SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Blackhawks say winger Drake Caggiula clicked with them immediately, but technically that’s not true. Before they could get on the same page hockeywise, they had to get on the same phone line.
When the Hawks got Caggiula from the Oilers in December, general manager Stan Bowman had an outdated cell number for him and couldn’t reach him.
The silence mystified both sides. Caggiula was told he’d hear from Bowman and started to wonder if the whole thing was a prank. Bowman thought perhaps Caggiula wasn’t returning his call because he was angry about being dealt.
Once they finally connected, it took a week to secure a work visa before Caggiula got on the ice. Only after all that did he and the Hawks see they were a match.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity I’ve been given, and I’m trying to make the most of that,” said Caggiula, who missed the game Sunday in San Jose because of a concussion. “Hopefully I stick around as long as possible. That’d be a great thing.”
Bringing in Caggiula was one of three gems for Bowman in an otherwise quiet season on the trade front. He plays on the Hawks’ top line, and Bowman got him for next to nothing: little-used defenseman Brandon Manning and an overseas prospect.
Bowman’s most profitable move was a November deal with the Coyotes that brought in former No. 3 pick Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini for Nick Schmaltz. Strome is the Hawks’ second-line center and ranks fourth in points (39) since coming aboard.
Shortly after landing Caggiula, Bowman unloaded Jan Rutta to get defenseman Slater Koekkoek from the Lightning in a deal that also swapped the Hawks’ upcoming seventh-round pick for a fifth. Koekkoek couldn’t get ice time on Tampa Bay’s loaded roster, but he has played 16:19 per game for the Hawks.
Strome, Caggiula and Koekkoek have filled holes but also could be long-term contributors. All are 25 or younger and have made an impression on coach Jeremy Colliton that they “absolutely” could be part of the Hawks’ future.
“They fit where we want this team to go,” Colliton said. “They’re willing to do whatever it takes so the team can win.”
Strome, Koekkoek and Perlini were top-12 draft picks, and Caggiula was a coveted college free agent after leading North Dakota to a national championship in 2016. Each has a reason why things didn’t work out with his original team, and each is young enough to turn his career around.
It’s a new era for the Hawks, who didn’t need reclamation projects during their run as a contender. If Bowman can find the right guys and Colliton can develop them, it’ll accelerate the rebuild.
In the case of Caggiula, who originally spurned the Hawks to sign with the Oilers, he went from dysfunction in Edmonton to an ideal work environment under Colliton.
“The biggest thing for me is an organization believing in the way I play and allowing me to do the things that I’m capable of doing,” Caggiula said. “My role here has been laid out clearly for me, and I’m able to play loose. I’m not feeling like I’m walking on eggshells.
“In Edmonton, if you made a play, it was great, but if I didn’t make the play, I felt like I was going to be punished for it. Now if I make a mistake, I can learn from it and move on.”
Strome made a similar comment about his time with the Coyotes, and that’s a credit to Colliton.
If the Hawks are going young and need a coach patient enough to ride out the choppiness as those players develop, he appears more suited for the job than Joel Quenneville. Colliton knows that phase well after coaching Rockford in the AHL, and now he’s applying it in the NHL.