Chicago Blackhawks: saying one thing and doing another on rebuilding

Stan Bowman, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Stan Bowman, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Today in a press release (below) the Chicago Blackhawks stated that they were committed to helping the team regain its former glory. About time, right?

The statement said it will happen through acquiring and developing young talent, but there’s no timetable for this sort of thing. The problem is that this does not match recent moves or statements made by Chicago Blackhawks’ general manager, Stan Bowman.

Let’s start by saying that, on one hand, today’s press release is overdue. The Chicago Blackhawks haven’t been competitive in years, and fans have known the best days were behind the aging core. Transparency is all well and good, but it’s time to move on from all that. The time at the top for those Chicago teams from 2009-2015 was phenomenal, but that’s then.

The present-day conundrum is that there’s no way the team is rebuilding. After deciding not to re-sign Corey Crawford and trading both Brandon Saad and Olli Maatta, Chicago signed Mattias Janmark, Lucas Wallmark, Malcolm Subban, and Nikita Zadorov.

Three players left the organization, and four veterans were brought in. Of those four that were signed, the youngest, Zadorov and Wallmark, are 25-years-old. These aren’t rookies. Stan Bowman addressed what’s going on with the team during some interviews, such as a lengthy one with Mark Lazerus and Scott Powers of The Athletic.

Bowman basically says in the interview that the rebuild started a while ago, and while yes, the focus needs to be on developing young players, the veterans need more and better support.  That’s why players like Janmark, Wallmark, and even Zadorov were added to the lineup. This is nonsense though. Chicago has been pushing for the postseason every year and basically said so. Look at this quote Bowman made to Elliotte Friedman in 2018:

"That leads to another question: Are Bowman and the Blackhawks worried the window has slammed shut on that core? That they’ve played too much hockey and it has taken its toll?“It’s a common question I get, but I’m not sure I buy it,” he answered. “They haven’t played as much the last three years. The window concept… Look at Boston. Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci. They are older. Who predicted they would be at the level they are? It doesn’t happen to everyone, but there are players who maintain their level. Our guys are still incredible players, and we need to surround them with good young players. If we do that, there is no reason we can’t have more Cup runs. We are excited about where we are headed.”"

Either former president John McDonough told Bowman to say this, or Chicago’s GM actually believed it. To hear Bowman turn around and pretend like the current situation was by design is frankly dishonest. Chicago won the third overall pick (Kirby Dach), by circumstance. Giving the impression that those missed opportunities for the last several years were some sort of carefully orchestrated plan is garbage.

Which brings us to the current roster. Chicago’s press release spoke directly to the Blackhawks of tomorrow. Basically offering the sentiment, “one day, soon, the team will be good again.” Here is the full statement as posted on the team’s Twitter account.

The team wants to get younger and focus on grooming tomorrow’s stars, and even specifically used the word “rebuilding”. Sure, why not? However, just like going for it every year, but pretending like the rebuild has been on for years, the problem comes back to saying one thing and doing another.

Unless players start being shipped out, there’s no place in the roster for the team’s prospects. It’s hard to see which young players the organization wants to develop aside from Kirby Dach, Adam Boqvist, and maybe Alex Nylander. Aside from those few players, there’s no chance for the other soon-to-be Rockford IceHogs to crack the line-up. (The player’s ages have been placed in parenthesis to underscore how flawed the youth angle is here.)

Dach (19) – Toews (32) – Kubalik (25)
DeBrincat (22) – Strome (23) – Kane (31)
Janmark (27) – Wallmark (25) – Nylander (22)
Carpenter (29) – Kampf (25) – Highmore (24)

Keith (37) – Seeler (27)
De Haan (29) – Murphy (27)
Zadorov (25) – Boqvist (20)

Malcolm Subban (26), Collin Delia (26), and Kevin Lankinen (25)

Then there are other veteran players to make room for,  Andrew Shaw (29), Zack Smith (32), and Brent Seabrook (35).

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Strome has no contract, but because they extended him a qualifying offer it’s assumed a deal gets done at some point. These players arranged in what is theoretically a lineup for Chicago are who is signed according to CapFriendly. Today’s press release doesn’t reflect the current roster at all. There are six players under 25, but this is very similar to the lineup that was rolled out against Vegas. Where are you going to fit the other young guys that the team wants to develop? There’s no room on the roster, or the players are headed to the AHL.

The other problem with all of this is that the team still hasn’t hired a president. On August 17, 2020, Rocky Wirtz gave an interview on the Mully and Haugh show where he explicitly said that his son, Danny Wirtz, was only there on an interim basis. Chicago’s press release today is making a big statement about the team, and its future without anyone to actually preside over what’s going on. Decisions are being made, and someone is going to be stepping into the role of the team’s president after the re-build has begun. This doesn’t even make sense.

Additionally, the argument that this is all about saving money during down years doesn’t work either. The team is taking on salary, not shedding it. Unless there are players with big contracts shipped out, the team isn’t really saving any money at all.

Where does that leave things? More than a couple of people have pointed out, myself included, that if the team was going to start a rebuild, now is the time to do it. When you look at today’s statement compared to recent actions, Chicago does not at all look like a team that has a coherent plan. What they are doing and what they are saying does not match.

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On paper, it looks like the team still wants to compete, and has signed veterans to reinforce the depth.  This also means that there are fewer spots to develop younger players, which is the exact opposite of what Chicago said it was going to do moving forward.

The reality is, the team is probably going to lose a lot of games, and unless deals are going to be made to ship older players out in exchange for picks and/or prospects, this isn’t a rebuild. Who knows what it is, but it has very little to do with developing young talent, and it certainly won’t be about chasing the Stanley Cup. If anything this simply looks like is a missed opportunity.