Stan Bowman’s predecessor was a successful general manager. Stan Bowman’s father has been a spectacularly successful hockey man. But is Stan Bowman himself? Well, the jury is still out on whether or not Stan Bowman is actually a good GM.
Because of paperwork problems and internal politics within the Blackhawks organization, Bowman might have had the best opportunity in the history of NHL management. He was given the keys to a Ferrari and told to keep the car on the road. He wasn’t asked to fine-tune the team and he wasn’t asked to fill ANY holes—his job was to sit in his big, plush chair in his newly decorated office and NOT screw things up. When you think about how most GMs take over under an ownership’s mandate for change, Bowman was in uncharted waters.
But check this out, it gets better. Not only was he placed in front of a team that was already built to win; he was also put in charge of a team that everyone knew would have salary cap problems in the future. So if they won, he would preside over the victory. When the economic shit hit the fan, he’d be able to rebuild the team and if they lost he’d be able to blame it one the GM he replaced. It really is the best of both worlds.
While all of that is nice, Bowman has still been put in charge of the inevitable restructuring of the Chicago Blackhawks. Since the morning after they won the Stanley Cup, he was saddled with the task of removing young, talented, valuable, well-paid assets for young, talented, valuable, cheap assets. It didn’t matter what moves he chose to make, that was the formula that he’d be forced to follow.
Since these are the first fingerprints that he’s placed on the Hawks, let’s take a look at how he’s done so far as he flips the talent and makes the payroll a little more manageable (read: legal under the CBA). We understand that the young Blackhawks on the market were going to fly off the shelves faster than iPads at a $.99 Store, so there’s no need in dwelling on the players walking out the door. That was a foregone conclusion. Instead, let’s focus on the toys that he got back in his summer of swaps.
Marty Reasoner, Jeremy Morin, a 1st round pick, a 2nd round pick, and Joey Crabb for Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel, and Akim Aliu
This is the big one. Everyone knows what Byfuglien did in the playoffs and the role he played in the Vancouver and San Jose series (What’s the plural for series? “seri”? Whatever). But he was the key to this deal on a few different levels. Not only was his salary shipped off to Atlanta, but because he was such a hot commodity, it helped enable the Blackhawks to get rid of Sopel’s contract, as well.
The return for the Chicago salary dumps was a bit surprising to me. Marty Reasoner (one of the only salaries they took back in the offseason) should fit nicely into the role that John Madden will leave as a free agent. That addresses the here-and-now. But the assets they were able to pick up in the trade are the real victories for the Blackhawks.
The tricky part of the salary dumps was that Bowman was going to have to unload good, proven players and acquire draft picks and prospects. In this trade, he was able to get both high draft picks and a coveted prospect in the very same trade. Do you want some perspective as to how difficult that is? The first round draft picks that were traded in the 2010 Draft were in the Kessel, Kovalchuk, Jokinen (when he was a hot commodity), and Byfuglien trades. Not bad company to be in.
Picking up Morin was the biggest upside in this deal, though. While playing in Kitchener this year, he was Atlanta’s most promising forward prospect NOT playing in the NHL this year. Here’s a good summary of the skill-set Morin brings to the table:
“Jeremy has excellent hands and a big-time shot. He stickhandles very well, makes some clever moves in tight-going and gets himself into position to score. His skating and acceleration are much better when he has the puck on his stick. He has a very quick stick, is quick to steal the puck and is reliable defensively.” –Gary Eggleston (Central Scouting)
After 47 goals in only 58 games this season in his first year of Juniors, I’d say that he’s right on track to being a good NHL player in the near future.
Andrew Ladd was an RFA at the end of the season and was a serious target for offer sheets. If Chicago had their noses pressed firmly against the cap ceiling and another team came calling, the Blackhawks would have been stuck with their hands tied. Assuming he would not have made more than $3.1 million, the compensation would have been a 2nd round pick for Ladd. In this trade, Bowman was able to pick up that 2nd round pick, grab Atlanta’s 2nd best prospect, AND was able to make sure that Ladd went to the Eastern Conference. Damage minimized.
Focusing on Vishnevskiy, he’s an offensive defenseman that was the best prospect in the Stars system for the early part of the year. The Thrashers thought highly enough of him to trade goaltender, once goalie of the future Kari Lehtonen, for the right to add him to their blueline (and Stars fans were pissed to see him go). Whether he makes the jump to the NHL this year or next, he has upside to be a Top 4 defenseman who can help run the power play from the point. Those types of players don’t grow on trees and certainly aren’t usually accompanied with a 2nd round pick when they’re traded.
Viktor Stalberg, Chris DiDomenico, and Philippe Paradis for Kris Versteeg and the rights to Bill Sweatt
Undoubtedly, Versteeg was a guy that the Hawks would have liked to keep around. But before people start thinking he’s the next Ovechkin, a little perspective might be needed. He’s a 20 goal scorer who has shown that he can play on the 2nd or 3rd line. He wasn’t a 1st line player, he was a depth guy. In exchange for said depth forward, they were able to acquire a speedy forward in Stalberg who should try to replace Versteeg’s role on the 2nd/3rd line duty and a good, likeable energy guy for the 4th line in DiDomenico (replacing Ben Eager). And again, Bowman was able to trade to the Eastern Conference so he doesn’t have to see the jilted player 4 times per season.
This was a preemptive strike to help the Blackhawks in both the short-term and in the long-term. By trading Cam Barker for Kim Johnsson, Bowman was hypothetically getting a better player for the 2010 playoffs. Since Johnsson was an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, he wouldn’t have to worry about the Swede’s cap hit since he’d be gone by the time Kane, Keith, and Toews got their big bumps. But they also were able to grab the Wild’s 2009 1st round pick (16th overall) in Nick Leddy in the trade for the future. While Leddy had reportedly fallen out of favor with Minnesota management as they perceived his slowed growth at the University of Minnesota, the Blackhawks management was still high on his potential.
To recap, they were able to improve THIS season and add a 1st round draft pick with potential for a guy who would have been in their bottom pairing next season (and is due over $3 million for two more seasons). Even with the Johnsson injury, I think they’d do this trade again tomorrow if they had the opportunity.
I understand that some hockey fans in Chicago are freaking out over the mass exodus of Blackhawks. But for people who have been along for the ride longer than the recent playoff run, this is the payment for having the stacked squad last year. We all knew this was coming—it wasn’t Bowman’s job to keep all of the players in Chicago, it was to get the best return on their investment that he could possibly swing. Looking at the young players, prospects, and draft picks that he was able to acquire while everyone knew he was under the gun, he did a hell of a job. They might not be BETTER next year, but the moves he made should stretch their run at the top of the league as long as possible.
At the end of the day, Bowman was able to escape the situation by only trading depth players. Yes, depth players. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are still in Chicago. Captain Jonathan Toews, alternate captain Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa are all still in Chicago. They’ll have the money to re-sign starting goaltender (that would be Stanley Cup winning goaltender) Antti Niemi. Sure, the players walking out the door were valuable and are good NHL players, but NONE of them are great. The were also able to keep valuable two-way guys like Dave Bolland and Troy Brouwer who helped create an identity for players NOT on the top forward lines. When you have to have a fire sale and you are still able to keep your 7 best players, things went pretty well.
Just remember Blackhawks fans: even if trading beloved players hurts, you won the freaking Stanley Cup a month ago. 29 other fan bases would gladly trade places with you right now.