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Chicago Blackhawks’ Stan Bowman Has Defensive Problem

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Mar 2, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Team North America associate general manager Stan Bowman speaks to media during a press conference for the upcoming 2016 World Cup of Hockey at Intercontinental Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 2, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Team North America associate general manager Stan Bowman speaks to media during a press conference for the upcoming 2016 World Cup of Hockey at Intercontinental Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mar 2, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Team North America associate general manager Stan Bowman speaks to media during a press conference for the upcoming 2016 World Cup of Hockey at Intercontinental Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has shown a bit of trouble evaluating defensive talent, and it’s haunted his team

If there is one thing that has defined Stan Bowman’ tenure as GM of our beloved Chicago Blackhawks, it has been his ability to spot promising offensive talent.

Via the draft, trades, international leagues, or free agency, over the years Bowman has been able to selectively bring forwards to the ‘Hawks who by and large have thrived with the team and contributed significantly to its recent success.

Artemi Panarin may be the most recent and high profile example, but he is merely the latest in a long line of successful forwards brought on by Bowman over the years that includes the likes of Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad, Richard Panik and Teuvo Teravainen.

While Bowman’s ability to spot offensive talent is all but uncanny, this well-trained eye of his has proven to have what you might call a blind spot when it comes to the blue line. This deficiency of Bowman’s was perhaps at it most prominent during the ‘Hawks’ early exit in Round 1 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

While all the exact reasons for the Blackhawks’ humiliating defeat at the hands of the Nashville Predators are still being hashed out, one reason that was perfectly clear was the fact the majority of the ‘Hawks defensemen, accomplished as they are, just couldn’t keep up with their opposition once the playoff-mode switch was thrown.

Apr 15, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Nashville Predators center Ryan Johansen (92) scores past Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) and lands on defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk (57) during the third period in game two of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center. Nashville won 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 15, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Nashville Predators center Ryan Johansen (92) scores past Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) and lands on defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk (57) during the third period in game two of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center. Nashville won 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

Can’t put all the blame on the defensemen

Now this isn’t the fault of the Blackhawks defensemen. The majority of them are in their mid to upper 30s and have run up a heck of a lot of mileage on their bodies while bringing the Stanley Cup to Chicago three times over the past seven years. Everyone knows the human body can only take so much, right? Well, this is a fact that has seemingly been lost on Bowman.

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Hence, while Bowman has kept the Blackhawks’ offensive ranks replete with young, talented forwards over the years, he has taken the exact opposite approach when it has come to his defensive pool.

In 2009, when Bowman took over as the Blackhawks’ GM, he inherited a defensive corps that was a mix of established blueliners and promising up-and-comers. It was a great combination to have, and Bowman only had to perform relatively minor tweaks along the way to keep the team defensively competitive over the years.

However, with the exception of perhaps Johnny Oduya, the alternations Bowman has made to the Blackhawks’ defensive ranks have been questionable at best and outright failures at worst.

Whenever there have been holes in the Blackhawks’ defensive roster, time and again, Bowman has opted to plug those holes with an aged veteran defenseman (disclaimer: how much influence Coach Joel Quenneville had in these decisions is a conversation for another day — even so, they were still ultimately Bowman’s call in the end).

Jan 26, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) celebrates with defenseman Brent Seabrook (7) after making a goal during the first period of the game against the Winnipeg Jets at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 26, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) celebrates with defenseman Brent Seabrook (7) after making a goal during the first period of the game against the Winnipeg Jets at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports /

Players Nick Boyton, Jassen Cullimore, Rob Scuderi and Sheldon Brookbank are just a few examples of such aged defensemen signed by Bowman over the years. If these names aren’t ringing a bell, it’s because these D-men had short and unproductive careers with the Blackhawks. I won’t even digress into Michal Rozsival here. His constant and baffling presence on the ‘Hawks’ roster is well known at this point.

However, perhaps the most egregious example of Bowman wrongly hanging his hat on an old defenseman was in 2015, when he brought in Kimmo Timonen to bolster the Blackhawks’ blue line heading into the playoffs.

Needless to say, at 40 years old and recovering from blood clots, Timonen’s tour on the ‘Hawks was an absolute and utter bust. That, coupled with the season-ending injury Rozsival suffered in the first round (go figure), meant the rest of the Blackhawks defensive ranks had to rack up an obscene amount of minutes to compensate.

May 23, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Anaheim Ducks right wing Corey Perry (10) and Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Kimmo Timonen (44) collide with goalie Corey Crawford (50) during the first period in game four of the Western Conference Final of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
May 23, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Anaheim Ducks right wing Corey Perry (10) and Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Kimmo Timonen (44) collide with goalie Corey Crawford (50) during the first period in game four of the Western Conference Final of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

Issues continue to persist

We know the determination and near-supernatural endurance of the ‘Hawks D eventually helped win the Stanley Cup that season, but suffice to say, this year looks like Bowman finally paid the price for such a poor decision to acquire Timonen, as the Blackhawks blue line looked like it was running on empty right out of the gate in the playoffs.

Now to be fair to Bowman, it’s harder to accurately identify developing defensemen than forwards. By their very nature, defensemen take longer to incubate in the minors, and who they’re paired with has far more effects on their play than forwards, who are used to getting mixed and matched. Thus, it’s easier to find defensive veterans who temporarily maintain the integrity of the defense as a whole.

However, this year’s catastrophic defensive failures in the playoffs should make it resoundingly clear to Bowman that such a strategy is not going to work anymore, given the amount of wear and tear the Blackhawks D has accumulated.

Nov 5, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Gustav Forsling (42) skates against the Dallas Stars during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Blackhawks defeat the Stars 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Gustav Forsling (42) skates against the Dallas Stars during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Blackhawks defeat the Stars 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

So what’s the solution?

Herein lies the Blackhawks and Bowman’s real predicament.

Bowman’s eye for talent on the offensive side of the puck, so far anyway, hasn’t translated into spotting young defensemen in his farm system. While they are still relatively young, the likes of Trevor van Riemsdyk, Viktor Svedberg, Ville Pokka and Gustav Forslig haven’t exactly been turning heads. In other words, they aren’t the immediate solution.

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Therefore, Bowman needs to do two things to get the Blackhawks’ defensive game back on track in the near future.

First, he needs to take a good long look at the available defensemen free agents in their prime this offseason and identify who would be the best fit (if he can swallow his pride, I’d go as far as to recommend he hire a talent consultant to help this selection process). Second, he needs to be willing to pay for them.

Now the latter is part of the solution that will not be easy, and some sacrifices will have to be made, likely along the lines of giving up one or more of the Blackhawks’ breakout offensive stars of this past season (i.e. Ryan Hartman and/or Nick Schmaltz).

However, hard of a trigger this will be to pull, Bowman needs to understand that his team’s defensive corps is all but decimated, and while offense wins games, defense wins championships, period. Furthermore, Bowman should take solace that his track record of spotting promising offensive talent can replenish such losses.

Next: ’Hawks' Youth Outreach Continues With Roller Rink

The good news here is that if ever there was someone who can pull of some amazing offseason transactional magic to land one, if not two capable defensemen, it’s Stan Bowman. That, after all, is another talent he’s come to be known for at the helm of the Chicago Blackhawks.

FOR THE DAGGER!

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