Stan Bowman, vice president/general manager of the Blackhawks, has enacted several personnel maneuvers — draft choices, trades and free agent signings — to build the roster that brought the team to the ongoing Stanley Cup Final. Here is Part 2 of his extended interview with chicagoblackhawks.com.
Verdi: You mentioned Brandon Saad earlier. How is it that you were able to draft him in the second round, 43rd overall, in 2011?
Bowman: He has an October birthday, so he just missed the previous year’s draft by about a month. If he had been drafted then, he would have been a really high pick. Very well-regarded. But he got injured in December at Saginaw, after a great start, and kept playing but wasn’t that productive. He could have taken time off. He dropped in the draft as a consequence, but we didn’t forget what he had done. We were fortunate to get him in the second round. Lucky.
Verdi: Branch Rickey said, “Luck is the residue of design.” Surely your drafting of Saad meant doing some homework.
Bowman: We talked with his coaches to find out everything we could about him. And he has surpassed our expectations, fitting in the way he has.
Verdi: Did you get “lucky” again with Andrew Shaw? You drafted him in the fifth round, 139th overall, in 2011 after he got passed up in two previous drafts.
Bowman: We projected him to be a feisty, smaller version of Brandon Bollig. Andrew, too, has surpassed what we envisioned for him. He’s obviously become more than a role player.
Verdi: Two drafts of 210 picks each year. Seven rounds, 30 teams. That’s 420 plus 139 equals the 559th selection. And he’s now standing in front of the net with guys twice his size.
Bowman: We’ve kind of changed our philosophy. There’s a stigma if you are eligible to be drafted at 18, then aren’t drafted and go back to junior hockey. Even if you have a good year the next year, the stigma is that, well, yeah, but he’s a year older than the other guys. Or two years older than guys who are 17. So Shaw, who had a good year when he was 20, was dealing with that idea that he was older than everybody else he was playing with and against.
Verdi: You bucked the trend, then?
Bowman: Well, if a guy is good, he’s good. Marcus Kruger, same thing. He went through one draft. He was 19, not 18, when he was picked. We don’t care about a guy’s birth certificate. We saw both Shaw and Kruger as NHL players. They’re still very young.
Verdi: Are the Blackhawks alone in this philosophy?
Bowman: I don’t want to say we do it exclusively. But we were one team willing to draft older guys. We put Shaw in the American Hockey League and he was so good that we had to sign him to an NHL contract. He came to Chicago right away and never looked back. He’s fearless, he’s been told he’s too small, and he’s got a chip on his shoulder. Very competitive.
Verdi: You were not in the final three candidates for general manager of the year. Yet your team is in the Stanley Cup Final again. Does that bother you?
Bowman: No, not really. I’m not going to say I don’t care, because that diminishes the award. It might be similar to coach of the year. Maybe voters look at those who had the farthest to go. If you aren’t with a good team, and you make great strides, maybe that’s a factor. Now, that said, Ray Shero of Pittsburgh won the GM award. The Penguins are good, and he made a lot of transactions, particularly at the deadline. You can’t say he doesn’t deserve it.
Verdi: But you made transactions too, although more subtle.
Bowman: Yes, and not all transactions are acquisitions. We re-signed Ray Emery, Johnny Oduya and Daniel Carcillo before they became free agents. People might think, well, we already had them. But they could have gone on the market and we didn’t want them to. Michael Frolik we signed to an extension last summer, and he’s been a valuable player. Some moves you make don’t get much recognition, which is fine.
Verdi: Like Michal Rozsival?
Bowman: We signed him as a free agent in September, but it was just before the lockout. So that didn’t get much notice, either. And Michal Handzus, whom we acquired just at the trade deadline. If we don’t get a lot of fanfare over certain moves we’ve made, that doesn’t bother me. As long as the people we acquire fit in, which they have.
Verdi: Oduya was acquired in a deal for two draft choices and Nick Leddy came from Minnesota in exchange for Cam Barker. Two of the more valuable parts of the roster. I guess you’ve been really lucky.
Bowman: It’s not me. Ultimately, I have the final decision. But what we have here is a tremendous staff, coaches and scouts — pro and amateur. They work hard, and we do our best to gather information and make the right decisions.”
Verdi: After the Blackhawks were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round for a second consecutive time last April, you retained virtually the entire roster. Did you hear criticism about that?
Bowman: I was aware of it. But in this business, you have to take emotion out of the equation and look at facts. We had a good team last year. We had 101 points. That isn’t luck. We played five overtimes in six games against Phoenix, so it’s not like we got swept or weren’t in the games. When things settled down, we felt that we had most of the right people in place. We needed some guys to step up to another level, and we needed a few changes. As it turned out, our guys showed at training camp in January ready to go, and we started the season with that amazing streak.
Verdi: Corey Crawford?
Bowman: There’s a guy who stepped up. He had a fantastic season for us and has played well in the playoffs. People questioned him after he let in a couple of bad goals against Phoenix. But go back a year, when he was so good, basically got us into the playoffs and then almost won that series against Vancouver. That’s not a fluke. He became the No. 1 goaltender and played like it. It’s a process for goalies. He’s been with our organization since we drafted him and he’s progressed nicely. The fluke to me is the two goals he let in against Phoenix that everybody was talking about. That’s a very small sample size against a greater body of work. You can’t react to what people are saying on the outside about you or the moves you make. You have to do what you think is right.
Verdi: After the second period of Game 6 in Detroit a few weeks ago, you didn’t look like a very happy man. Now, you’re in the Final.
Bowman: We were down 3-2 in the series and 2-1 in that game. Corey had let in a tough goal, but we were playing well. People forget that he made a great save right after. It could have been 3-1. We won the series. That whole scenario just underscores how incredibly difficult it is to win in the playoffs. There is such a fine line. In Game 7 against Detroit, they had a number of chances to end it. Corey was great. Such a fine line.
Verdi: What is your stance on sending NHL players to the 2014 Winter Olympics?
Bowman: Well, I have no say other than I am on the board for the USA. We could send a few players from the Blackhawks to Sochi. Patrick Kane, maybe Nick Leddy. Last time in 2010, we sent six overall. With Canada, Slovakia and Sweden, we might send even more next year. If you go, the break affects the NHL schedule, of course, and there is always the risk of injury. But it’s a great event and players love playing in it for their country.
Verdi: You spoke to Kane during the series against the Los Angeles Kings, correct?
Bowman: Yes, after Game 3, which we lost. It was nothing tactical. Patrick was at a point where he was saying he should be playing better and he was watching tapes with his father about what he was doing wrong. I just reminded him that he’s one of the best players in the world, and just because he wasn’t scoring, that didn’t mean he wasn’t playing well. The sheet doesn’t tell everything, but goal-scorers like to score goals. Amazing how world-class athletes can lose confidence from time to time, but it happens.
Verdi: You’ve heard it before. Unlike 2010, this is “your team.”
Bowman: I do hear that a lot, but it’s based on a false premise. There are group contributions to all teams. For it to be said this is “my team” implies I make all the decisions when, in fact, we have a great staff finding players and great coaches developing them. I own my decisions, but I am not a one-man band here. Quality people are everywhere.
Verdi: Including a legend, your father Scotty.
Bowman: I don’t know that anyone will ever match his success or longevity. He’s almost 80, still incredibly sharp and always watching hockey. Having him around is a great resource. We wouldn’t be where we are without him. There are countless ways he helps us. He has a home in Florida. But in the middle of the winter, he spends a lot of time with our Rockford farm club. He’s a tremendous asset to our entire organization. I’m very lucky.
Verdi: That word again. You’ve seen a dramatic revival for hockey and the Blackhawks in Chicago.
Bowman: There were some dark times. It appeared that there wasn’t a lot of hope. But then Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane came aboard. And almost concurrently, Rocky Wirtz and John McDonough took over. We connected with our fans. The team got really good. We won a Cup. You never want to go back to what it was before. This is what it’s all about. Especially the fans. Without them, we have nothing. We have a hobby.
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.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.