It would be a little presumptuous to expect the Stanley Cup to take up permanent residence at 1901 West Madison in Chicago for the foreseeable future, but it might want to check out the schools and amenities in the area just in case.
With the signing of GM Stan Bowman to a three-year extension that will take him through the 2020-21 season, there is no franchise in the NHL set up better for long-term success than the one that is best set up for short-term success. It’s a great time to be a Chicago Blackhawks fan, an era which people will look back on as the golden age of this franchise. You’d have to think there are a handful of players on this team – Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith for sure – who will be the last ones to wear their sweater numbers before they’re hoisted to the rafters of the United Center. And those wonderful statues of Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Michael Jordan outside the building will undoubtedly have company someday.
With the extension given to Joel Quenneville, the Blackhawks have arguably the top GM-coaching tandem in place until at least 2019-20. Toews, Kane and Keith are all under contract until 2022-23 and Brent Seabrook until the season after that. Marian Hossa’s deal runs until 2020-21, but it’s a back loaded deal that could see him retire after next season. With the prospect of four straight seasons of salaries of only $1 million each year, is a 38-year-old with a bunch of Stanley Cups and more than $93 million in career earnings going to keep playing for that little money?
The cap recapture for that could be enormous and have huge implications for the Blackhawks, with the Hawks on the hook for a yearly $4.275 per year. Just spit balling here, but let’s say that instead of retiring after next season, Hossa simply refuses to report to training camp in 2017? Somehow, Bowman and the Blackhawks will find a way out of this.
The useful Artem Anisimov is under contract through 2020-21. Underappreciated goalie Corey Crawford is signed until 2019-20, while defensive stalwart Niklas Hjalmarsson is in place through 2018-19. That leaves two young players, rookie of the year candidate Artemi Panarin and Teuvo Teravainen, as the only core players with just one year remaining on their deals.
Whatever the Blackhawks are paying Bowman, it’s probably not enough. It’s true that he walked into a pretty sweet situation in Chicago, with most of the core of the team already in place. But Bowman has earned his reputation and his extension by managing the assets he’s had and by making difficult decisions quickly, decisively and, almost always, to the benefit of the Blackhawks.
It has been well-documented the players Bowman has had to move in order to manage the salary cap. In fact, you could probably form a playoff contender with the players Bowman has had to trade or not re-sign over the years. In the two seasons after their first Stanley Cup in 2010, the Blackhawks lost Troy Brouwer, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and Antti Niemi. After winning last season, Bowman worked his way around the salary cap by trading Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp and allowing workhorse Johnny Oduya to leave via free agency.
And here’s where Bowman’s strength of conviction lies. Not only did he trade Sharp, a popular player who had helped usher the Blackhawks from doormat to superpower, he’s already dealt the two players he received from the Dallas Stars in exchange for him – changing the deal basically to Sharp for Jiri Sekac and Rob Scuderi. He got four players for Saad from the Columbus Blue Jackets, with Anisimov being the centerpiece, and has since dealt Jeremy Morin for Richard Panik.
Bowman will continue to earn his keep because he’ll continue to have to move his pieces around every year. This team, if it wins the Stanley Cup this season, will once again face pressure to get Panarin signed to a long-term deal. But Bowman is clear in his vision. It’s a philosophy where he devotes the majority of his cap space to skill and to a group of eight or nine players. The remainder of them are interchangeable and can be signed and traded for, used for a period of time, then allowed to move on. He obviously does not allow emotion to get in the way, showing the same kind of calculating nature his father did during his Hall of Fame coaching career.
And so it will continue. With Bowman in charge and the pieces in place, the Blackhawks are built for success for at least another five years, which will be a long enough time to cement their status as a modern-day dynasty.