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Bringing back Stan Bowman means Blackhawks committed to retooling, not rebuilding

Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz will reportedly retain Bowman, coach Jeremy Colliton and president John McDonough for the 2020-21 season.

General manager Stan Bowman, along with coach Jeremy Colliton, will reportedly return to the Blackhawks for the 2020-21 season.
General manager Stan Bowman, along with coach Jeremy Colliton, will reportedly return to the Blackhawks for the 2020-21 season.
Amr Alfiky/AP

The Blackhawks will be headed by the same three leaders — president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman and coach Jeremy Colliton — in 2020-21.

Hawks chairman Rocky Wirtz told The Athletic on Thursday that all three will “absolutely” return next season.

That news surely will upset a large portion of the fan base, which — angered by the inevitable third consecutive playoff miss that loomed before the NHL season shut down — had soured somewhat on Colliton and greatly on Bowman in recent months.

But one overlooked factor is that any GM change likely would also usher in an era of rebuilding.

At this point, Bowman has inseparably bonded himself with the retooling approach: making peripheral additions (Olli Maatta, Ryan Carpenter, etc.), utilizing the draft (Kirby Dach, Adam Boqvist, etc.) and favoring older and proven players over new and risky ones (Corey Crawford over Robin Lehner).

If Hawks ownership is happy with that structure, there’s no reason to part ways with Bowman, especially because that status-quo decision in itself aligns philosophically with Bowman’s aforementioned roster decisions.

If Hawks ownership had elected to make a change, the new GM almost certainly would have been enlisted to follow a different and more radical course than Bowman. Even if he wasn’t explicitly told to rebuild, he would have been foolish not to. That scenario likely would involve Crawford and Duncan Keith — among others — leaving the Hawks now, with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad not too far behind.

And that rebuilding period might have proved more frustrating for fans, and more destructive to the United Center’s sellout streak and the Hawks’ profits, than this ongoing yearning-for-past-glory stretch.

By keeping Bowman, Wirtz ensures the Hawks will stay the course, retain their aging (though still productive) core and seek to improve via short-term tinkering instead of tearing it down.

After all, that’s exactly how Bowman explained his philosophy when asked after the trade deadline last month.

“The one encouraging thing is just that Jonathan and Patrick, they’re having really good years even though they’re in their 30s,” he said in the middle of a longer response. “That’s helping us. We have some young players on the way; we’re trying to get some more. And when they start taking that step forward, hopefully our team can take a step forward.”

Retaining Colliton will likewise boost that philosophy, not only because Colliton was Bowman’s hand-picked choice two years ago, but also because Colliton has echoed much of the same rhetoric dozens of times this season.

That doesn’t mean the Hawks will remain the same next season, though.

Some jettisoning will be necessary this offseason (whenever that occurs) because of salary-cap concerns alone. Bowman is clearly committed to the youth movement in a way he wasn’t during the dynasty era, too.

He and Colliton spoke at length after the trade deadline about the importance of Dach and Boqvist’s development. Upcoming contracts for Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik presumably will flesh out the Hawks’ growing “young core,” which also includes players such as Alex DeBrincat and Connor Murphy. And rookies Nicolas Beaudin and Brandon Hagel impressed in their well-earned NHL debuts last week.

So, yes, the Hawks still will evolve over time.

But Thursday’s emphasized commitment to the franchise’s current leadership group does mean that evolution will occur at only a gradual pace.