LOS ANGELES — Stan Bowman believes the Blackhawks, as currently constituted, can win the Stanley Cup.
“I do, yeah,” he told the Sun-Times before Wednesday’s game against the defending champion Kings at Staples Center. “I like our team.”
Good thing, too. Because there isn’t a heck of a lot he can do to change it at this point.
The March 2 trade deadline is less than five weeks away, and Bowman doesn’t figure to be a major player. With the Hawks right up against the salary cap — especially with Kris Versteeg and Trevor van Riemsdyk coming off long-term injured reserve in the near future — the only way Bowman could bring in an NHL player is to deal away an NHL player. And that’s just not something he’s looking to do, barring any unforeseen injuries.
“We’re not looking at the trade deadline as a time we’re going to change our team and trade a significant player away,” Bowman said. “In order to make a deal, it’s going to be money for money. So to bring in a player, you’d have to give up somebody who’s a regular in your lineup. … If we get back to completely healthy, then there might be a smaller move. But I’m not looking at the trade deadline as a big moment.”
It’s a familiar refrain for Bowman this time of year. Last year, he acquired defenseman David Rundblad, who was a non-factor down the stretch and in the postseason before finally getting a bigger role this season. And in 2013, he acquired Michal Handzus, a consistent healthy scratch for the San Jose Sharks who turned into the Hawks’ second-line center for a Stanley Cup run. The Hawks gave up draft picks, not players, in both deals.
So while other contenders are looking for that missing piece that’ll put them over the top — think St. Louis trading for goaltender Ryan Miller last spring — Bowman can once again take a more relaxed approach to February. It’s a luxury few general managers have.
“Ideally, that’s what everyone would like to do, right?” he said. “It’s a double-edged sword. Teams that have a lot of cap space typically have some holes they need to fill. It is nice to have some stability and to have the group here that’s been together and familiar with each other. They’ve won. You have a few new faces, and a lot of young guys that are knocking on the door. I think going forward, that’s really how we’d like to handle this every year. I don’t want to be a team that’s trying to use [the trade deadline] to salvage your season. It’s better to be in the situation where you like your group.”
The decisions won’t be so easy this summer, however. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on Saturday that he expects next year’s salary cap will be $71.7 million if the Canadian dollar holds at its current value of 80 cents. There are fears, though, that it could plunge to as low as 71 cents as oil prices continue to fall. The Hawks currently have 15 players locked up next year at a little less than $66 million. That doesn’t include restricted free agent Brandon Saad, who will command a massive raise this summer (Bowman said there’s no doubt Saad will be back).
That leaves the very realistic possibility that Bowman will have to move a high-priced core piece or two. He’s done it before — Dave Bolland after the 2013 season, and half the roster after the 2010 season. Bowman said he’s not sweating the cap, because he has no control over it. But he said the team has several contingency plans, and that it’s his job to plan not just for this summer, but for several years ahead.
Bowman looks at it the same way he looks at how the salary cap affects his maneuverability at the trade deadline — a first-world problem, and one most of his colleagues would love to have.
“When you have a lot of good players, they make money, and they get raises,” he said. “And something has to give, right? That’s still a better situation to be in than searching for players. The alternative is not great, where you’ve got no cap issues but you don’t have a good team. It’s the system we play under. It’s nothing to really be too upset about or concerned about. It’s the same rules for all the teams, and we’ll be OK.”