Great start or terrible, you’re judged in pro sports by how you finish.
The Blackhawks are on fire and no team in the NHL has approached their level of consistency thus far, but the NHL doesn’t hand out rings in February.
Still, GM Stan Bowman deserves a long-awaited pat on the back.
He has taken a beating in Chicago the last couple of years, unfairly so, after having to purge half a Cup-winning team due to salary-cap malpractice.
And even with teams knowing Bowman had to deal important pieces of the puzzle, he did manage to find some serviceable players who are developing into important cogs.
Bowman traded Cam Barker — a former No. 3 pick once billed as the next Denis Potvin — for Nick Leddy.
He traded Jack Skille — a former No. 7 pick once billed as the next Cam Neely — for Michael Frolik.
He traded second- and third-round picks a year ago for Johnny Oduya.
He traded Kris Versteeg for Viktor Stalberg.
He drafted Brandon Saad (second round) and Andrew Shaw (fifth round) in 2011, traded a second-round pick for Jimmy Hayes in 2010, and signed free agents Ray Emery, Jamal Mayers, Michal Rozsival, Dan Carcillo, Brandon Bollig and Sheldon Brookbank to relatively small-dollar deals.
Did Bowman get a perfect return in every one of these cases? Of course not, but he got something and that wasn’t easy.
Bowman’s record isn’t spotless and his stance on being able to win with small defensemen in the postseason gives one pause, but considering the cap restrictions he inherited, he has done a very nice job.
He chose keeping Niklas Hjalmarsson over Antti Niemi, and he managed to get his young core locked up while planning for a reduced cap number next season.
That core has now matured, and the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are ready to mount another run at a Stanley Cup.
This is pretty much the Detroit formula, and the Wings ran roughshod over the league for a long stretch.
Meanwhile, the spare parts are becoming much more than that, and they’ve bought into a team commitment to defense that has been smothering opponents through 15 games.
As for the defense itself, the addition of Oduya has changed the entire complexion of the team.
After Seabrook and Keith stand Oduya and Hjalmarsson. Oduya is so calm with the puck that Hjalmarsson is playing closer to his 2010 level than he has since the Hawks won it all.
Oduya’s presence has allowed Leddy to move to No. 5, where he can relax and focus on his game, while playing against bottom six forwards every night instead of the other team’s top two lines.
Rozsival has been a competent No. 6, Brookbank a seventh, and so Bowman has basically added Oduya, Rozsival and Brookbank, replacing Steve Montador, Sean O’Donnell, Dylan Olsen and Sami Lepisto.
Olsen has a good future, but for the time being those are major upgrades over last year, when the defense was in constant turmoil.
Sure, the Hawks are flashy offensively and their stars have been good, but that’s been the case the last two years and it got the Hawks nowhere.
They’re winning because of their defense, better goaltending and depth throughout the club, and Bowman has played a big part in reviving the roster.
The Hawks GM had a difficult job to do, and he has done it well.
No, they don’t let you dance with the Stanley Cup in February, but the Hawks’ future looks promising, both for this year and beyond.
And it’s about time Bowman got a little bit of credit.
ŸHear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.