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Brandon Saad (right) and Jonathan Toews have combined for nine goals and seven assists through nine games. (AP Photo)

Stan Bowman pleased with early returns from offseason overhaul

SHARE Stan Bowman pleased with early returns from offseason overhaul
SHARE Stan Bowman pleased with early returns from offseason overhaul

LAS VEGAS — After dramatically making over his team during an offseason that was far too long for his liking, general manager Stan Bowman was as curious as everyone else to see how the new-look Blackhawks would handle a brutal eight-game stretch against playoff teams to open the season.

While Bowman’s job is to always play the long game, not sweating the short term, he’s clearly pleased with how his wheeling and dealing has played out so far.

“Coming out of the gate with some tough opponents, it was not an easy schedule,” Bowman said Tuesday in his first remarks since training camp opened. “So to be where we are now, we’re happy. But we have a lot of hockey left.”

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He surely was less happy a few hours later, after the Hawks had lost 4-2 to the expansion Golden Knights. The Knights, now a stunning 7-1-0, dominated most of the game, playing simple and direct. John Hayden’s early short-handed goal and Patrick Kane’s late goal were the only tallies for the Hawks, who were misfiring on passes all night, were outshot for the seventh time in 10 games and went 0-for-3 on the power play. In his first NHL start, Oscar Dansk, the Golden Knights’ third-string goalie, made 29 saves, including a huge stop on Kane on a 2-on-1 in the second period and another on Patrick Sharp on a breakaway in the third.

Bowman made it clear in a fire-and-brimstone news conference last April — just two days after the top-seeded Hawks were swept out of the playoffs by the Predators — that change was coming in a big way. The biggest move was reacquiring Brandon Saad from the Blue Jackets, a deal that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus. Saad has made a significant difference in the Hawks’ lineup, helping to fill Marian Hossa’s skates while elevating Jonathan Toews back to his prime levels.

After two seasons as largely a one-line team, the Hawks have two dynamic scoring lines again.

“I don’t know if it’s refreshed or energized or what it is, but [Toews] really has been effective,” Bowman said. “[Richard Panik] has had a good start, too. They’re all big guys. They all have good speed and skill. They force the issue for the other team, and it’s tricky. I don’t know how you play that line, really. It’s hard to shut them down.”

Bowman’s thesis in the wake of the Predators series was that the Hawks weren’t hard enough to play against — that they were passive and didn’t exact a toll on opponents. He pointed to the new rough-and-tumble fourth line as an element the Hawks wanted. He said he was particularly happy with the young players making the next step, particularly Nick Schmaltz, who he said is primed for a breakout year. And even Bowman has been pleasantly surprised by 19-year-old Alex DeBrincat. He said he figured DeBrincat would play in Chicago at some point this year, but he didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.

For the first time in a long time, the Hawks have some salary-cap flexibility, thanks to Hossa being on long-term injured reserve. Bowman is looking at it as something of a rainy-day fund in case of an injury or poor play. But with two capable defensemen and a solid forward sitting every night, with Vinnie Hinostroza tearing it up in Rockford (four goals and five assists in nine games), and with Northeastern senior Dylan Sikura leading the NCAA in scoring (Bowman called him “our trade-deadline guy” because he’ll likely join the team in March), the Hawks are in no rush to make any more changes.

An offseason of change was plenty.

“We’ve got a lot of good players that are sitting out every night, so I don’t know if we’re going to be acquiring another player,” he said. “I’m not, like, itching to make a trade.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

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