By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — I’ll willingly admit my skepticism for Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman from back in the summer of 2010. Many more would, too.
The Blackhawks were Stanley Cup champions needing a plan, and Bowman was lacking experience. This was officially his team.
While Bowman had done great work in the front office, his name was more known from his father, the legendary Scotty Bowman. Plus, the bitter divorce between the Blackhawks and Dale Tallon left uncomfortable feelings in Chicago. Bowman’s name went on the Stanley Cup for the 2010 championship team, but Tallon had put “The Core” together.
Those of us who doubted Bowman’s abilities as Blackhawks general manager were remarkably wrong.
Starting in 2010, Bowman began his salary cap dance. He committed to that core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and more, building around it. He’s made a name for himself building championship teams around that core.
This funny thing seems to happen each season for the Blackhawks. They make cap-clearing moves in the offseason, bring up some young prospects (Bowman doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his scouting efforts), find some continuity during the first half of the season and then comes February. As the trade deadline approaches and the Blackhawks hit their midseason slump, Bowman finds ways to dump salary and form a championship roster around the cap.
What Bowman has done the past year is arguably his best work, starting when he took a Blackhawks roster mired in adversity last February and built it into a Stanley Cup champion. The additions of Andrew Desjardins, Antoine Vermette and Kimmo Timonen put Chicago over the edge and helped it win the 2015 Stanley Cup. Then, he worked through a dramatic roster revamp to become cap compliant and brought in Artem Anisimov, Artemi Panarin and Richard Panik, among others.
Like clockwork, Bowman has again bettered the Blackhawks by Monday’s trade deadline.
Andrew Ladd was sent from the Jets back to the Blackhawks’ first line, giving Toews the left wing he’s been lacking after Brandon Saad’s offseason departure. Ladd posted an assist in his first game in a Blackhawks sweater since 2010, and he immediately clicked with Toews.
“It’s just fun to be around familiar faces, the guys who were here when I was here before,” Ladd said. “A lot of things are different — they changed this whole room around — a lot of new faces, but it’s just fun to be back.”
Bowman’s other big moves brought forwards Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to Chicago. Fleischmann played well on the wing with newly moved Blackhawks center Teuvo Teravainen, who showed more confidence in his role. Weise figures to join that third line when he joins the team.
It seems the Blackhawks’ new-look third line could perhaps make Teravainen even better.
“I feel like we made really nice plays out there,” Teravainen said of Fleischmann. “He plays with his head up and has really nice offensive skills.”
In Ehrhoff, the Blackhawks have another veteran defenseman whom coach Joel Quenneville can count on for a careful presence in meaningful postseason minutes.
To the credit of Bowman, he knows the Blackhawks’ strengths, weaknesses and needs inside and out. He’s ahead of trade talks by weeks and establishes the networks needed to make moves. Bowman’s always ahead of the herd.
The Blackhawks entered Monday with an impressive 3-2 win over the East-leading Capitals on Sunday and with 83 points to their name, good for first in the Western Conference. They’ve led the conference for the better part of the last two months but still have seemed to be a few pieces away.
Fortunately for Chicago, its general manager is relentless. In pursuit of a fourth Stanley Cup hoist in seven seasons, Bowman has once again worked around the cap to give the Blackhawks enough for another championship.
Given the unique set of circumstances that surround the NHL’s salary cap, one could argue Bowman as the best general manager in sports. Sure, Bowman inherited “The Core,” but his success has come by building a championship team around that.
Bowman has the Blackhawks positioned to win the Stanley Cup once again.