NHL Chicago Blackhawks: What Is Stan Bowman's Next Move?
Stan Bowman and the Chicago Blackhawks were extraordinarily active at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Not only did Bowman use all 11 of his draft picks, but he was also involved in a couple of the day's biggest trades.
Two prominent Blackhawks players were shipped out of town. Troy Brouwer was sent to Washington in exchange for the 26th overall pick, and Brian Campbell was sent to Florida in exchange for forward Rostislav Olesz.
Bowman promised Blackhawks fans changes to the team this summer, but in the aftermath of the draft, we're seeing exactly how extensive those promises may be.
But before we go into further detail about what Bowman's next moves could be, let's take a look at what draft day revealed about his plan for the team, both for the short and long terms.
For starters, considering how much emphasis Bowman places on the draft, along with his eagerness to use those picks as opposed to trading them, he firmly believes in ensuring there is a steady influx of talent into the Blackhawks' system.
This is definitely a positive sign and bodes well for the long-term success of the Chicago Blackhawks. The mantra of draft, develop and graduate has proven to be a successful formula for other franchises—notably Detroit—and will help the Blackhawks sustain a contending team over a long period of time.
Secondly, Bowman has a lot of confidence in many of the Blackhawks' young players. Nick Leddy is expected to play a much larger role next season, as is Ben Smith. Jeremy Morin is anticipated to possibly fill a top-six spot. Even Kyle Beach, who reportedly didn't have the confidence from management, is expected to compete for a spot.
Part of the reasoning behind the Brouwer and Campbell deals were to open up space, both on the roster and financially, to accommodate some of these players. While it is very exciting to see so many young, talented players with the Blackhawks, one has to question whether or not these kids are ready to compete in the NHL. Bringing players into the professional level too quickly has become somewhat of an organizational flaw of the Blachawks.
Finally, and most importantly, Bowman is clearly trying to make his own mark on this team. He seems eager to re-tool the roster to suit his vision by bringing in the players who he thinks the team needs and taking them in the direction the feels is best. He no longer wants Tallon's name stamped on the Blackhawks.
Only eight players from the Stanley Cup championship team of 2010 remain. Apparently the recent trades have caused some frustration among the Blackhawks' core. I fully empathize.
However, while I may not agree with all of Bowman's decisions, I have to give him credit for acknowledging that, in a salary cap system, general managers have to embrace change and look for creative ways to improve their teams, even if that means losing certain key players.
General managers also have to be aware of their team's deficiencies and make the appropriate adjustments.
In the case of the Blackhawks, this means acquiring salary cap flexibility to bring in new bodies and create room for young players to grow into bigger roles. This comes at the expense of Troy Brouwer and Brian Campbell.
So where does this leave the Blackhawks now? What's their next move? Bowman has been unwilling to share his master plan with anyone, leaving many of us scratching our heads.
Last Friday created several questions. Who will replace Brouwer's physicality? Is Leddy ready to fill Campbell's shoes? How will they improve the blueline? Is Rostislav Olesz and his $3.1 million cap hit here to stay? And worst off all, what if the plan goes haywire and their free agent targets sign elsewhere, leaving the Blackhawks with millions of unused space with no purpose?
I'll attempt to answer some of these questions and try to guess what the heck Bowman is doing.
With only four days left until the start of free agency, the main priorty has to be signing the remaining restricted free agents Michael Frolik and Chris Campoli, who have already received qualifying offers.
Frolik has always been part of the plan going forward, so expect to see him given a two- or three-year extension. And now with Campbell off the roster, there is suddenly a necessity to keep Campoli, so he's likely to receive a similar offer.
Assuming all goes well with those two, the Blackhawks will have roughly $10 million to use on the open market. One has to think that Bowman will be considerably active come July 1st. According to reports, the Blackhawks will be in the hunt for a top-six forward with offense, toughness and character.
The player I had originally thought Bowman would target in free agency was Brooks Laich, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent on Friday. This made perfect sense. Laich was exactly the kind of player the Blackhawks needed in their top six. When Bowman was describing what he wanted to add this summer, it sounded as if he was speaking about Laich specifically.
Not only was he a good fit, but the Brouwer trade seemed to indicate that the Capitals did not intend to re-sign Laich because of the cost, which meant that the Blackhawks could give him his raise and a legitimate opportunity to win a Stanley Cup as well.
But Laich has reportedly signed a 6-year extension worth $27 million, $4.5 million per season. So much for that. I sure hope that wasn't your only plan Bowman.
There have been some rumors floating around that the Blackhawks intend to make a bid for Brad Richards. Now that Laich is off the market, it is possible that the Blackhawks have just become a serious contender for Richards.
But is Richards really what the 'Hawks need?
Richards may be an experienced veteran who can certainly produce offensively, but he's not particularly tough or physical, which are traits the Blackhawks severe lack in their top six. Not to mention Richards is likely to make close to $8 million and would be seeking a long-term deal. Do the Blackhawks really want to commit that much to someone?
More viable options would be players like Erik Cole, Michael Ryder, Tim Connelly, Antti Miettien, Radim Vrabta, Scottie Upshall or Joel Ward.
Bowman also intends to completely rebuild the fourth line to make it tougher, more dangerous offensively and more reliable on a nightly basis, something that it wasn't last season.
With Toews, Kane, Sharp and Hossa as the only legitimate top six-calibre forwards, Bowman will need to add at least one top six forward from free agency to give this team more toughness and scoring up front. Look for Jeremy Morin or Ben Smith to fill a first or second line slot.
This summer Bowman certainly has the cap space to buy some impact players. Free agents he could target are old Blackhawks John Madden or Ben Eager, Marty Reasoner, Max Talbot or Zenon Konopka.
With plenty of free agent options, as well as some players in the system that could fill the roles, I think we can expect at least two new faces on the fourth line next season.
As far as the blueline goes, apparently the Blackhawks are only in the market for a single defenseman with a shutdown style who can help the penalty kill. The problem is this summer's free agent class isn't exactly ripe with defensemen of that kind.
Kevin Bieksa recently signed an extension with the Vancouver Canucks, and Jovanovski, McCabe and Hamrilik are way past their primes.
This leaves either former 'Hawks James Wiesnewski or Brent Sopel, along with Scott Hannan, Ian White or some other free agent option.
Another possibility is that Bowman plans to poach a restricted free agent, possibily Zach Bogosian from Winnipeg, Karl Alzner from Washington or Ladislav Smid from Edmonton.
The blueline is one area where I really don't have an answer. The ideas I had before the draft that involved getting a defenseman from Philaldephia in a salary dump situation or acquiring Brent Burns from the Wild are no longer viable.
Bowman seems confident with his blueline, so perhaps only expect a minor signing to fill a fifth or sixth defenseman spot. But a single signing certainly won't help the issue of depth on defense, something the Blackhawks haven't had for a while.
In exchange for Brian Campbell, the Blackhawks received Rostislav Olesz. Olesz was taken seventh overall by the Panthers back in the 2004 draft but never amount to much of anything in the NHL.
I immediately assumed that Olesz was never part of the plan and was just Tallon's price to take Campbell off their hands. And while this may have played a role, it turns out that the Blackhawks actually asked for Olesz in return, and Bowman fully expects him to be ready for training camp in September.
I'll go into further depth about Olesz in another article, but for now let's just say that the Blackhawks picked up an underachieving, overpaid player who is quite possibly expected to play a top six role for the Blackhawks. Unless he falls apart in traning camp, expect him to be in an Indian head next season.
None of us know if there really is a "master plan" and Bowman has a careful strategy all mapped out, full of fall backs and fail safes. We only hope he does. When he talks about "flexibility", what does he mean? Does that mean he has players in mind to go after? Or does it just mean we have space if something comes along?
Here's what I'm most worried about: What if things don't go as planned? What if every free agent Bowman has on his list gets picked up by other teams, or re-signed by their own teams, like Laich, over the next three days, and the Blackhawks are stuck with $10 million?
Well if that does happen, all of a sudden the Campbell, Brouwer or even the Kopecky trade looks really, really bad. Bowman has put everything on the line this summer. This has become the offseason that will make or break his career as the general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks.
It's your move, Stan. Just know that if this blows up in your face, it will all be on you. You can't blame it on the salary cap, on the team or on the coaching staff. Everyone will blame you and we'll all be calling for your head.
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