Patient approach paid off big for Hawks GM Stan Bowman
By Mark Lazerus email@example.com June 26, 2013 11:10PM
Updated: July 30, 2013 7:52AM
Stan Bowman’s name is already on the Stanley Cup. Now his fingerprints are, too.
The Blackhawks general manager inherited a championship-caliber roster from his predecessor, Dale Tallon, for the 2009-10 season. But while the star-laden core of that team remains, more than half the roster of the 2013 champs was put together by Bowman, piece by piece, pick by pick, promotion by promotion.
There’s Bryan Bickell, a bystander for the 2010 playoffs, in the Dustin Byfuglien role. There’s Johnny Oduya, a crafty trade acquisition last February, in the Brian Campbell role. There’s Corey Crawford, a career minor leaguer, in the Antti Niemi role.
There were total converts — offensive-minded Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik turned into defensive and penalty-killing standouts. There were shrewd draft picks — Brandon Saad in the second round of 2011, Andrew Shaw in the fifth round (or 19th round, as Patrick Kane likes to say, after Shaw was passed up in two entire drafts) in the 2011 draft. There were blockbuster trade acquisitions — defenseman Nick Leddy for Cam Barker, and winger Viktor Stalberg for Kris Versteeg. And there were low-risk, high-reward pickups such as Michal Rozsival in the summer and Michal Handzus at the trade deadline.
All those moves allowed the Hawks to become the first team to win a second Stanley Cup in the salary-cap era.
“It’s unbelievable to be in this situation,” Kane said. “I think nine or 10 or 11 guys got moved, and the Blackhawks did a great job of drafting and filling in those holes.”
Talking to people around the league, if there’s a knock on Bowman, it’s that he’s almost too patient, too deliberate. A source told the Sun-Times that Bowman all but had a deal in place for New York Islanders power-play quarterback Lubomir Visnovsky at the trade deadline, but that Bowman “dragged his feet” and didn’t pull the trigger in time. But that patience paid off for him. After all, the Pittsburgh Penguins made several big splashes at the deadline and didn’t make it out of the Eastern Conference. Bowman made one minor move — acquiring Handzus — and won a Stanley Cup.
Bowman values draft picks, values guys in his system — expect Rockford standouts such as Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Pirri, Ryan Stanton and Adam Clendening, among others, to compete for roster spots next season — and plays a long game. For Bowman — who empowered coach Joel Quenneville this season rather than fire him, and who increased his own influence on the team while decreasing his advisor and father, Scotty — the ups and downs and lessons of 2011 and 2012 led to the triumph of 2013.
Bowman pointed to the gradual emergence of Kruger and Frolik as perfect examples.
“There is certainly an evolution that takes place in certain players,” Bowman said. “They get bigger roles, they get more comfortable, and they get the experience needed to put you over the hump to get to this point. That’s probably the difference between 2011 and 2013 — the players in those supporting roles have matured or grown their game to the point where now, we have a nice, deep team.”
Of course, there’s a fine line between agony and ecstasy in the NHL. Barely a month ago, the Hawks were trailing the Detroit Red Wings in the second round 3-1. One more loss would have meant a third consecutive early postseason exit for the Hawks. Who knows what changes might have happened as a result — on the roster, on the coaching staff, in the front office? Even Bowman would have been in jeopardy.
But the Hawks didn’t lose that fourth game. And as a result, Bowman’s now the architect of a Stanley Cup champion, not just the beneficiary of one.
“It is a fine line,” Bowman said. “It’s a good question. But it sort of underscores the competitiveness in the NHL. So you can appreciate the wins even more. Looking at our season, the way we started, and then to be able to continue it on, it gives you that sense of satisfaction.”