The shine has worn off for Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman a bit entering 2018. Long considered one of the best executives in hockey, he’s increasingly felt the heat under his toes amid what looks to be another disappointing season for the franchise.
The odds of the Blackhawks making a GM change anytime soon are low, but the widespread respect Bowman commanded after winning three Stanley Cups has given way to consternation over how he’s handled the roster the past few years. Starting with the Brent Seabrook extension in 2015, the team has moved in a direction that doesn’t exactly make one feel confident as a fan.
That’s not to say that Bowman’s entire body of work has gone in the gutter, nor is it a suggestion that he’s not capable of doing this job well. But with the team currently sitting last in the division months after an offseason overhaul caused by a first-round sweep, the scrutiny over Bowman’s work is only going to get more aggressive.
With that in mind, let’s start off 2018 by looking back at everything Bowman did in 2017. This is an exercise I’ve done the past two years, so you can see how my takes hold up from evaluating 2015 moves and 2016 moves.
Traded Cameron Schilling to the Kings for Michael Latta
A fairly meaningless trade to begin the year. Schilling was merely AHL fodder for the organization, and he was traded for a different piece of AHL fodder in Latta. The forward would go on to be productive for the IceHogs with 16 points in 32 games, but he walked as a free agent over the summer without making an impact at the NHL level.
Signed Jeff Glass to a two-year contract
We all know Glass now after he made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks recently, but he was mainly signed to be organizational depth. It’s a role that the 32-year-old has filled serviceably, even if the Blackhawks could ill afford to have him as their starter for an extended stretch.
Traded a 2017 third-round pick to the Red Wings for Tomas Jurco
This deal hasn’t really worked out. Jurco is playing well in the AHL right now, but that’s probably not what Bowman had in mind when he gave up a third-round pick to acquire the forward. Jurco was supposed to be a cheap bottom-six option for the Hawks this season, but he did little after being acquired last season to prove he deserved that role.
Signed Jordin Tootoo and Michal Rozsival to one-year contract extensions
It seems like these signings were made as expansion draft insurance to guarantee the team could cover all the requirements. Fair enough.
Traded Sam Carrick and Spencer Abbott to the Ducks for Kenton Helgeson and a 2019 seventh-round pick
This was a sneaky good move by Bowman to recoup a draft pick for two AHL journeymen who would’ve walked at the end of the season anyway. Rockford’s season was going down the tubes, so the Hawks nabbed a seventh-round pick for 2019 rather than get nothing. The move reportedly frustrated coach Ted Dent and his reaction helped lead to his firing, but that’s another story.
Signed Matthew Highmore to a three-year ELC
An undrafted free agent signing by Bowman, Highmore has played well in the AHL with 14 goals and 22 points in 34 games. He’s one of the IceHogs’ best players and could get an opportunity in the NHL eventually. Hard to complain about the move at this point.
Signed John Hayden, Luc Snuggerud, Anthony Louis, and Matheson Iacopelli to ELCs
Let’s group up these four March signings of prospects to entry-level deals. Hayden is obviously the big name there given he’s been in the NHL ever since inking his contract in mid-March, but the other three have taken on significant roles for a much-improved Rockford team. These aren’t top prospects, but they’re better organizational depth than the team had the past couple years.
Signed Tanner Kero to a two-year contract extension
Again, you need organizational depth, and Kero signed an affordable extension with a $750,000 cap hit to help fill that role. But considering he was healthy scratched most of the season before clearing waivers and being assigned to the AHL, where he has three points in 10 games, it’s fair to say that his NHL career isn’t really going anywhere exciting.
Fired assistant coach Mike Kitchen and Rockford coach Ted Dent
Well, somebody needed to be held accountable for that disaster against the Predators last spring. Kitchen, Joel Quenneville’s longtime right hand man, presided over a penalty kill that was a total mess to start the season. Dent’s relationship with the front office fell apart over the months leading up to his departure. You can see why they were fired, even though both did good work for the franchise over the years.
Signed Nathan Noel to a three-year ELC
Noel opened training camp in the fall with injury issues, and he’s spent the season with the Hawks’ ECHL affiliate, where he has just nine points in 17 games. He’s only 20 and still an intriguing prospect down the line, but this season hasn’t gone according to plan for him.
Traded Scott Darling to the Hurricanes for a 2017 third-round pick
Darling was going to be an unrestricted free agent anyway, so Bowman smartly landed a third-round pick rather than let him walk. Once the team decided to stick with Corey Crawford instead of re-signing Darling, this was the sensible move in terms of asset management. The team used the draft pick to select forward Evan Barratt, who has eight points in 14 games with Penn State as a freshman.
Signed David Kampf to a two-year ELC
Kampf recently made his NHL debut, so he was good enough to earn that opportunity, although it’s unclear where his future really lies at this point. He’s recorded zero points and one shot on goal in three NHL games, and while he’s a good skater in an sizable frame (6’2, 195 pounds), he hasn’t shown the skill to consistently make plays in the offensive zone against NHL defenses yet.
Signed Richard Panik to a two-year contract extension
This seems like a reasonable deal at the time, and it looked fine earlier this season when he scored a few goals. But in the middle of a brutal slump right now, Panik’s deal is starting to look like a mistake. He has zero goals and six assists over his last 25 appearances, even though he’s often been skating in a top-six role. And with a $2.8 million cap hit through next season, that’s concerning.
Hired Jeremy Colliton as Rockford head coach
Colliton seems to have been a good hire for Rockford by all indications. The team is third in the Central Division with a 18-14-1-1 record despite three straight losses, and currently sits tied for sixth in the league in goals scored. Development is more important than results for an AHL coach, but it seems like Bowman found a good voice to lead the IceHogs.
Signed Michal Kempny to one-year contract extension
It’s a $900,000 cap hit, so pretty hard to complain even if Kempny hasn’t broke out. He clearly has impressive physical gifts, including strong skating ability and good shot, but his hockey I.Q. has been lacking at times. Don’t be surprised if the Hawks let him walk as a UFA in the summer.
Signed Jan Rutta to one-year contract
It’s a bit of an indictment of the Blackhawks’ ability to develop defensemen that Rutta could carve out a big role so quickly after signing out of the Czech Republic, but he’s impressed for the most part with smart play and good passing. Given he signed for just $925,000, it’s proven to be a good value deal, although he’ll definitely be in line for a raise as a UFA in the summer.
Hired Ulf Samuelsson and Don Granato as assistant coaches
It’s difficult to evaluate coaching staff hires without being in the locker room and seeing what happens behind the scenes, but there’s been little reason to point fingers at the hirings of Samuelsson and Granato thus far.
Lost Trevor van Riemsdyk to Golden Knights in expansion draft
The Blackhawks were always going to lose somebody, so having Vegas take TVR was an acceptable outcome. However, this whole process was another reminder of why all those no-movement clauses handed out like candy were probably ill advised.
Traded Artemi Panarin, Tyler Motte, and a 2018 fifth-round pick to the Blue Jackets for Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg, and a 2017 sixth-round pick
The biggest move of the year by Bowman saw him trade one of the best wingers in the league to bring back Saad and a potential replacement for Darling. This trade is going to be analyzed heavily over the next couple years given the Hawks already had Panarin signed through 2018-19 at the same cap hit as Saad.
Part of the idea was that Saad’s longer contract made him a better long-term value for Chicago, but that won’t make fans feel much better if the team misses the playoffs with Saad while Panarin is leading Columbus to the postseason.
Traded Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Coyotes for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin
When these two monster trades happened, the Hjalmarsson deal seemed like the more questionable one, but now Bowman is actually looking rather smart here. Hjalmarsson has struggled badly in Arizona and looks to be showing signs of all that wear and tear over the years. Murphy, meanwhile, has broken out after a rough start to the season to become one of the Blackhawks’ most reliable defensemen. He’s also just 23 and signed affordably for the next five seasons. It was a shocking deal at the time, but right now, the scouting staff deserves credit for a good call here.
Signed Anton Forsberg, Tomas Jurco, Ville Pokka to contract extensions
Affordable extensions for three young players who are running out of time to establish themselves in the NHL. Even if none of these guys emerge as key long-term pieces for Chicago, there was no risk here.
Signed Patrick Sharp to one-year contract
Sharp has been a total dud for the Blackhawks so far, but he also signed for just $800,000 plus $200,000 in bonuses, so that deal always made sense at the time. It was a low-risk, high-reward deal that hasn’t panned out.
Signed Jean-Francois Berube to two-year contract
Berube has been pretty good in Rockford with a .918 save percentage, and signed to a two-year deal, he could compete for minutes as the backup goaltender in Chicago next season.
Signed Tommy Wingels and Lance Bouma to one-year contracts
I panned these deals at the time given the seasons Wingels and Bouma were coming off of, and they’ve done their best to prove me wrong by carving out roles on the fourth line. They’re playing easier competition than the Kruger lines did in the past, so temper your excitement, but the coaching staff clearly values the energy and physicality they bring to the bottom six.
Signed Jordan Oesterle to two-year contract
Oesterle is clearly a gifted offensive defenseman who loves to fire shots on net, but he’s never established himself in the NHL due to his struggles on the other end of the ice. We’ve seen that recently as he’s played next to Duncan Keith, with impressive displays of offensive ability paired with frustrating defensive mistakes in front of his own net.
Traded Marcus Kruger to Golden Knights for future considerations
The Blackhawks needed to dump Kruger’s $3.08 million cap hit, and the Golden Knights obliged with a deal that effectively gives Chicago nothing. He wasn’t going to be worth much no matter what with the team against the salary cap, so it is what it is.
Signed Erik Gustafsson to a one-year contract extension
Given how many players have passed Gustafsson by at this point, it’s fair to assume that he’s little more than AHL fodder.
Signed Collin Delia to a two-year ELC
Goaltenders can take a long time to develop, but Delia has struggled badly this season with a .837 save percentage in four AHL games and a .887 save percentage in 10 ECHL games. It was a low-risk signing anyway but given he’s already 23 years old, it may not amount to much.
Placed Marian Hossa on long-term injured reserve
At this point, seeing what Hossa’s LTIR space has amounted to, it’s probably fair to assume the Blackhawks would’ve preferred to have a healthy Hossa on their roster. Get out of here with your silly conspiracy theories of a grand plan that hardly helped the Blackhawks anyway.
Signed Cody Franson to one-year contract
Franson could’ve signed a deal earlier in the offseason, but he patiently waited until the Blackhawks placed Hossa on LTIR to have the cap space to sign him to a one-year, $1 million deal. He’s shown signs of being a quality contributor in 21 appearances, including a 59.5 percent even strength Corsi in pretty favorable conditions, but he has also been healthy scratched repeatedly.