(CBS) After a disappointing exit from the playoffs last spring, the Blackhawks made it clear that change was coming.
General manager Stan Bowman went to work with some major moves to his Blackhawks roster after the team was swept by the Predators in the first round in four embarrassing games as the top seed in the Western Conference. Now, the reconfigured Blackhawks are 10-8-2 entering Wednesday’s tilt against the Lightning.
Bowman joined the Spiegel & Goff Show on Wednesday morning to discuss the season to this point.
“There have been some ups and downs,” Bowman said. “But I think looking around the league – with the exception of maybe two or three teams who have had great starts – that’s pretty much common around the way the NHL is right now. A lot of call it parity or competitive balance. It’s early in the year, but we like where we’re at right now with the way we’ve been playing. But we certainly want to keep improving.”
The Blackhawks added some youth around their veteran core, with players like Nick Schmaltz, Alex DeBrincat and more taking on key roles. Bowman also made the bold move to re-acquire two-way forward Brandon Saad from the Blue Jackets in exchange for Artemi Panarin after losing Marian Hossa to a skin disorder.
Bowman’s hope was that the Blackhawks would take on a new identity.
“We want to be an up-tempo team that can score some goals, and we’ve certainly done that,” Bowman said. “Our offensive game was really good to start and has been very good lately, and we had a stretch there in the middle where we didn’t put enough pucks in the net. But first and foremost, you have to have strong goaltending, and that’s been the one constant the first 20 games. I’ve been very, very pleased with Corey Crawford and (backup goaltender Anton) Forsberg.
“Corey’s been excellent all year long. When you have really strong goaltending, you’re going to be in every game. And then it comes down to the right balance of offensive scoring and also keeping the puck out of your net.”
The key for the Blackhawks is finding consistency, something they haven’t done to this point. The season opened with a 10-goal onslaught of the defending champion Penguins, but the Blackhawks have struggled with their collective game at times.
“You’d love to have everything clicking all at once, and we haven’t really had that yet with the goaltending, special teams and five-on-five offense,” Bowman said. “We’ve had elements of each going. We haven’t really had all of them going at once. That’s the goal here, and we just got to keep trying to build on that.”
Bowman and his Blackhawks are in a unique place from years of the past, owning the cap flexibility to make moves that could improve the team.
As the season progresses, it’s possible that Bowman could pull a major deal to strengthen his roster. But the Blackhawks would first look to the AHL level in Rockford, where some young players have impressed.
“The time may come when we want to tap into that cap space, but we have several players in Rockford right now that are knocking at the door and really ready to be in the NHL,” Bowman said. “We’ve got Vinnie Hinostroza and Erik Gustafsson, and we have a number of other players that we could utilize here in Chicago if we ran into some injury troubles.
“One option is to go outside the organization and add players with that cap space, and we might do that. But right now, if we need players, we’d certainly like to look internally.”