Being the general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks the past few years has been a different challenge from the one most other executives face. With a championship core already in place, GM Stan Bowman primarily had two tasks: (a) keep the band together (b) fill out the fringes with depth.
Those circumstances led Bowman to be one of the more conservative GMs in the league, unwilling to shake up a winning formula or make major commitments to players outside the organization. When the Blackhawks have spent big money in recent years, it's been to retain players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Corey Crawford and Bryan Bickell.
Chicago has regularly been a Stanley Cup contender since Bowman took over the organization, winning it all on two occasions, but many fans wondered whether he was being aggressive enough with the team's limited championship window. Many top teams use the trade deadline as an opportunity to add that final big piece or two. The 'Hawks have typically used it to make much smaller deals.
Until this year, that is.
We long wondered whether Bowman was complacent or simply patient, and he gave us the answer over the weekend in stunning fashion. First came the acquisition of Flyers veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen on Friday night -- announced while the team was playing in Tampa Bay -- then a day later we got word of Coyotes center Antoine Vermette coming to town.
Within a weekend, Bowman showed his reputation as unwilling to take the steps necessary to make big trades was unfounded. Given the opportunity to bring in a major salary after the devastating injury to Kane forced the star onto long-term injured reserve, the Blackhawks' GM left little uncertainty over how the team would move forward.
The days of wondering whether this team had the motivation to compete are long gone. Now this is about winning one for Kaner. It's about winning one for Kimmo. Bowman saw that the season was at a crossroads, and made a pair of moves to make it clear this season's goals were still intact.
This summer is going to be a tough one for Chicago, full of hard decisions and -- most likely -- tough goodbyes. Keeping the group intact this long has been an impressive feat for Bowman, but retaining two of the game's elite players for the entirety of their primes was always going to lead to some unique challenges. We'll see that begin next season when Kane and Toews are taking up roughly 30 percent of the team's salary cap.
But this remains a win-now organization, and Bowman once again showed he's the right guy to steer the ship. The patience he showed in landing two high-quality players, even at a somewhat high cost, is entirely justified when you consider how nicely both of them fit. Vermette is the steady No. 2 center this team has been craving. Timonen isn't Keith Yandle, but could be rejuvenated by the chance to make one final Cup run. It's not too long ago that he was a fantastic player.
For a long time, we knew Bowman was good at keeping together a championship core. We weren't sure how far he would go to keep it in a position for last one run.
Now we know. It's Cup or bust, like it always was.