With no postseason series wins in four years, no postseason appearances in two years, and a veteran team with big contracts it would not have been a huge shock if the Chicago Blackhawks decided to tear things down a little this offseason in an effort to start a new chapter for the organization.
Sure, some of the contracts remaining on the team are ugly in terms of the commitment and dollars still owed, and they are loaded with no-trade clauses, but there are always ways around all of that that. No contract is so bad that it can not be moved, clauses can be waived, deals can be bought out.
But instead of tearing down the core or making drastic changes to the foundation of the team, Bowman has instead doubled down on his championship core and worked to try and fix the flaws that existed around it.
- He signed Robin Lehner for one year to give the team a safety net in case Corey Crawford is limited by injuries or poor performance.
- He acquired veteran defenders Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan.
- He re-acquired Andrew Shaw from the Montreal Canadiens, continuing his longstanding trend of bringing back players he previously traded or lost to free agency.
- He made the bold and controversial decision to trade one the team’s top prospects — defender Henri Jokiharju — for what is probably a lesser prospect in Alexander Nylander.
By doing all of this, and by going after the type of players he did (mostly established veterans built to win now), he is pretty much telling the hockey world he still believes this Blackhawks team is good enough to compete and win this season. Maybe there is some reason for him to believe that. As long as a team has high-end players in its lineup the window will always remain cracked open and you never want to truly punt on a season as long as you still have that. And the Blackhawks certainly still have some of that element with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, and Duncan Keith at the top.
But it is still a big bet that is going to depend largely on what happens with the Crawford-Lehner duo in net, how much they can get out of their top-returning defenders, and if he acquired the right players to improve what has been one of the league’s worst defensive teams.
The issue for Bowman is going to come if he is wrong on these bets.
The Blackhawks have not come close to reaching the standard they set for themselves between 2010 and 2015 and have won just three total playoff games over the past four years (all coming in a Round 1 loss to the St. Louis Blues during the 2015-16 playoffs).
Given that the team has already fired a three-time Stanley Cup winning, future Hall of Fame coach within the past year we have probably reached the point where any continued lack of success is going to start falling on Bowman. He is the one that chose the direction of the team, he is the one that brought in the players that are supposed to help fix the problems, and it’s not like his recent track record of deals and moves is beyond reproach.
Everything about the Blackhawks’ offseason points to a team that thinks it can win this season.
If it doesn’t, it could be costly for the general manager.