How Stan Bowman Has Mastered the Art of Free Agency and Trades in the NHL

Franklin Steele@FranklinSteeleAnalyst IINovember 14, 2013

ST PAUL, MN - JUNE 25:  General manager Stan Bowman of the Chicago Blackhawks answers questions during day two of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 25, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Stan Bowman has been at the helm of the Chicago Blackhawks since July 14, 2009, and his track record of acquiring the proper pieces to round out Stanley Cup-caliber teams is nearly flawless. He's never been the kind of general manager that attempted to build the core of his team via free agency.

His approach to team construction is a bit different. Nearly all of the moves that he's made since 2009 have been to complement his cornerstone players. Bowman inherited Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but that hasn't stopped him from building around these talented individuals both on and off the ice.

DETROIT - DECEMBER 06:  Jonathan Towes #19, Patrick Kane #88 and Patrick Sharp #10 of the Chicago Blackhawks wear the Winter Classic touque during warmups before a NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings on December 6, 2008 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, M
Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Bowman created a winning culture with this group and brings in players that fit the puzzle that's already on the table. He doesn't try to revamp the entire picture via trades or the open market. Everyone in Chicago knows what it means to be a Hawk. The team identity is clear, and the players that are brought in already fit the ideals of the franchise.

Chicago doesn't typically take pot shots on players in the trade market. They acquire with purpose and vision. It's the same mentality that has made their drafting so successful, and it works in the trade and free agent realm as well.

Bowman always seems to be trading away those "pot shot" players while picking up pieces that he needs. The teams that he has dealt with almost always receive the better player on paper initially, but there are big "buts" attached to their names.

Consider the second deal he made as the GM in Chicago.

On February 10, 2010, he flipped promising but underachieving defenseman Cam Barker to the Minnesota Wild. Barker had recently inked a new three-year contract, and after 51 games the Blackhawks decided they didn't like where his learning curve was.

He didn't fit in with the culture and wasn't going to evolve into a core piece.

ST. PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 28: Nick Leddy #8 of the Chicago Blackhawks shoots the puck against the Minnesota Wild during the game on October 28, 2013 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images

So Bowman flipped him for veteran defenseman Kim Johnsson and some kid named Nick Leddy. Johnsson would only play eight games in a 'Hawks uniform, and Leddy could eventually develop into a top-four defender on a Stanley Cup team.

There's a clear purpose to the deal.

When Chicago picked Barker with the third-overall selection in 2004, they believed he was going to be a certain kind of player. Bowman didn't see that developing and moved him while pedigree alone was still an attractive asset.

Barker played all of 71 games for the Wild and couldn't get a contract in the NHL after having the final two years on his contract bought out.

Meanwhile, Leddy has 194 games under his belt and is rounding into form as one of the more underrated two-way defensemen in the NHL.

It's these little under-the-radar moves that make Bowman so effective as a manager. He's got the ability to see a player's potential and ceiling long before anyone else is even focusing on that.

That 2009-10 squad won the Cup, but the manager had little time to celebrate. There was work to be done.

The way Bowman navigated the treacherous trade waters following that Stanley Cup victory was pretty incredible from a cap management standpoint. Shortly after the 'Hawks celebrated, he was forced to deal away various components of a team that he couldn't afford to keep.

CHICAGO - JUNE 11: Dustin Byfuglien #33 holds up the Stanley Cup trophy during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory parade and rally on June 11, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Dustin Byfuglien, for instance, was and is a good hockey player. Bowman didn't want to shake up his core group to make room for Big Buff though, so he traded him and received a pretty nice return for the then-third-line forward/kind-of defenseman.

Instances of this nearly flawless integration of outside resources continued after the first championship and led directly to another Cup three seasons later.

The maneuvering that was required of Bowman to snag Brandon Saad with the 43rd pick at the 2010 draft would require a flow chart of some kind, but the evidence is strong that the manager knew the guy that he wanted and made moves to make it happen.

Like Hossa and Leddy before him, Saad already played a style that suited Chicago. They didn't need him to be anything more than he actually was and didn't expect him to suit up and play like the top-10 pick that he was projected as a year prior to the 2010 draft.

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 17: Brandon Saad #20 of the Chicago Blackhawks yells out during the NHL game against the St. Louis Blues on October 17, 2013 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
Bill Smith/Getty Images

Bowman likes hockey IQ, and he likes hustle.

Saad had both, and he was a central member of the rebuild-on-the-fly that the 'Hawks underwent following the 2010 title.

It's okay to chuckle about the Brian Campbell offload as well.

How Bowman managed to convince the Florida Panthers to take on Campbell and his ridiculous contract will never be known, but he did. That is an underrated move that still has repercussions.

Cap space is a valuable commodity, and Bowman cleared more than $7 million off the books in one swoop. Campbell would still be on the ledger for the contract and Chicago might not be able to keep all the players that they've re-signed over the last few seasons without the veteran playing in Florida.

Bowman's killer instinct kicked in again on February 27, 2012.

Johnny Oduya was brought in for a second and a third round selection in the 2013 draft. The defenseman had been a focal point on the Ilya Kovalchuk deal in 2010, and for whatever reason, the Winnipeg Jets deemed him tradeable after he played one full season for the franchise.

It's not too tough to see the trend here. Bowman is a master when it comes to moving maybes for sure things. He knows his team in and out, knows where the holes are and picks over the market like a vulture.

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 17: Michal Handzus #26 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks across the ice during the NHL game against the St. Louis Blues on October 17, 2013 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
Bill Smith/Getty Images

He's not looking for a home run trade or big-time free agent signing. Ever. Bowman doesn't need those. He has Kane, Toews, Keith and Seabrook. He just needs the complementary pieces to push the 'Hawks over the edge.

Another prime example is the trade that brought Michal Handzus to Chicago.

A fourth-round pick was all that Bowman had to give up to bring the faceoff specialist to the 'Hawks.

Bowman's record of successful wheeling and dealing is long, and CommitedIndians.com has an outstanding list of every move that he's made as Chicago's GM. While there are only a handful of examples presented here, there are more trades that have gone off wonderfully for the 'Hawks.

The story and the outcome is the same for Bowman and Chicago though.

He knows his core, knows his guys and knows who he needs to bring in to complement them. He's ruthless in his pursuit of even the most low-key upgrades (Handzus, Michael Frolik, Ray Emery) and somehow almost always to come out ahead.

It's not difficult to see that Chicago is built from the ground up on a foundation of drafted players. It's impossible to ignore the impact that Bowman's deft trades and signings have had on the fortunes of this franchise though.


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