Stan Bowman

Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Front office

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AP

Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Front office

If we're evaluating Stan Bowman's moves as a whole, we have to go back to July 1 when the 2018-19 season really started.

On that day, the Blackhawks announced three signings: Chris Kunitz (one year, $1 million), Brandon Manning (two years, $2.25 million cap hit) and Cam Ward (one year, $3 million). Not exactly splashy additions after missing the playoffs for the first time in 10 years — although, to be fair, it wasn't a great market to throw money around.

Eleven days later, the Blackhawks traded Marian Hossa and his $5.275 million cap hit to the Arizona Coyotes in a seven-player deal that included top-nine winger Vinnie Hinostroza. Bowman acknowledged after the trade that he tried exploring every possible avenue before surrendering that the financial flexibility became more valuable.

But the trade might've put the team in a better position going into free agency had it been executed before July 1. Because of all that, Bowman's grade isn't looking great so far.

Then we get into the actual regular season.

The biggest move Bowman made was the coaching change on Nov. 6 in going from future Hall of Famer Joel Quenneville to Jeremy Colliton, which was a controversial decision in and of itself, especially the timing of it.

“There’s no perfect way to do things," Bowman admitted. "I think we made the best of it at the time. It’s one of those things where you’ve just gotta get through it. I think he’s gonna benefit from not only having a training camp next year but also we had this whole long stretch of a season. ... We’ve got a lot more things we want to get to, and I think we did a good job of — it’s a good start, but I’m sure Jeremy will tell you that we want to be way better next year and we’re gonna push our players to be better. We’re gonna try to do things differently. It’s not just taking this exact same program and we’ll start that. We want to do different things as well and enhance our team. I think there’s reason for hope there.”

Where did Bowman start to earn high marks? The roster tinkering, beginning in late November.

Perhaps recognizing that Nick Schmaltz wasn't progressing the way the team would have liked in a contract season, Bowman dealt him for a potential future second-line center in Dylan Strome and replenished the top-nine forward they lost in Hinostroza with Brendan Perlini, who showed flashes down the stretch. That's turned out to be a win-win for both sides.

The trade that was very clearly one-sided is the one Bowman pulled off with Peter Chiarelli, who was later relieved of his GM duties with the Edmonton Oilers.

Not only did Bowman acquire rugged winger Drake Caggiula, who became such a valuable part of the Blackhawks' second-half turnaround because he was a perfect complement for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the top line, but he unloaded the contract of Manning without having to retain salary or giving up an important piece of the roster. It essentially gave the Blackhawks an extra $2.25 million to work with this summer, which shouldn't go unnoticed when you look at how deep the 2019 free agent class is.

Bowman essentially undid the mistake he made and put the Blackhawks in an even better position going into this offseason by adding a useful player on top of it. So he certainly upped his overall grade.

Now it's time to spend the money he cleared in getting rid of the contracts of Hossa and Manning, and continue building around the current core.

"We're not going to bring the same group back," Bowman said. "That's clear. We don't do that really any year. There's changes to every team, even a team that ends up winning the Cup this year will have some different players. We're going to have some new players next year. What we're going to do is try to improve in the areas where our team needs some help and the way that looks isn't completely clear right now, but we have time over the next couple months to dive in and look at our team in greater detail and figure out how we're going to make that happen.

"There's obviously free agent signings, there's trades, there's growth from within. Those are the ways that your team improves from year to year and we're going to do that. So we're going to have some new players here next year for sure but we have a lot of players that are going to be back and I think a lot of the key guys who had good seasons they're coming back for sure, so we don't need across the board changes but we do need some new players."

Front office: B-

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Hawks Talk Podcast: Emergency reaction to Blackhawks landing No. 3 overall pick

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Emergency reaction to Blackhawks landing No. 3 overall pick

They only had an 8.2% chance at a top 3 pick, but the lottery balls bounced the Blackhawks way and they landed the third overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Pat Boyle, Charlie Roumeliotis and Slavko Bekovic break down what this means for the franchise, what options they might have now in adding a top asset and what players might be available for the Blackhawks at the third overall pick. Plus, we’ll hear directly from GM Stan Bowman on whether he had any good luck charms with him and how this is changes the outlook of the Blackhawks going forward.

Plus, we’ll hear directly from GM Stan Bowman on whether he had any good luck charms with him and how this is changes the outlook of the Blackhawks going forward.

0:30 – Holy crap the Blackhawks got a top-3 pick!

2:45 – The Blackhawks now have a lot of options

6:30 – Stan Bowman addresses the media on the #3 pick

9:15 – This should add some “juice” to the organization

13:00 – Who are the top prospects in the draft?

17:00 – Importance of adding depth at center

19:20 – Could the Hawks trade up to #1 or #2?

28:45 – Was the draft lottery rigged?!?!

30:45 – Would you rather have the #3 pick or make the playoffs?

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast

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Why this offseason could (and should) be different for Blackhawks

Why this offseason could (and should) be different for Blackhawks

The belief around the NHL last offseason was that the Blackhawks were going to be aggressive via free agency. They were coming off a season in which they missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 campaign and had some cash to spend.

But it was quite the opposite. 

After John Tavares and James van Riemsdyk inked long-term deals with their respective new clubs, the ripple effects turned out to be over-payment across the board on a free-agent class that wasn't very deep. So the Blackhawks settled on a one-year deal for Chris Kunitz up front and two-year contract for Brandon Manning on defense.

This summer could be different. And it should be.

For one, the Blackhawks aren't handcuffed by a Marian Hossa contract that was moved on July 12 — nearly two weeks after free agency opened up. That didn't help their cause and didn't allow them to have financial flexibility when it really mattered.

"It was becoming challenging to try to operate with that contract here," Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said at the time. "It necessitated us trying to make the move we made." 

The Blackhawks are in a much better position this time around. They're projected to have north of $15 million in cap space and plan to take advantage of it.

"I would expect us to be more active in the summer free agent market than we have in years past," Bowman said on Sunday during exit interviews. "First of all, we have the cap flexibility to do that. We haven't been in this position before. This is probably the first time ever we've had this much money to spend. Doesn't mean we're going to spend all of it on July 1. We have to sort of look over the next horizon of years and plan for that but we weren't in this position a year ago or two years ago. We were shopping in a different marketplace. We have the capability to look at that and we're going to look at trades as well.

"Sometimes that's another way. Depends on what players you're looking for, if they're available in the summer, sometimes they are and sometimes you have to do it through trades. There will be some moving parts but I wouldn't expect sweeping changes. I think we've got a lot of good things here and we showed that our last 50 games we played some really good hockey. We're trying to build on that, not really change it dramatically."

Acquiring Brendan Perlini and Dylan Strome from Arizona and Drake Caggiula from Edmonton in the middle of the season put the Blackhawks in a better position going into this summer than originally expected. They found a potential future second-line center (Strome) they thought they had in Nick Schmaltz, replenished a top-nine winger (Perlini) they lost in Vinnie Hinostroza and added a skilled, aggressive forechecker (Caggiula) that can play anywhere in the lineup and checks a lot of boxes the team doesn't have right now.

The Blackhawks are no longer in a spot where they're looking to subtract from the roster — only if it makes sense for the short term and long term, both financially and production wise on the ice. They want to start building around the current group, one that's led by 30-year-olds Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews who are coming off career years.

The time to capitalize is now.

"We're not going to bring the same group back," Bowman said. "That's clear. We don't do that really any year. There's changes to every team, even a team that ends up winning the Cup this year will have some different players. We're going to have some new players next year. What we're going to do is try to improve in the areas where our team needs some help and the way that looks isn't completely clear right now, but we have time over the next couple months to dive in and look at our team in greater detail and figure out how we're going to make that happen.

"There's obviously free agent signings, there's trades, there's growth from within. Those are the ways that your team improves from year to year and we're going to do that. So we're going to have some new players here next year for sure but we have a lot of players that are going to be back and I think a lot of the key guys who had good seasons they're coming back for sure, so we don't need across the board changes but we do need some new players."

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