – No, you’re not being obnoxious. But to tell you the truth, I’ve had computer problems and it looks like that caused the blog program to revert to an earlier working version of this post and my final edit didn’t get saved or published. I’m guilty, however, because I didn’t check it after posting (I had company over and had to run), Anyway, I’ve made the corrections and I apologize to the readers.

    • Critical-MASS says:

      Seriously? You are giving Stu static over that? Really? Man, nobody’s perfect so quit being a dumbass and stop acting like a (deleted). Critique if ya want but you aint gotta be a jerk about it and comment on the article mistakes. Keep it to yourself nerd. Thats a (deleted) move. Same goes for you Twilight and the rest of ya that wanna critique and be a know-it-all here on HIO….get a bloody life,seriously. This is a hockey site not English101.

      …..You’ll never get to heaven if you’re scared of getting high…..


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