The Blackhawks are led on the ice by Jonathan Toews and on the bench by Joel Quenneville, but it's GM Stan Bowman who has kept the team in contention with his deft management of the roster. Staying competitive in the salary cap era is no easy task and Bowman has had to make countless difficult decisions in order to stay below the upper limit while still being a contender. For his efforts, the GM earned a three-year contract extension last month.
That got me thinking about Bowman's track record and his willingness to take risks. The Hawks have assembled some of the most impressive talent in recent memory, but the salary cap dictates that teams simply cannot keep all those players. Bowman was left with the difficult task of choosing which players to commit to and which to move on from. Time and time again it's seemed like he's made smart decisions. Now the Hawks are first in the Western Conference entering the second half of the season.
Bowman might be the best GM in hockey, not only because of his ability to build impressive win-now teams but also his vision for the future. Other teams have landed multiple historically brilliant players like Chicago has (ahem, Pittsburgh, ahem). Not every team has managed to run a tight ship around those superstars, though, which is what has separated the Hawks from other teams with elite players at the top of their rosters.
The past year has been a defining one for Bowman and the Hawks, who won a Stanley Cup then rebuilt on the fly to get ready to compete for another. Now Chicago is clearly a top contender for another championship even after changing over a third of its roster.
With that in mind, here's a look at every single major transaction Bowman has made in the last year. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and some of these deals are still impossible to fairly evaluate, but you can still look at the process and make some sense of things. Overall, it was quite the year for the Hawks' GM.
January 29, 2015
Traded Adam Clendening to the Canucks for Gustav Forsling
Not a bad start to the year. Clendening was getting squeezed out of the mix in Chicago so Bowman went out and took the best deal possible for the young defenseman. That meant getting an even younger blue liner in Forsling, who has since improved his stock and become one of the Hawks' top prospects. Now Clendening is bouncing around the league as a journeyman in Edmonton, while Chicago already has found some other young NHL-ready defensemen it seems to prefer. This is part of how you keep re-stocking the system and it was an astute move by Bowman.
Feb 22, 2015
Signed Scott Darling to two-year, $1.175 million contract extension
It's hard to complain about having your backup goaltender at a league-minimum salary cap hit of $575,000. Darling's numbers may have taken a step back so far this season, but they're largely skewed by a pair of ugly outings early in the season. Even with the inconsistent work schedule, Darling has a .921 save percentage over his past 10 appearances. For a team that's constantly battling up against the upper cap limit, having a cheap-but-effective No. 2 netminder like Darling is a huge value.
Feb. 27, 2015
Traded 2015 second-round pick and 2016 fourth-round pick to Flyers for Kimmo Timonen
There are two ways of looking at this one. In one sense, it wasn't a great move to give up a pair of useful draft picks for a defenseman who was clearly past his prime. Timonen looked like a player on the verge of retirement most of the time with the Hawks and ended up playing just a bit role in the team's Stanley Cup run. But on the other hand, this trade gave us some truly amazing moments as the 40-year-old reveled in the opportunity to experience championship glory. My brain knows this wasn't the ideal move, but my heart is still happy it went down.
Feb. 28, 2015
Traded Klas Dahlbeck and 2015 first-round pick to Coyotes for Antoine Vermette
Okay here's where you start to weigh some pros and cons. Given the benefits that the Sharp-Vermette-Teravainen third line provided the Hawks during the 2015 playoff run, it's hard to argue this deal didn't pan out even if the veteran center didn't put up big numbers. And while Arizona got value, Dahlbeck doesn't seem like he would've been a strong fit for the Hawks' possession system and the first-round pick ended up being No. 30 overall. So while you maybe wish the team got a non-rental for the assets, that Stanley Cup helps make it all worthwhile.
March 2, 2015
Traded Ben Smith and a conditional seventh-round pick for Andrew Desjardins
Smith was a beloved bottom-six forward but you can't argue against the impact Desjardins had on the Hawks last season. He immediately found his footing on the fourth line and ended up playing a key role during the playoffs with nearly 14 minutes per game. He's the defensively responsible fourth-liner that Joel Quenneville loves.
March 21-April 2, 2015
Signed Vincent Hinostroza, Tanner Kero, Michael Paliotta and Kyle Baun to ELCs
Paliotta would later be traded, but Hinostroza, Kero and Baun have quickly become three of the team's more interesting forwards in Rockford. Getting Kero and Baun to sign as college free agents even while the team was gearing up for a playoff run shows how Bowman was making early preparations for the salary cap purge that was soon to come.
April 30, 2015
Signed Erik Gustafsson to two-year, $1.335 million contract
The first of two sneaky spring signings that would help transform the 2015-16 roster. Gustafsson seemed to slip through the cracks after the Oilers gave up their rights to the former fourth-round pick and the Hawks happily took a low-risk flier to see whether Edmonton had missed something. Apparently that was the case because Gustafsson is proving to be a very good fit for Chicago's puck-moving transition game already in his rookie season. He's getting the benefit from some good fortune -- the team shoots 12.4 percent when he's on the ice, which won't keep up -- and he plays a more offensive role, but right now it's looking like Bowman might've unearthed a bargain for a blue line corps that badly needs them.
May 2, 2015
Signed Artemi Panarin to two-year, $1.625 million contract
I just had a shot of vodka just to celebrate how amazing this move has been. Yes, it's nine in the morning.
June 29, 2015
Signed David Rundblad to two-year, $2.1 million contract extension
And then I had another shot to reflect on what the heck has happened to Rundblad. The Hawks seemed genuinely hopeful they had just acquired a key player for the future when they traded a second-round pick as part of the deal to acquire Rundblad from Arizona. Instead, the defenseman has quickly become a shining example of the occasional times when management and the coaching staff don't seem on the same page. This contract was signed even after Rundblad had failed to endear himself to Quenneville during the previous season. Bowman always seemed to see something in the former first-round pick but now he's on loan in Europe and simply a minor footnote on the team's salary cap.
June 30, 2015
Traded Brandon Saad, Alex Broadhurst and Michael Paliotta to Blue Jackets for Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp and 2016 fourth-round pick
If Panarin's ELC is the No. 1 example of Bowman's resourcefulness in 2015, the Saad trade might be No. 2. The forward was supposed to be part of the Hawks' long-term core, but showed up at the negotiating table during restricted free agency with larger contract demands than the team could swallow. So how did Bowman respond? By keeping it all under wraps until he could orchestrate a blockbuster with Columbus that brought in a major veteran contributor AND a quality young player. Losing Saad undeniably hurt, but once it became clear $5 million annually wouldn't cut it, adding Anisimov and Dano, plus a couple minor pieces, was a stroke of brilliance. They miss Saad but the value of Anisimov and Dano might make the Hawks winners of this trade in the end. THIS is how you keep winning in the NHL when your back is against the salary cap wall.
July 2, 2015
Signed Artem Anisimov to five-year, $22.75 million extension
How confident was Bowman in Anisimov's fit with the Hawks? Enough that he signed the center through 2021 without him playing a single game yet. The move almost looks prophetic now that the center is in the midst of a breakout season between Kane and Panarin on the second line. At $4.55 million per year, Anisimov will be a bargain as long as he keeps playing at this level. There's some undeniable risk in a player who's had some injury issues in the past, but when you see what Anisimov brings to the table when healthy, it's a worthwhile gamble to have such a talented player at such an affordable rate.
July 2, 2015
Signed Viktor Tikhonov to one-year, $1.04 million contract
Didn't quite work out. Tikhonov's greatest value to the Hawks might've been as a mentor to Panarin during his first few months in Chicago. We saw all sorts of pictures of the two players hanging out and Tiki often helped translate for the young star with reporters. He never quite found his role on the ice, though, and got picked up off waivers by Arizona. It was a low-risk deal that ended up being precisely that.
July 4, 2015
Signed Andrew Desjardins to two-year, $1.6 million contract
Not an amazing player, but he's a useful bottom-six forward with a salary cap hit low enough that it can be fully buried in the AHL if needed. Desjardins seems to like being in Chicago, too. Can't complain with that.
July 6, 2015
Traded Anders Nilsson to Oilers for Liam Coughlin
This was a tough one. Nilsson was never going to sign with the Hawks to be stuck in Rockford and the team already has Crawford and Darling. And if you simply sit on the asset, maybe Nilsson gets hurt or something else that puts his value in the gutter. So the Hawks took a flier on Coughlin, who's having a middling season (8 points in 23 games) as a 21-year-old at the University of Vermont. Not a major deal in the big picture.
July 8, 2015
Signed TVR to two-year, $1.65 million contract extension
Another deal like Desjardins where the risk is so low it's almost a no-brainer. TVR might be nothing more than a good third-pair defenseman but at a $825,000 cap hit that's still good value. The Hawks need low salaries like these so even if some of the players don't work out, those cap hits can just be buried while the team reaps the benefits of the deals that do.
July 9, 2015
Signed Dennis Rasmussen to one-year, $575,000 contract
See Desjardins, TVR.
July 11, 2015
Traded Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns to Stars for Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt (50% salary retained)
An almost impossible deal to fairly judge. It's undeniable that Bowman probably hoped to get more out of trading Sharp than the Hawks got here. Daley and Garbutt are already out of the organization and Chicago STILL never quite cleared the $5.9 million that Sharp made. Rob Scuderi and Jiri Sekac are still on the books as a result of the Hawks' inability to make the Sharp deal a total salary dump. Now, here's where things get dicey, because it's impossible to say what the team was being offered. There's a good chance nobody was willing to take Sharp's whole contract, so Bowman was forced to make a compromise. Surely he expected Daley and Garbutt to fit better.
August 5, 2015
Signed Viktor Svedberg to one-year, $575,000 contract
September 12, 2015
Traded Kris Versteeg, Joakim Nordstrom and 2017 third-round pick to Hurricanes for Dennis Robertson, Jake Massie and 2017 fifth-round pick
The Hawks probably miss Versteeg more than people expected. He's a solid left winger who is familiar with the system and has some stick skills. The money forced him out of Chicago along with Nordstrom -- like many other players -- and based on the return it's apparent this was a salary dump.
September 12, 2015
Signed Marcus Kruger to one-year, $1.5 million contract
It'll be increasingly hard to justify larger salaries for a penalty-killing fourth-liner but at this price it's still a no-brainer to keep Kruger in the fold.
September 19, 2015
Signed Michal Rozsival to one-year, $575,000 contract
September 27, 2015
Signed Brent Seabrook to eight-year, $55 million contract extension
I really think this one could go either way. Signing Seabrook to the early extension gave Chicago cost certainty, continuity and peace of mind, but there's some real risk on the back end of the deal. Seabrook will be in his late 30s by then and still paid like a top-pairing d-man, especially if the salary cap doesn't rise as quickly as anticipated. Right now the Hawks are getting their money's worth and it's hard to speculate on what the team would've done otherwise, but having Seabrook make nearly $7 million at age 38 probably will demand making some concessions elsewhere on the roster. The Hawks are banking a lot on the current core staying healthy and productive for a long time.
2015-16 MIDSEASON TRADES
Traded Trevor Daley to Penguins for Rob Scuderi (33% salary retained)
Traded Jeremy Morin to Maple Leafs for Richard Panik
Traded Ryan Garbutt to Ducks for Jiri Sekac
These trades all have one thing in common: the Hawks moving on from players who weren't giving the team much. Daley was the most useful of three players and the veteran blue liner was openly struggling to fully grasp the team's defensive system. Moving Daley cleared salary for this year and next year, while trading Garbutt opened up additional flexibility in the summer. Morin-for-Panik seems to have a more old fashioned hockey trade in which Chicago targeted a talented player who fit better. Right now, it's looking like Panik and Sekac will be able to give the Hawks more than Morin and Garbutt did. In a season when basically nobody is making trades, it's impressive that Bowman has been working the phones and getting deals done to keep improving the team's position. Even if the moves are incremental, they'll all add up for a team that's always on the cusp of the Cup.
Bowman is really good at his job. Panarin will go down as one of the best moves made by any NHL team in recent memory. The Saad trade was remarkable at a time when it's difficult to get proper value for a star player, even a restricted free agent, via trade. And there's a good chance he's not done fashioning this roster for the upcoming playoff run, too. It's a good thing Bowman is signed through 2021. The Hawks are in very good hands when you look at everything he's done lately.