Is the Blackhawks' Stan Bowman Becoming One of the NHL's Best General Managers?

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Is the Blackhawks' Stan Bowman Becoming One of the NHL's Best General Managers?
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

There are a lot of reasons for the Chicago Blackhawks' record-setting 16-0-3 start to the 2013 NHL season, but the job that Stan Bowman has done as general manager has to be near the top of the list.

Bowman started his career with the Blackhawks in 2000, and his hard work helped him become the team's general manager following the 2008-09 season. At 39 years old, Bowman is the youngest GM in the NHL.

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In his first season as GM, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in an exciting six-game series against the Philadelphia Flyers.

However, the celebration was short-lived. Salary cap restrictions forced Bowman to trade a lot of important players from Chicago's championship roster, including Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg.

It was going to take time for Bowman to rebuild his roster with enough depth to compete for the Stanley Cup again. Two years later, it's obvious that his patience has paid off.

Per ESPN.com's Craig Custance (paywall warning):

The Blackhawks are off to a great start and they're also sitting on a lot of depth. They have young players in the AHL who Bowman believes are ready to contribute in the NHL, among them Jimmy Hayes and Brandon Pirri. They've also been alternating playing time for veteran defensemen Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank. "We're sitting a good player every night," Bowman said. "We're trying to find minutes for them; that's a good problem to have."

In addition to some smart trades and free-agent signings, Chicago has done a nice job of not rushing prospects to the NHL, and also finding quality players past the first round of the draft.

As the chart below shows, the Blackhawks have found a lot of talented players with their mid-to-late round draft picks during Bowman's tenure as a member of the team's hockey operations staff.

Player POS Year
Round
Pick
Duncan Keith
D 2002
2
54
James Wisniewski
D 2002
5 156
Adam Burish FWD 2002 9 282
Corey Crawford G 2003
2 52
Dustin Byfuglien D 2003 8 245
Dave Bolland FWD 2004 2 32
Troy Brouwer FWD 2004
7 214
Niklas Hjalmarsson D 2005 4 108
Marcus Kruger FWD 2009 5 149
Brandon Saad FWD 2011 2 43
Andrew Shaw FWD 2011 5 139

Bowman has also refused to give up on some of his best players following two straight disappointing playoff series losses.

Instead of trading Patrick Sharp when his contract was not far from expiring, Bowman signed him to a five-year $29.5 million deal that was fair to both the player and team. Sharp is a great leader, and as one of the league's best two-way forwards, his skill set is very important to the Blackhawks' top-six forward group.

Bowman has also shown great patience with young superstar Patrick Kane, who has made headlines for some off-the-ice incidents (via NBC's Pro Hockey Talk) that he probably wishes he handled differently.

Some fans were actually OK with the idea of the Blackhawks trading Kane after last season (arguably the worst of his career), especially if the team could acquire a No. 1 goaltender in return. Bowman remained loyal to Kane and believed in the 24-year-old winger's ability to have a bounce-back season in 2013. Thus far, Kane is one of the leading candidates for the Hart Trophy with 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 19 games.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Bowman's faith in head coach Joel Quenneville has also benefited the Blackhawks in a major way. So many general managers are quick to fire coaches these days after disappointing seasons, but Bowman understands that coaching stability is essential to any successful franchise.

Bowman knows that to build a winner, you have to be patient. Even though the Blackhawks have been very competitive in the Western Conference since winning the Stanley Cup two years ago, several of the team's best players are still young (Jonathan Toews and Kane to name a few), so there was no rush to mortgage the future to win in 2010-11 or 2011-12.

After helping former GM Dale Tallon's roster win the Stanley Cup, Bowman is constructing his own championship roster, one that has been carefully managed and won't have to be broken up anytime soon due to salary cap constraints.

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This is his team, and Bowman deserves a lot of credit for how he has put it together. Chicago is one of the few teams with four quality lines, a deep blue line and an impressive prospect pool with talented players at every position. Thanks to Bowman's eye for talent, the Blackhawks are set up to contend for the Stanley Cup many times over the next five-to-seven years.

A lot of GMs would have panicked after two straight first-round exits following a Stanley Cup championship, but Bowman trusted his players, his scouts and his ability to make the necessary roster moves to build another championship contender. He clearly has a great knowledge of the game and evaluates talent extremely well.

After receiving a lot of criticism after last season and possibly being on the hot seat entering 2013, Bowman has proven why he's one of the NHL's brightest front office executives. Chicago sports fans should take comfort in the fact that their hockey club has a bright future ahead of it with Bowman at the helm.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs.

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