One of the more understated things that became clear to this corner through the days leading up to and the first day of free agency was that Stan Bowman gets it.
It might be years before we know whether the Chicago Blackhawks made a horrific mistake by firing Dale Tallon last summer. He’s a great guy and he made some very good moves in building the Blackhawks roster, but let’s face it, Chicago accelerated the building program by getting star players in two successive drafts at No. 1 and No. 3. And they only did that because they were lucky enough and bad enough to be in that position.
Blackhawks fans can, however, take comfort in the fact the team’s ownership made a terrific choice in Bowman, who has earned his stripes as a GM with his handling of the Blackhawks as they waded through their salary cap problems.
(By the way, the Blackhawks are not victims of the salary cap, as they’ve been portrayed in some corners. To suggest the Blackhawks are victims of an economic system to which all 30 teams are subject is preposterous. If the Blackhawks are victims of anything, it’s long-term, big-money contracts they had the freedom not to give. The salary cap in the NHL is victimizing nobody. The teams wanted it, they got it.)
Has Bowman traded away good players? Of course he has. And they were the kind of depth players that often provide the difference in a playoff series. But Bowman had no choice in the matter. There was absolutely no doubt he was going to have to subtract from his roster, something that was made even more pressing when Jonathan Toews won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and his $1.3 million bonus had to be carried over to next season.
But perhaps by necessity, Bowman has come to realize that cap space is an asset that can be just as valuable as a scoring winger. You could argue that Bowman got almost nothing in return for Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd, Colin Fraser and Kris Versteeg – and that wouldn’t exactly be true – but what Bowman got was some breathing room with his cap situation. What he acquired in return were assets that, with the exception of Marty Reasoner and Viktor Stalberg, won’t cost him anything in the short term.
Bowman wasn’t forced to take anyone’s junk or a bad contract in return. He made the best of an impossible situation and managed to get a lot more in return than expected while hardly dealing from a position of strength. Let’s not forget that Jeremy Morin, who was part of the Byfuglien deal, scored 47 goals for the Kitchener Rangers last season. Chris DiDomenico, part of the Versteeg deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, was an integral member of Canada’s gold medal-winning world junior team in 2009 and, despite having last season derailed by a gruesome broken leg, scored 22 points in 12 regular season games before adding 21 in 14 playoff games in the Quebec League last season.
And the best part is that both are probably at least a year from being factors in the Blackhawks salary cap situation.
There is still work to do in Chicago, but Bowman’s calm and effective handling of the situation to this point leaves little doubt he’ll do the right things and the Blackhawks will be fine. And the sooner teams come to grips with this reality, the better off they will be.
For years now, NFL teams have been cutting star players loose and nobody bats an eye. That’s because doing that is a reality in the NFL, something the NHL is starting to grasp. When the Tampa Bay Lightning was exploring trading Vincent Lecavalier, people seemed to get hung up on the fact that the Lightning wasn’t getting equal value in return. But what it would have received was some relief from a long-term, big-money contract that its business model couldn’t support.
Stan Bowman gets that.
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