Bryan Bickell will be back with the Blackhawks in 2013-14.
The Chicago Blackhawks may have another Stanley Cup championship under their belts, but Stan Bowman is in no position to sit around and accept plaudits. He is under the same pressure that every other NHL general manager faces this offseason.
He has to make sure his championship team is under the $64.3 million salary cap and he wants his team to be as competitive as possible in the 2013-14 season. Bowman has had a rather quiet time in the two weeks since the Blackhawks won their second cup in four seasons—at least quiet compared to the last time around.
Bowman signed forward Bryan Bickell to a four-year, $16 million extension days after the Blackhawks shocked the Boston Bruins, 3-2, in the sixth game of the Stanley Cup Final. Bowman also traded Dave Bolland to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Michael Frolik to the Winnipeg Jets.
"It's not easy trading players that have been a big part of the team's success, but you have to look forward," Bowman told Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune. "It's a puzzle, and you have to try to put the pieces together."
But that's basically been it for Bowman. He conducted the draft for the Blackhawks in standard fashion, and then it was onto free agency.
Backup goaltender Ray Emery left to compete for the starting position in Philadelphia, so Bowman signed former Blackhawk Nikolai Khabibulin as his replacement. Bowman also brought back Michal Handzus and Michael Rozsival by signing them to new contracts.
Speedy Viktor Stalberg signed a free-agent contract with the Nashville Predators and Rostislav Olesz signed a deal with the New Jersey Devils. Stalberg was not considered instrumental in the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup effort, while Olesz had previously been bought out by the club.
Bringing Bickell back has been the biggest move of the offseason. If he had not re-signed before the start of the July 5 free-agency period, Bickell would have been free to seek out the best deal he could attract.
From the size of the deals that players like David Clarkson (seven years, $36.75 million) and Ryane Clowe (five years, $24.25 million) were able to sign, Bowman probably made a very good deal in getting Bickell back in the fold.
Bickell was one of the Blackhawks' key players in the recently completed Stanley Cup run. He had nine goals and eight assists. His last goal tied the sixth game with 1:16 remaining, and 17 seconds later, Bolland scored the winning goal.
This offseason is positively sleepy compared to what the Blackhawks went through in 2010. They were facing major salary cap issues as a result of some costly deals made by former GM Dale Tallon, and Bowman parted company with Antti Niemi, Cristobal Huet, Brent Sopel, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Kris Versteeg and John Madden.
Will the Blackhawks repeat in 2013-14?
Shortly after those departures, Adam Burish, Colin Fraser, Troy Brouwer and Tomas Kopecky were given the gate.
The Blackhawks kept core players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook, but the supporting cast could not be kept.
That is not the case this time around. Bowman had done much of his groundwork prior to the playoffs, and the only player who forced him to scramble was Bickell.
Bickell told Dan Rosen of NHL.com:
There's going to be more pressure. They're going to rely on me more. I feel this playoffs I took a big step in the way I need to play and the consistency level I need to bring, but I feel I can bring that every night. I know what it takes now, what they want, and hopefully I can just bring it.
Bowman has made a few moves after this year's title run, but the team that takes the ice in October will be similar to the one that finished the season in Boston.
It will be a strong team, and the Blackhawks will promote one or two youngsters like Brandon Pirri or Jimmy Hayes to join the remainder of the defending champions.
They will likely be the favorites to win a second consecutive title and their third in five seasons.