General manager Stan Bowman’s quadruple espresso somehow wore off just in time.
After a frenzied offseason of transforming the Blackhawks’ roster, he appeared just as calm and stoic as usual Monday, discussing the many trades and signings as the action begins to subside.
“What we’re hoping for is a competitive team that’s pushing for the playoffs,” Bowman said. “That’s why we all do this. Certainly, some years it’s more likely than others . . . [and] this year, we’re looking to take a step forward. There’s a lot of reason for excitement and optimism.”
Less than a year ago, Bowman spent a busy week waving the white flag on the team’s aimless maneuvering from 2017 to 2019 and committing to a more cohesive, targeted rebuild.
He insists that rebuild is still happening, still building, still the plan. But there’s no denying it drastically changed tone this summer, flipping from the cautious, prospect-oriented method coach Jeremy Colliton led last season to an aggressive, acquisition-oriented, all-hands-on-deck approach.
Bowman admitted this summer’s spending spree — which has brought in Marc-Andre Fleury, Seth Jones, Caleb Jones, Jake McCabe, Tyler Johnson, Jujhar Khaira and counting — wasn’t exactly “mapped out back in October.” But the Hawks’ offloading then was apparently intended to “set up an environment” to make this possible now.
“We’ve been trying to position ourselves to have flexibility to be nimble enough to make strategic additions at the right time,” he said. “But it doesn’t really change the path we’re on. We still want to continue to see our young players grow. If anything, we’re trying to surround those players with stronger players to give our team more confidence that we can grow as a group.”
Indeed, most of those young players are still around — with the notable exception of Pius Suter, for whom Bowman said there “wasn’t really a match” in financial negotiations. But they won’t be the focal points, at least externally, of the expected roster.
In one interesting response, Bowman described Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach and Johnson as providing a “real solid foundation” of centers to build the forward lines around.
That raised a few follow-up questions. Has Toews’ status changed? It hasn’t, Bowman said, because “things are looking good,” but he and the Hawks “don’t know where it’s going to be” in September.
And why wasn’t Dylan Strome, who ended last season disgruntled about his playing time and has spent much of the summer in trade rumors, listed among that group? Bowman admitted Strome has “played probably his best hockey at center,” but the Hawks have “a lot of centers — some are going to be playing on the wing, and that’s OK.”
Bowman shot down the theory that the Hawks will need to make a trade to clear salary-cap space now that Fleury’s $7 million hit officially sits on the books.
“We won’t have to make any moves,” he said. “We might make a move if we think it makes sense for the future of the team, but we’re in a good situation relative to the salary cap. We have some flexibility there with how we compose our roster for the opening night.”
He implied that Andrew Shaw’s contract will be put on long-term injured reserve, and his comments also lent credence to the idea that Brett Connolly’s contract could be buried in the AHL — a transaction that would free up an additional $1.075 million.
The Hawks still need to (and will) re-sign and fit in restricted free agents Brandon Hagel and Alex Nylander. Another move or two can’t be ruled out, either, even as the Hawks’ offseason switches to decaf. But Bowman clearly feels confident about the current state of the team.
“We’re going to have strong goaltending each night, and our defense is going to be much-improved,” he said. “When you add that up, it bodes well for our team.”