Blackhawks are Stan Bowman’s team now
BY ADAM L. JAHNS firstname.lastname@example.org September 15, 2011 10:08PM
A look at Stan Bowman’s notable moves after he was named general manager on July 14, 2009.
In one busy summer, Bowman traded away Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and others, while declining Antti Niemi’s arbitration award as the salary cap broke up the Stanley Cup champions.
Staying true to his word, Bowman locked up his stars, re-signing Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp to lucrative long-term deals.
Bowman traded valuable but overpaid defenseman Brian Campbell on June 25, getting his restrictive $7.1 million cap hit off the books.
His trades for forward Michael Frolik and defenseman Nick Leddy are beginning to look like the steals Dale Tallon made when he acquired Sharp and Versteeg. Re-signing Bryan Bickell to a three-year, $1.625 million deal also looks like a steal.
The Marty Turco and Fernando Pisani signings didn’t pan out last season. Nick Boynton and Jassen Cullimore also failed to provide defensive depth.
Updated: November 30, 2011 12:16AM
Stan Bowman — when he’s not on the road with the Blackhawks or on a scouting trip — always drives his sons, Will and Camden, to school.
It’s their “little routine.”
It’s a short drive, 10 minutes at most. Sometimes there’s a stop for coffee and hot chocolate. But the satellite radio always is on.
“They just think it’s so funny,” Bowman told the Sun-Times. “They’re into their music, like pop music. I enjoy that. I enjoy being able to spend that time with them every day. It kind of sets the day up right for them and for me.”
Bowman’s work starts immediately as soon as his boys are safely in school. There are always calls to make and interviews to do.
“You’re right into it,” Bowman said.
And busy, he has been.
A lot of people — scouts, assistant general managers, various directors and vice presidents — play roles in the making of any team, especially the Hawks, where a system of communication and accountability is in place.
But it’s typically the GMs who rise and fall with a team’s success. They’re the ones on TV, in print and on the radio. Responsibility — and blame — is on them. Chicago knows that well.
This season’s team belongs to Stan Bowman. It’s his creation. Dale Tallon’s fingerprints have faded.
Under Bowman’s watch, the “core” was established. Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp received extensions. Brian Campbell and his large contract were traded, Niklas Hjalmarsson was kept after the San Jose Sharks’ offer-sheet attempt, Corey Crawford was signed to be the No. 1 goalie (not Antti Niemi), Nick Leddy and Michael Frolik were acquired, and tough guys were brought in for protection.
“The players that are here are indicative of moves that I made,” Bowman, 38, said. “I think it’s a fair statement, but I wasn’t one of those guys that said I need to go and do this to put my stamp on it. I’m not really that type of a person. But by happenstance as time goes on, the decisions here were made by me. Each year you can make a stronger argument that it’s your team.”
But the youngest GM in the NHL already put his stamp on the organization long ago.
A tough fight
The changes were obvious. Bowman was losing weight, and his hair was gone. But he rarely talked about what was going on personally. He simply went about his work, which included navigating the perilous world of salary-cap hockey.
“Unless you saw he was losing his hair, you wouldn’t know,” said assistant GM Marc Bergevin, who has worked for the Hawks since the lockout. “You’d have to ask him.”
Bowman’s bout with Hodgkin’s lymphoma started when he discovered a growth in his neck in 2007, and it continues to this day. In the spring, his sixth-month checkups will become yearly visits. The stem-cell transplant he underwent in April 2008 has put his cancer into remission.
But that doesn’t mean the uncertainty and pain he and his family went through aren’t fresh in their minds
Bowman and his wife, Sue, had two young sons at the time. They also had a beloved dog, Spencer, fighting cancer. With Bowman in the hospital for more than a month, Kane, who lived in his basement his rookie season, became a part-time babysitter. Spencer died a week after Bowman came home.
“I don’t really remember how we did it,” Sue said. “You just buckle down and do what you have to do. Luckily for us, it all worked out wonderfully. But it was very, very tough.”
Because of it, Bowman said he has a new perspective, saying he’s “oddly thankful it went down the way it did.”
“Millions of people go through what I did, if not worse,” he said. “It was something I had to go through. With kids, you have to learn to move on. You have to be a parent and a husband.”
At the United Center, his continuous fight has served as an inspiration for those who work with him, his colleagues said. Team president John McDonough called him a great model for a young staff that already looked up to him.
“It was nothing short of valiant,” McDonough said.
In full control
The Hawks hold countless meetings in a conference room with walls adorned with pictures of Stanley Cup triumph. Bowman often sits at the head of the table, directing traffic and managing his ever-growing staff.
It’s there where arguments are made.
“Stan and I have butted heads on a lot of things, but in the end, we make a conscious decision to make the right decision,” vice president Al MacIsaac said. “He doesn’t play that I’m in charge, I’m the GM, we’re going in this direction and here’s why. He says, ‘OK, we’re all in agreement. This is what we’re going to do.’ ’’
It’s the same room where discussions took place as the Hawks “managed the hell out of the [salary cap],” Bowman said, during their Stanley Cup season and with major cap problems in their near future
“Maybe there were transactions that were offered to us and Stan that he didn’t make,” Bergevin said. “There was a lot of work that was done, where Stan says maybe we shouldn’t do that or maybe we should wait. People don’t know that.”
There always might be questions with how Bowman came to succeed Tallon, such as whose responsibility it was to send out the qualifying offers.
“I don’t remember how we had it divided up at the time, truthfully,” Bowman said. “There has been a lot mentioned about that. But in all sincerity, I think sometimes that was overblown. If you look back at the contracts that they signed, they were all market contracts.
“[But] I don’t think it falls on one person’s ledger. It was a group effort and group situation where it’s clearly not how we want to operate. We’ve since put safeguards in place so those things won’t happen again.”
Bowman, it turns out, is proving to be very capable of running a team in a salary-cap-is-everything world. Getting good players is one thing, but making sure they all fit is a completely new animal.
“It’s all about money now,” Bergevin said.
Bowman’s skill set is different. He wasn’t a former player or scout. He was a businessman first, graduating from Notre Dame with degrees in finance and computer applications and working as a consultant. His job was “looking for inefficiencies and solutions for success.”
“You kind of access what’s wrong, and then you come up with a plan to make it better,” Bowman said.
That’s what he has done since joining the Hawks as an assistant to former GM Mike Smith as a 27-year-old in 2000. He looked for trends by charting player performances and coaches’ rankings. Over time, he would learn how to negotiate with agents and hone his scouting skills. He’s forever grateful for the guidance of Smith and Tallon.
With a hard cap established during the lockout, it was Bowman’s job to get a handle on it and the new collective-bargaining agreement. There were things to learn — “Nobody knew guys were going to jump from making $800,000 to $3.5 million,” he said — and now he insists plans are ready for every scenario.
“There are no knee-jerk decisions,” McDonough said. “By the time he’s arrived on decisions, he’s talked to a number of different people. . . . I am never concerned with the decisions that he makes.”
Those decisions have created a team that will be led by Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Sharp, Hjalmarsson, Crawford, Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland, Frolik and Steve Montador for at least the next three years — and with money left over to spend for possible upgrades this season.
More to Stan
Everyone knows Bowman’s father, Scotty, is the most decorated coach in NHL history and that he’s a Hawks adviser. But for all the knowledge passed from father to son, it’s long car trips that might stick out the most.
“I remember it being kind of silly,” Bowman said. “We lived in Buffalo, and my dad was coaching in Pittsburgh and then Detroit. We never moved to those places because he didn’t want to take us out of high school.
“So he would have a game on a Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, and it’s about a 31/2-hour drive. He would drive home to Buffalo, get home at 2 a.m., get up with us at 7 a.m., have breakfast, see us off and then drive back to Pittsburgh for practice. I remember saying to my mom, ‘This is so dumb.’ ”
Now he understands. That’s why he makes sure to drive his sons to school when he can. It’s why he helps care for his dogs, Norris and Kennedy. It’s why he stays up late to tend to his newborn daughter, Graycen.
“I can’t wait for the day where I see her wrap him around her finger,” Sue said.
The mild-mannered, somewhat soft-spoken GM seen in interviews is the same person when the recorders and cameras are off, those close to him say. He’s every bit as calculating, astute and methodical as he seems.
But there’s more.
He’s into fitness.
“I don’t think he has any resistance on the elliptical [machine],” McDonough said. “I see him fly through those things.”
He’s a fast walker.
“We’re at the [draft] table, and he said, ‘Come with me; we have to make a trade call,’ ’’ Bergevin said. “He gets up. I get up. And, oh, my God, he walks fast. Stan is a fast walker to the point I was like, ‘Where’d he go?’ ’’
He’s a great golfer.
“He’s going to kick you around the course,” MacIsaac said.
He has read all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. He’s a big Notre Dame fan and a big baseball fan. He loves mints, and he eats a ton of oranges while taking incessant notes at home games.
“He can peel an orange faster than anybody I’ve ever seen,” McDonough said.
It seems like everybody has taken notice of what Bowman does. He has come to mean that much to the team.