Blackhawks News

The Trade Deadline and the Future

By Cody Pugh

I know its late, but I still feel the need to put in my two cents about what really happened at this year’s trade deadline. Admittedly, I had at least one foot in the camp calling for Stan Bowman’s head, but now that I’ve had a few days to talk to pepole, process my thoughts and try to see the big picture, I’ve been able to at least partially understand why the Hawks’ brass did what they did (or didn’t do) and what that can likely tell us about their plans for the future.

At the trade deadline, Stan Bowman did what I, and many others, expected he would do, but not what many of us wanted him to do: he acquired a veteran, impending UFA who won’t astonish anyone. Johnny Oduya will provide some reliable minuets on the blueline, as we’ve seen so far, and that’s about it. He’s a depth guy. That’s what the Hawks wanted.

The other move he made was trading John Scott to the New York Rangers for a 5th round pick, a move for which he deserves a lot of credit.

That was what he did do. What didn’t he do? He didn’t bring in a bigger name defenseman like Bryan Allen, or a top six forward like Derek Roy or a talented depth forward like David Jones. He didn’t do what many fans, including myself, were clamoring for him to do.

But in retrospect, maybe not doing anything was the right thing to do. I know I wouldn’t want to be a buyer in a market where Paul Gaustad, a guy who has yet to have a 40-point season in the NHL, goes for a 1st and a 4th round draft pick.

I had a source report to me on deadline day that the prices for some players were “bordering on unreasonable”. Gaustad was in that category. Roy, Allen and Grabovski were likely in there too.

For those of you still furious at the Hawks for not making a more aggressive move, spending big to try and salvage the season and make another run at the Cup, and believe me I was once in those shoes, you have realize a few things, like I have over the past few weeks. At some point, its no longer about chasing a Cup. Its about making good hockey transactions and managing the short and long term goals and intersts of the organization.

Bowman didn’t land big fishes like we wanted him too, just as he didn’t do in the summer. And his inaction and miscalculation of personnel as definitely cost the Hawks this season, and he deserves at least some criticism for that. But what he also didn’t do is break the bank or sell the proverbial farm chasing something that probably is not in the cards for this team this year anyways. In professional sports, you have to pick your opportunities wisely, and this year I give the Hawks’ management for at least some credit realizing that this year probably isn’t their year.

So in that regard, I excuse Bowman for not paying the price. Sometimes you do have to throw the chips on the table and go for it. But as I said, you have to pick your opportunities. One trade deadline was not enough to fill the holes in this year’s roster. Those problems would be much easier to address over the offseason.

There were also other factors in play. As many sources have reported, Bowman’s hands were likely bound, as he was instructed by ownership not to take on any additional salary beyond this year, largely because of all the uncertainly with the upcoming CBA.

Acquring Oduya was just enough to say they at least did something to make this team more competitive. Trading John Scott was basically Bowman’s way of voicing his discontent with Quenneville and how he’s been managing his blueline.

There were likely too many things working against the Hawks for them to make a big splash at this year’s deadline. Maybe they could have but didn’t want to. Maybe they wanted to but couldn’t. Either way, its understandable why the Hawks’ deadline was so dead.

So where does this leave us?

Well, in no way does this excuse the fact that there are still gaping hopes in this roster that need to be filled. Lessons from the past two, mediocre seasons need to be considered diligently going forward. This team needs more depth and reliability. That doesn’t mean acquiring aging veterans who can provide “experience” at the expense of speed and goals. It means bringing in players who can play specific roles well and provide secondary scoring.

It looks like the best plan of attack is to wait until the summer when players are available for nothing and teams are more willing to deal.

Unlike some teams, the Hawks appear to be planning for life after the CBA in effort to avoid another salary cap purge, which could realistically happen to most teams if the new agreement comes with a reduced hard cap, which I believe it will. Some teams will be forced to sell off assets for virtually nothing, while the Hawks will not only be able to keep most of their players, but will be in prime position to pick up players at a bargain basement cost.

Assuming all goes well with the CBA, I would expect some fairly substantial moves this summer from the Hawks, both in terms of trades and free agency. Keeping all their picks in this year’s draft puts them in a prime position to make a significant trade at the draft, possibly for either a top six forward or a top four defenseman.

Furthermore, I would expect the Hawks to be much more active in free agency, signing players to multi-year deals, rather than one-year contracts.

We face a similar situation we faced last summer: we couldn’t fairly judge Bowman until this year’s trade deadline, however now it seems like we can’t fairly assess the job he’s done in the post-Campbell era until this summer, when the CBA restrictions are gone and there are absolutely no more excuses.

This precarious argument of planning for the future is losing momentum. This team should be a contender now, not in 3 or 4 years. Hoarding picks, prospects and cap space will not win hockey games and will certainly not win championships.

I was not entirely convinced of the job Bowman did last summer, nor am I entirely confident in his moves or lack thereof at this year’s deadline. Bowman has one last chance this summer (or at least after the new CBA) to make the right moves and launch this team into top contender status once again.

Otherwise, he could find his GM career cut short.

Enjoy the game tonight. Go Hawks!