When Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews came out of the woodwork to voice his frustration regarding the team's offseason moves, it was significant. This was the first time a member of the leadership group publicly questioned the roster decisions, which signaled a real disconnect between the players and front office.
“Bottom line is, I want to win,” Toews told The Athletic. “The expectation for the other leaders on this team and myself is to come ready to training camp every year to be a playoff team. We prepare ourselves to win a Cup for our fans. I’ve never been told that we were going through a rebuild. That has never been communicated to me, for that matter. A lot of this comes as a shock because it’s a completely different direction than we expected.”
The Blackhawks want to be more transparent going forward and they started that process on Tuesday by sending out a letter to their fans. But privately, it began last week.
After Toews' comments sent shockwaves through the city, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman organized a video conference call with senior vice president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac, head coach Jeremy Colliton and the Core Four — Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Toews. It was vital that the seven of them got on the same page to clear up any confusion about the direction of the franchise.
"We had a very good discussion, in-depth discussion about where we're going," Bowman revealed in an exclusive one-hour interview on the Blackhawks Talk Podcast. "I think part of this communication here is to clear up some miscommunications or perceptions. It's really not a rebuild in a tense of 'we're tearing this down and we're just getting rid of all the players.' Sometimes you do have to make difficult decisions to trade away popular players and it's hard for our veterans who've been together.
"It's certainly a difficult thing when you have to part ways with somebody who's been here and you've spent so much time with, but in my conversations with our veteran players, I've tried to explain to them — much like I am to you — what we're trying to do. We're trying to build more depth to make it easier on them. I think it's a lot for a couple guys to try to carry the load and we need to build up a better supporting cast, so as much as it might be hard for them to understand, I think as we discussed it more and more and explained it, I think they understand what we're trying to accomplish."
Rather than sit down with each player individually, Bowman felt it was important to do so as a group. There's a reason for that.
"What you don't want to do, I don't want there to be any misunderstanding; one player interpreted one thing one way, someone else interpreted it a different way," Bowman said. "I wanted to make sure that we were all on the same page. It was probably an hour long, we talked, and it was a lot of back and forth.
"I certainly started the conversation, but I would say everybody weighed in with their thoughts and their questions they had, and I think by the time we ended the call, it appeared as if there was a better appreciation for what was happening. I don't want to put words in their mouth, they can speak for themselves, but I think it was good to clarify anything that might've been unclear."
Bowman acknowledged it's a "balancing act" of keeping the three-time Stanley Cup champions who have earned that respect in the loop on things but not involving them in the day to day operations. And understandably so.
Kane, Keith, Seabrook and Toews are the four players who set the tone inside the locker room and there must be buy-in from them or else the rest of the roster won't. They also have full no-movement clauses, but Bowman didn't get the impression that any of them wanted out. They want to win again, and they want to do it in Chicago.
"That's a tough hypothetical because that wasn't the feeling I got from them," Bowman said. "I guess we would tackle that at the time, I don't really want to speculate what that would look like or who it is or when it happens, I'm not sure that there's an answer to that. If that ever came up, we would deal with that in the moment, but right now, what I was trying to get across to them and to you as well, is this isn't just about one or two or three players.
"There's going to be a day where none of those players are playing anymore, there's going to be a day where I'm not involved, there's going to be a day where Jeremy's [Colliton] not involved. The Blackhawks organization will thrive and survive moving forward, so the team is what matters most. Now, in order to have team success, you certainly need individual players to do well. But what we're trying to do is, we're trying to build up more of a team approach than maybe we've had in the past because I think that's our path back to the top of the mountain and we're working our way up. It's about the collective, that we need to try to put this together."