General manager Stan Bowman looked up from his desk Monday, stared at the Zoom camera and uttered a sentence many Blackhawks fans long have awaited.
‘‘I’m not afraid to call it a rebuild,’’ he said.
One day later, the Hawks themselves used that eternally avoided word — ‘‘rebuild’’ — for the first time themselves in a consequential letter Tuesday to fans.
The letter outlines the Hawks’ youth-oriented plan to ‘‘learn how to win consistently’’ again in far clearer terms than management did in the confusion that surrounded the recent departures of goalie Corey Crawford and wing Brandon Saad.
‘‘We’re committed to developing young players and rebuilding our roster,’’ one portion of it reads. ‘‘We want to reach the summit again and stay there — an effort that will require a stockpile of emerging talent to complement our top players.’’
A message to Blackhawks fans. pic.twitter.com/7wBXrJPDQ1— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) October 20, 2020
Rather than ushering in a radically different team-building strategy, however, the letter is intended more to begin a new era of transparency between the Hawks’ front office and the outside world.
‘‘Really what’s different is just more of an open communication with the fans more so than a different approach to our team,’’ Bowman said.
Bowman took the first steps to fulfill that new promise of transparency during an exclusive hourlong interview Monday with the Chicago Sun-Times.
He opened up about his recent discussions with the Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane-Duncan Keith core, the behind-the-scenes negotiations and rationales that led to Crawford’s and Saad’s departures, the prospects the Hawks will turn to next season and more. Stories about those subjects will be published in the coming week.
First and foremost, however, Bowman talked about that one word from which the Hawks have — until now — so emphatically shied away.
‘‘We can call it a rebuild, but someone [might think], ‘Well, that must mean that this is then going to happen as a result,’ ’’ Bowman said. ‘‘That’s why people get tripped up on the word too much.’’
The Hawks’ letter harks back to a similar letter from the Rangers in February 2018, in which they warned fans they’d lose ‘‘guys we all care about and respect’’ during their rebuild. That ultimately wasn’t followed by a complete gutting of the roster, but a decent number of notable veterans — Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, Nick Holden — were shipped out.
Bowman quickly noted the Rangers’ 2018 and Hawks’ 2020 situations don’t align precisely, but the Hawks also don’t plan to follow their letter with a Sabres-like demolition of their core.
Toews, Kane and Keith will stay for the foreseeable future. Other established members of the roster will, too. In fact, it sounds as though most of the Hawks’ offseason departures already might be complete. Bowman said that recent trade talks have been ‘‘cursory’’ and that he’s ‘‘not necessarily looking to open up additional spots’’ in the lineup.
That said, the youth movement is definitely real.
‘‘We’re probably going to go with a smaller number of veterans, relative to some [Hawks] teams of the past,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘We’re going to skew on the younger side, but it’s not an all-or-nothing endeavor. We’re trying to surround those guys with a better supporting cast.’’
Skewing on the younger side will involve patience because not every prospect will develop as quickly as center Kirby Dach did last season. It also will require volume because not every prospect will end up developing at all.
‘‘We have to invest in six, seven, eight guys, knowing that not all of them are going to have the payoff two or three years down the road,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘If we only invest in one or two guys and that player, for whatever reason, doesn’t reach his potential, then we’re not in a very good spot.’’
It also will require more of a ‘‘team-first mentality’’ — a standout phrase in the letter — than Bowman and coach Jeremy Colliton think the 2019-20 Hawks displayed.
‘‘Part of the reason our team wasn’t as successful is guys have intentions to try to help the team win by scoring, but . . . when it doesn’t work, they put the rest of their teammates in a really bad spot,’’ Bowman said bluntly. ‘‘I don’t think it’s a selfish mentality . . . but it is important to communicate we’ve got to have more of a team approach.’’
Such straightforward descriptions of the front office’s thought processes and future plans rarely were disclosed during the Hawks’ Stanley Cup-winning ‘‘One Goal’’ era.
But for as different as the team-building philosophy has become, the Hawks’ communication policies supposedly are changing even more.
The decision to implement that change was driven in no small part by interim president Danny Wirtz, who has reimagined numerous aspects of the Hawks’ internal culture and structure since taking over for old-school predecessor John McDonough in April.
‘‘Danny’s a pretty dynamic person who sees the value in transparency and communication,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘In my discussions with him, I concurred. There’s a lot of value in trying to be more open about what we’re doing.
‘‘We owe it to the fans to do that. That probably hasn’t been a strength of ours in the past, but we’re not looking in the past; we’re looking from today forward. How can we do a better job communicating with [the media], as well as the fans, about the direction we’re headed, why we think it’s going to pay off and why there’s a reason to be excited?’’
That message won’t be received well by everyone. Bowman is aware a sizable portion of the fan base dislikes him and will wish the announcement Tuesday referred to his future rather than the team’s.
But he remains steadfast in his belief that he can return the Hawks to contention through this rebuild.
‘‘We were at the top of the mountain for a while,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘There’s peaks and valleys to an organization’s life cycle, and I like to think that we’ve already hit that valley and come back up. We’ve got a ways to go still, but I do think we’re heading back up.’’