On June 24th, Stan Bowman became the first general manager to win multiple Stanley Cups in the "hard cap" era. This wasn't something that was achieved with moves he did the past offseason, it was part of a long term plan set in motion after the Blackhawks won the Cup in June of 2010. Bowman has created the model that all other NHL franchises will try to follow in order to maintain success while staying under the salary cap. He identified his young core of players, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp etc., and locked them up long term. His plan all along is to fill the rest of the roster with home grown young talent, which comes cheap. He has brought in veteran role players to fill in as stop gaps while waiting for the farm system to produce. He stuck to his master plan and just three years after dismantling a championship team he was raising the Cup once again. I have to believe this year's title was much more satisfying than the 2010 Cup for Bowman.
StanBow remained rather quiet during free agency last summer. There were rumors and speculation that Bowman made offers to both of the top two free agents available; Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. I am not quite sure how serious the offers were but according to quite a few "sources" the Hawks were one of Parise's final choices before signing in Minnesota. The only move he made on July 1st was signing Sheldon Brookbank to a two year deal adding some veteran depth to the blue line. Just before the lockout started, Bowman signed another veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival on Sept 11th. Neither of these moves seemed significant at time, but they both proved to be very valuable by season's end. Rozsival played great in post season and especially during the Stanley Cup Final. Brookbank was important because he was able to split time with Rozy in the regular season to keep him fresh for the deep playoff run.
Bowman did not make many moves once the season started. He acquired goaltender Henrik Karlsson from the Flames for a 7th round pick in January. Karlsson never saw the ice in Chicago but did go 11-5 with a 2.86 GAA in Rockford. He acquired Michal Handzus from the Sharks for a 4th round pick at the April 1st trade deadline. It was another move that made most Hawks fans shrug their shoulders but it paid off in the end. Handzus had himself a nice little playoff run adding some stability at the faceoff circle and a strong veteran presence down the middle.
Unlike General Manager of the Year Ray Shero, who tries to load up on big names, Bowman has specific roles on his team and acquires the right players for those roles. He does not get the flashy names that get Blackhawks fans excited. Instead, Bowman acquires guys like Rozsival, Handzus, Johnny Oduya and Ray Emery; guys who accept their roles and make the team better as a whole. He has a plan set in motion and to his credit, has the patience and persistence to see it through.
Bowman has already got a jump on a high mark for his 2014 report card. One of his biggest tasks heading into this summer was finding a way to keep Bryan Bickell, who was due a major pay raise. On draft day he turned Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik into five draft picks and nearly six million dollars in cap space. Shortly after that he signed Bickell to a new four year contract worth $16 million. As free agency opened the deal looked better and better considering some of the deals that were handed out i.e. David Clarkson. Bowman was also able to re-sign restricted free agents Nick Leddy and Marcus Kruger on the cheap. I don't envy the job ahead of Bowman the next couple of summers with the contracts Niklas Hjalmarsson and Corey Crawford expiring after 2014 and of course Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane needing new deals the following year. In my mind, the name Bowman gave Stan the benefit of the doubt at the start of his tenure. His actions over the last four plus years has erased all doubts. The Chicago Blackhawks are very lucky to have one of the smartest and business savviest general managers in the game calling the shots.
Final Grade : A