Chicago Blackhawks: Stan Bowman's Most Puzzling Moves as GM
Few NHL general managers inherit a Stanley Cup contender the moment they enter the job. Job security is generally a matter of results—if a team is doing well, then there isn’t much cause to replace management.
However, an oversight by then-general manager Dale Tallon in the summer of 2009 saw him relieved of his duties, despite the fact that the Blackhawks reached the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Stan Bowman was promoted to GM after acting as a special assistant to Tallon for three years.
Since then, he has brought in a plethora of young talent and seems to be building towards maintaining a solid franchise in the Chicago Blackhawks.
However, as general manager, Bowman has not pulled many rabbits out of his hat.
Bowman’s biggest critics often cite his inactivity as the most detrimental part of his tenure, since he has done very little to replace the cluster of talent he was forced to relent after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010. As it stands, though, he has made some perplexing moves as general manager of the Hawks as well.
Here are some examples:
Trading Brian Campbell to the Florida Panthers
Brian Campbell was brought in by Tallon in an attempt to attract big-name players to a club ready to contend. Campbell signed an 8 year contract, at about $7.1 million per year.
The contract was more than Campbell was worth, and it lent to the salary shedding the Hawks were forced to endure after they won the Cup in 2010.
When Tallon re-appeared as general manager of the Florida Panthers, he offered to take Campbell back, along with his massive cap hit. In exchange, he would give up former first-round draft pick, Rostislav Olesz.
At first glance, it appeared that Bowman did the smart thing in ridding the Hawks of Campbell’s salary. However, losing Campbell damaged the Hawks' defensive depth.
They still haven’t found an adequate replacement for him.
Campbell went on to lead the Panthers to their first playoff appearance since 2000 and won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy at year's end for his ability to produce while staying out of the penalty box.
Also, despite the fact that Olesz has never been able to sufficiently produce at the NHL level, he carries a cap hit of $3.1 million and will most likely be making the $4 million he is promised next year wearing a Rockford IceHogs sweater.
Trading Troy Brouwer to the Washington Capitals
Troy Brouwer was a restricted free agent as of July 2011, and instead of negotiating new terms for the winger, GM Bowman shipped him to the Washington Capitals in exchange for their first round pick in that year’s draft (Phillip Danault).
What’s befuddling about this trade is that, for a team that is hurting for big bodies unafraid to throw their weight around, this trade was not responding to what was in the Hawks' best interests. Brouwer regularly led the Blackhawks in hits throughout the season and produced adequately for a bottom-six forward.
He would still feature higher on the depth chart than Michael Frolík, Bryan Bickell, and Viktor Stålberg. Brouwer is now making a modest wage as an alternate captain for the Washington Capitals.
Signing Daniel Carcillo
In order to add toughness and intensity to his roster, Bowman signed 5’11, 200-pound mega-pest Daniel Carcillo to a one year contract in the summer of 2011.
Signing Carcillo was not a popular PR move, but he did eventually win over many fans. Carcillo's reckless, irresponsible behavior is still an issue, however, and he ended up juggling suspensions throughout the 2011-12 season, culminating in a season-ending injury he sustained after shoving Edmonton Oilers defenseman Tom Gilbert from behind.
This is not the kind of team image the Blackhawks want to support. Toughness and grit is useful when used appropriately and in moderation. But Carcillo is a loose cannon.
His tenure in Chicago should have come to an end after his season was cut short last January.
Re-Signing Daniel Carcillo
But it didn’t.
Last March, Bowman re-signed Carcillo to a two-year deal worth $825,000 a year.
It’s not a terrible cap hit for a player of Carcillo’s caliber, but with more responsible enforcers like Jamal Mayers and the burgeoning Brandon Bollig, it may have been a needless one.
It’s hard to figure out why Bowman saw a need to re-sign Carcillo, who only played in 28 games during his first season as a Blackhawk.
Re-Signing Johnny Oduya
Johnny Oduya came to Chicago nearer to the trade deadline in 2012 in an effort to bolster the Hawks’ blue line.
Oduya is a useful defenseman. He’s a puck mover who skates well. He has offensive tendencies, but not in the vein of a true offensive defenseman. Nonetheless, he’s a solid player.
However, he was not worth the $3.5 million cap hit that he brought in, and it was assumed that if the Hawks found reason to keep him, it would only be after a big pay cut.
Instead, his new cap hit is just below $3.4 million, and he will still be making $4 million in the upcoming season, just as he did last season.
The Hawks are hurting for a big bodied, shot blocking defenseman who can clear bodies from the net.
Instead, Bowman invested unwisely in a smaller, puck-moving defenseman.
Signing Marty Turco
After losing an arbitration battle with Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Antti Niemi, the Hawks let their starting netminder walk away and hired former Dallas Stars all-star Marty Turco as his replacement.
Turco’s goals-against average began inflating two years prior to the Hawks signing him. After the Stars acquired their goaltender of the future, Kari Lehtonen, they finally let the long-standing franchise netminder go in the summer of 2010.
Turco signed to the Hawks as their starting goaltender, but never made a case for the position. He wound up only playing 29 games for the Hawks, going 11-11-3 with a GAA of 3.02 and a SV percent of .897. These would be the worst numbers of his NHL career until signing with the Boston Bruins for a short stint the season after, accruing a 3.68 GAA and a .855 SV percent in just five games.
Perhaps Bowman signed Turco out of desperation to fill the starting goaltender position with a proven veteran, but he should have paid careful mind to Turco’s age and declining numbers.
Luckily, Corey Crawford had a solid rookie campaign and was able to overtake the load once Turco was deemed unusable by the coaching staff.
Matching Niklas Hjalmarsson's Offer Sheet
In the summer of 2010, after the Hawks concluded their 49-year Stanley Cup drought and were forced to deal with the resulting economic fallout, the San Jose Sharks took advantage and signed restricted free agent defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to a four year, $14 million offer sheet.
After two solid seasons in Chicago, it would have been tough to see Hjalmarsson go, but he was not worth the money being offered. What’s more, the Hawks would have been compensated for their loss.
Given Bowman’s propensity for collecting draft picks, it’s surprising that Hammer was re-signed so conclusively.
This was not the biggest head-scratcher on Bowman’s part, however. Hjalmarsson was just emerging as a solid defender, but had already shown the bulk of his potential, and instead of implementing him as part of the team’s core, Bowman has been shopping him around for most of the summer.
Trading for Chris Campoli
The Hawks were wanting for defense during the 2010-11 regular season, and Bowman’s big acquisition was Chris Campoli, who he brought in at the trade deadline for Ryan Potulny and a 2011 second-round draft pick.
What was puzzling about the Campoli trade is that the Hawks were in need (as they still are) for a hard-hitting, slot-clearing defender who focused primarily in his own defensive zone. Campoli was not the solution the Hawks were looking for, and he ended up producing little on the Hawks blue line.
He is now best known for providing the turnover that allowed Alex Burrows to end the Hawks dramatic 2011 playoff season.
Pursuing Free Agent Zach Parise
This summer, Bowman was looking to make his first real big splash as general manager. Unfortunately, he pursued a player that the Blackhawks absolutely did not need.
There is no doubt that former-New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise would make any team immediately better and offensively deeper, but it was not a worthwhile investment on the part of Bowman, who already has a plethora of offensive-minded talent to build his team around.
He could have used the money he attempted to put toward Parise to improve in other areas.
In the end, Bowman’s issues as general manager stem from his inability to improve the current team . He is gifted at bringing in prospects (Nick Leddy, Jeremy Morin, Adam Clendening, Brandon Saad to name a few), but his failure to add to the present team and focus on winning now has become detrimental to the team’s success.
Bowman needs to focus on immediate improvements if he doesn’t want another disappointing season. Any more and he may begin to feel the heat beneath his desk chair.