Stan Bowman, the vice president/general manager of the Blackhawks, chooses to remain in the background. But National Hockey League insiders frequently hail the job he has done in building a deep roster through trades, draft choices and free agent acquisitions -- not all of which created headlines.
During the Stanley Cup Final, Bowman sat down with chicagoblackhawks.com for an extended interview. Here is Part 1:
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Verdi: Rocky Wirtz, the chairman, said the other day that the Blackhawks will not be forced to make roster changes similar to those that occurred because of the salary cap following the 2009-10 season. Could you elaborate?
Bowman: That's correct. The circumstances are different. Although the salary cap will go down for 2013-14, we are in better shape now than we were then because most of our players are signed. Not all, but most. Remember, too, the last time we had three of our best players -- Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith -- who were going from around $1 million each to around $6 million each. When you have three guys who each receive $5 million raises, that has a huge impact.
Verdi: But you do have some players you want to sign for new contracts who deserve raises.
Bowman: Of course. We won't have the identical team next year that we have now, but we have looked ahead. We have an idea what it will take to sign the players we want to sign, but at this point, we don't know exactly. Looking at our projections, we are optimistic that we will be able to keep the players we want to keep.
Verdi: Are we to assume the same players you want to keep are the same ones fans are worried about losing?
Bowman: Probably. Bryan Bickell is an unrestricted free agent. Nick Leddy is restricted with no arbitration rights. Same as Marcus Kruger. When players like the latter two have no arbitration rights, obviously the club that has them has more leverage.
Verdi: Would it be fair to say Bickell is your primary concern?
Bowman: He's one. Ray Emery, Michal Rozsival and Viktor Stalberg are also unrestricted. They all control their destiny. They can decide where they want to play and for how much.
Verdi: OK, fans are worried that Bickell will get a huge offer from Team X and be gone.
Bowman: Well, we're hoping not to let it get that far. He's our player until free agency begins on July 1. And you can't sign a player before July 5. We would like to get something done with Bryan before then, but we are not negotiating now. We're in the Stanley Cup Final, and we want him to focus on that. There will be time after that to negotiate.
Verdi: When Niklas Hjalmarsson was in a similar position as Leddy after your 2010 Cup victory, he received an offer sheet from the San Jose Sharks and you matched it. Could that scenario happen again?
Bowman: It's possible. We've talked to his agent in the past, and we decided to wait until the playoffs are over. Same thing. We want our guys to concentrate on the playoffs, and so do they.
Verdi: Both Bickell and Leddy have expressed a desire to stay with the Blackhawks. Does that matter?
Bowman: I think so. We've got a good thing going here, and hopefully our guys realize that. As for Bickell, we've come a long way with him. He's been with us for seven years, and we've helped him develop. He's comfortable here with the environment and his role, and he's certainly progressed as a player. Of course, the dollar amount has to satisfy him, but our intent is to offer a contract that will be to his liking. Our plan is to work with him before free agency, as I said. He and his agent can take it, or they can decide to wait.
Verdi: Why is the salary cap going down next year?
Bowman: It was negotiated in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. We had a shortened season, so the revenues were less than you would have in a regular season. If you went by the letter of the law, because the revenues were down, the cap would be well below what it will be, which is $64.3 million. With a full season next year, it could go to $75 million. The cap this year was $70.2 million, based on the previous season.
Verdi: But if you aren't playing games during a lockout, you aren't incurring the cost of player salaries. So why does the cap go down?
Bowman: Because it's based on revenue. Hockey related revenue: HRR. If you aren't playing games, you aren't taking in revenue. Again, if they had stuck strictly to the formula after the lockout, the cap would have been maybe $45 or $50 million. Obviously, that was an issue. So the number that was negotiated turned out to be $64.3 million.
Verdi: After what happened following the 2010 Cup, you have done a remarkable job of replenishing the roster. Three years ago, when we asked you to name one player who nobody knew about, but who was on your radar, you mentioned Kruger.
Bowman: Well, first of all, what we do here is not just me, but our staff. Kruger, as you've seen, has become a very valuable player who has contributed to our depth. He's probably destined to be unappreciated. He's extremely smart, but his talent comes across in so many subtle ways. He does a lot of dirty work that maybe people don't really notice until he's on a stage like the Stanley Cup playoffs, but we see it throughout the year. Everybody in the world is watching us now in June and raving about our penalty killing. But Marcus has been doing that since January.
Verdi: You wouldn't look at Kruger and think of him as someone who does the "dirty work."
Bowman: But if you know him, he's got great determination. He is very focused for a young kid, which you don't always see. Very serious. I can't stress how intelligent he is, as far as hockey goes. He has tremendous instincts out there. We look at Brandon Saad as very mature for being so young, but so is Marcus.
Editor's note: As part of an alliance with the Blackhawks, the Daily Herald will offer occasional features by Team Historian Bob Verdi, who writes for the team's website at www.chicagoblackhawks.com.