Analysis

A Look Back: Bowman's Tenure in Chicago

Stan Bowman at the 2017 NHL Draft
Stan Bowman at the 2017 NHL Draft / Jonathan Daniel/GettyImages
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Stan Bowman, the former General Manager of the Blackhawks, definitely left his mark on the struggling franchise. Serving as GM from July 2009 until October 2021, Blackhawks’ fans had mixed feelings on Stan Bowman’s tenure in the Windy City. With free agency beginning, I believe it is appropriate to review, analyze, and critique Stan Bowman’s worst transactions and acquisitions in his career with the Hawks.

Breadman to Columbus

Beginning with the infamous Artemi Panarin trade. Panarin—now a highly-touted point scorer and superstar for the New York Rangers—was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets by Bowman on June 23rd, 2017. At the time, the Hawks were coming off a sweep in the first-round of the playoffs, courtesy of the Nashville Predators. The Blackhawks, being the top seed in the Western Conference of the NHL heading into the 2017 playoffs, had high hopes against the second-wildcard Predators. Hope that was immediately squandered when Preds took a commanding two-to-nothing series lead following consecutive wins in games one and two in Chicago. Two more miserable games later, and the Blackhawks were sent into the off-season earlier than they would have liked.

With salary cap issues looming, Bowman traded emerging-superstar Panarin, along with Tyler Motte and a 2017 sixth-round pick, to the Blue Jackets for Anton Forsberg, a 2018 fifth-round pick, and Brandon Saad. Saad was formerly a Hawk, winning two Stanley Cups with the team in 2013 and 2015. Two years prior to the Panarin trade—following the Blackhawks’ 2015 Stanley Cup win—Saad, along with minor leaguers Alex Broadhurst and Michael Paliotta, were shipped to Columbus for Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp, and a 2016 4th-round pick. Anisimov was the only significant player gained by the Hawks in this trade, however, it was not enough to fill the void left by Saad. So why was the initial, “Saad to Columbus'' trade made? The same reason the Panarin trade happened: money. The salary cap bug has bitten numerous GMs, forcing them to reluctantly make trades that will keep them under the cap. In Bowman’s circumstance, he signed Panarin to a two-year bridge deal worth $6 million. Knowing Panarin would continue to develop, Bowman would have to pay even more in the future to keep Panarin. Unfortunately, this would not be possible; the Blackhawks’ money was tied up by massive contracts. Though, the Blackhawks could have afforded Panarin’s contract as it had the same value as Saad’s contract: $6 million. It’s strange, why did Bowman move Panarin when they could still afford him? Today, many Hawks fans are still scratching their heads over the transaction. Panarin’s two-year bridge deal was set to begin in the 2017-18 season, yet, he was traded before it even began.

Teuvo to Carolina

Similar to Panarin’s situation, Teravainen had an entry-level deal that would expire after the 2016-2017 season. Prior to this situation, Teuvo was another developing player with big aspirations. Winning a Stanley Cup in his first “full” season as an NHL player, the Finn was destined for greatness. However, being young and talented, Teuvo was due for a pay raise once his contract ended. Unable to pay for Teravainen, Bowman shipped Bryan Bickell—who was carrying a $4,000,000 contract—and Teuvo Teravainen to the Carolina Hurricanes, in exchange for a 2016 second-round pick and a 2017 third-round pick. With those two picks, Bowman selected Artur Kayumov and Keith Petruzzelli, two players who would never appear on an NHL roster. Looking at Teravainen’s production now, he is a near point-per-game player for the Carolina Hurricanes. It’s unfortunate that the Blackhawks got virtually no return, aside from cap relief, for such a prominent player. There should be no surprise, though, as this is the result of a General Manager tying up tens of millions on a few players.

The Big Contracts

A 13-year deal to Duncan Keith is an example of a signing that haunted the Blackhawks down the line. Yes, Keith was an exceptional defenseman. However, a $72 million contract that carries into the next decade is not appealing to the salary cap. Bowman signed this contract knowing Keith was already in his prime, and that he would account for $5.5 million of the team’s salary cap until 2023. In 2021, Keith was showing obvious signs of regression, and still had two years left in his deal. Luckily, Bowman managed to trade Keith to Edmonton, relieving the Blackhawks of his contract. Until just a few days ago, when Keith retired with one year remaining on his contract. This penalizes the Blackhawks, forcing them to forfeit $5.5 million in 2022-23, and $1.9 million in 2023-24.

Brent Seabrook inked a $6.875 million contract in late 2015. Seabrook was pushing 30 years old when he signed this hefty deal, so why was it even offered? Bowman surrendered nearly $7 million of the salary cap to a player who would soon exit his prime. Not only did Seabrook perform poorly due to aging, but he also retired half-way into his contract. Bowman traded Seabrook’s contract to the Lightning in the 2021 offseason, allowing Tampa to use Seabrook as cap relief. Conversely, the Blackhawks took on $5 million by acquiring Tyler Johnson in the trade.

Jonathan Toews is a treasure to the city of Chicago. Unfortunately, he is now one of the most overpaid players in the NHL. It is understandable that the Blackhawks needed to pay Toews a large sum in order to keep him in the Windy City, but now, $10.5 million seems like a severe overpayment. Even at the time, when Toews was in the middle of his prime, he was not worth $10.5 million. Toews’s contract is in the territory of players like Mitch Marner, Aleksander Barkov, and Nikita Kucherov. Kyle Davidson—Bowman’s successor—is blowing up the team in an attempt to rebuild, but it has been impossible to find suitors for Toews with his massive contract. 

Contracts like the ones Toews, Seabrook, and Keith received are the reason the Blackhawks could not afford to keep talented young players, and were forced to trade them away. These contracts have also been a huge factor in impeding the rebuild, as the Blackhawks might not have enough cap space to take in unwanted contracts for draft picks, or even sign appealing players in free agency.

Overnight Rebuild Attempt

When time expired in the third period on August 18th, 2020, the Blackhawks undeserving playoff run had concluded. Lasting an unprecedented nine games, reality would soon come back to the Blackhawks after being eliminated by the Golden Knights in five games. Before the pandemic in March 2020, the Blackhawks were on pace to miss the playoffs for the third straight season. However, the “bubble” format permitted the Blackhawks a chance to return to the postseason. 

Two months after their elimination from the playoffs, the Blackhawks released a statement. The message was published on October 20th, 2020, and emphasized the idea that the Blackhawks were officially rebuilding. This was long overdue, considering the team had an awful pair of seasons in 2018 and 2019. With a young and new roster on the rise, there were no positive expectations for the Blackhawks’ 2021 season.

Short of Corey Crawford and Jonathan Toews, it was time for a new era of Chicago hockey. When it came time to play on January 13th, 2021, the Blackhawks suffered a brutal 5-1 defeat to the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning. A few miserable losses later, it appeared that this was the destiny of 2021 Blackhawks: failure. However, to the surprise of many Blackhawks fans, the team started to win. The Hawks climbed the standings, and actually held a playoff spot for a decent period of time. Unfortunately, like the series loss to the Golden Knights, reality set in. Missing the playoffs by nine points, the 2021 season was over for the Hawks. 

Back to rebuilding, right? No. 24 wins was unexpected, but it was not an indicator to abandon the rebuild. Instead of continuing to trade away players for young prospects and draft picks—like a rebuilding team should do—Bowman sought to acquire players that would help the team gain immediate success. With Jonathan Toews returning as well, Bowman was set on the idea of granting Toews and Kane one final run. Bowman traded for Tyler Johnson and Marc-Andre Fleury, and signed Jake McCabe from free agency. These four transactions were valued at nearly $16 million. The Blackhawks did not need these expenses. Yet, the one transaction that truly set the Blackhawks’ rebuild back, was the infamous trade for Seth Jones.

Seth Jones

A young, rebuilding team does not need any big name players added to the roster. They need to let the prospects they have grow, and maybe even trade away some of their valuable players in order to build a future. Unfortunately, one specific general manager did not get this memo, and less than a year after releasing an official statement claiming the team was, “entering a rebuild,” traded a young and developing defenseman for a veteran with average statistics.

On July 12th, 2021, Hawks fans had to say a bittersweet goodbye to three-time Stanley Cup champion and Blackhawks legend, Duncan Keith. Keith was great in his prime, but as he aged, he regressed. It was apparent that Keith was no longer the fiend he once was in the 2010’s. So, Bowman shipped Keith to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for young defenseman, Caleb Jones. Honestly, a great trade. Caleb Jones is a solid, young defenseman with potential. With Caleb in a Hawks jersey, rumors started to buzz about older brother Seth joining the Chicago squad. The idea of Jones being traded out of Columbus had been an idea throughout the offseason, so the Caleb Jones acquisition did not start any rumors. The trade did, though, add a little flare. To think, the Jones brothers could be united in Chicago. This thought came to fruition on July 23rd, only 11 days after Caleb was acquired. Seth Jones was now a Blackhawk, garnering not one, but two first-round picks for the Blue Jackets: one in 2021 and one in 2022. Unfortunately for Hawks fans, this was not all. A 2021 second-round pick and young defenseman Adam Boqvist were packaged into the Jackets’ return. Boqvist may not have been the next Cale Makar, but he still had potential to become something greater than Seth Jones in Chicago, especially with the improvements he made in recent seasons. Having Jones on the roster is an immediate improvement, but this is not ideal for a rebuilding team. 

Jones had a rough, first year with the Blackhawks, but one season doesn’t define an entire career. On one hand, Jones had over 50 points. On the other hand, Jones recorded an awful plus-minus, and had a difficult time finding the back of the net. Even though Jones is a defenseman, there still is some expectation for him to score since he is labeled as an offensive defenseman. Jones definitely struggled in his own end, often losing coverage and occasionally looking lost positionally. Not to worry, there are still many years left on that unbelievable contract for Jones to improve. On the topic of his contract, $76 million, or $9.5 million over the span of eight years is an appropriate price tag for exceptional players with unique scoring or defending talent. It is not a price tag, however, for an above-average defenseman. Occupying roughly 12% of the team’s salary cap, Seth Jones’s contract will surely become a burden.

The Overnight Rebuild: Continued

By acquiring Jones, Fleury, McCabe, and Johnson, Bowman let players like Vinnie Hinostroza, Adam Gaudette, and Pius Suter walk. All three were relatively young and improving players that could be essential for the rebuild. Yet, Bowman chose veterans like Johnson, Fleury, and Seth Jones to try and bring immediate success to the Blackhawks. Success that never ended up existing. 

After a brutal season, the Blackhawks finished 27th in the entire league, missing the playoffs by a long-shot. This outcome makes Bowman’s attempt of rebuilding look foolish and indeed it was. Though Bowman left the organization in October 2021, the effects of this rushed rebuild will weigh down the Blackhawks for seasons to come. 

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