Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman will be under the microscope to bring his team back to the top of the Western Conference.
Since winning the Stanley Cup during the 2009-10 season, the Blackhawks have failed to make it past the first round of the playoffs. This was mainly due to the fact that a few Blackhawks depth players were traded away in order to stay under the salary cap.
Now, two years later, Bowman is still trying to fill some of the voids left by Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg and Brian Campbell.
Much of that was not his fault. Former Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon loaded a team knowing that they would fall over the salary cap. But make no mistake, two years after Tallon's departure, this is Bowman's team to fix.
Bowman's plan heading into the GM position was to sign the Blackhawks' core to long-term deals and to replace missing players after their championship run. So far, he's only accomplished to keep star players while also loading up on young talent for their minor-league teams.
Bowman has tried, but failed, to find solutions to some of the Blackhawks' nagging problems.
A sluggish defense was bolstered by the "big" acquisition of Sheldon Brookbank this offseason. That move is still questionable as the Blackhawks missed out on big free agents Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Shane Doan.
The Blackhawks are still in need of a legitimate second-line center and one more solid elite defenseman.
Bowman responded to these needs by drafting Mark McNeill and picking up Johnny Oduya in a trade.
McNeill is still in the minors and is what the Blackhawks hope will be their future second-line center. There is still much more work to be done before McNeill can make a NHL roster. Oduya is a good pickup, though he is now overpaid after signing a 3-year deal early in the offseason worth $3.3 million annually.
Goaltending is also a nagging issue. Both Corey Crawford and Ray Emery were inconsistent last season, much to the ire of fans.
Aside from defenseman Nick Leddy, Bowman has failed to make any blockbuster trades that bolstered his team. The majority of his trades involved getting a few key prospects while sending away a pricey role player. This will surely be of concern if the Blackhawks are still in need of a goaltender or second-line center come the trading deadline in the upcoming season.
A big trade seems almost inevitable if Bowman wants to help his team make another Stanley Cup push. But his lack of ability to work a trade will hamper any such deal.
Bowman is trying to build up the team through young talent, and thus, the Blackhawks are focusing on developing prospects in order to fill voids on their NHL roster. This is a slow and tedious process which may take well over a few years to complete.
Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad and Jimmy Hayes all look to be able to fill third- and fourth-line duties with exceptional talent. But they still need time to develop at an NHL level.
The problems are starting to pile up and Bowman will take most of the blame if the Blackhawks fail to make it past the first round of the playoffs for a third consecutive year.
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