Tuesday January 26th, 2016

Stan Bowman has never been recognized as the NHL’s General Manager of the Year. In fact, he’s never even been shortlisted as one of the three finalists for the award.

But Bowman, who on Tuesday was given a three-year extension by the Blackhawks that runs through the 2020-21 season, has seen his name etched on the Stanley Cup three times since taking over as GM back in 2009. And that’s proof enough that he’s more than one of the best in the game.

He’s the best.

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Granted, he had a bit of a head start. Taking charge of a Chicago team that had Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane up front and Duncan Keith on the back end was like Donald Trump starting off his business career with “a small loan” of a million bucks from his dad. But Bowman hasn’t coasted on the work of his predecessor, Dale Tallon. Nor has he followed a traditional path to success.

While most great managers are defined by their ability to build, Bowman has made his name as a de-constructionist.  Faced time and again with seemingly insurmountable salary cap issues, he’s fearlessly taken a sledgehammer to his roster. Each time, he’s torn down something great only to rebuild something in its place that was more streamlined and more effective, setting a standard for managing in the post-cap world.

Consider how he faced the challenge after the Hawks won the Cup in 2010. Within a span of a week, he traded Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel, Colin Fraser, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd and allowed starting goaltender Antti Niemi to walk via free agency. Or just this past summer, when he was forced to deal top-six forwards Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp and allow top-four defenseman Johnny Oduya to skate away as a free agent in the wake of his third title.

Each time his moves seemingly gutted the team’s depth, but they got the Hawks under the cap, situating them to make the moves Bowman deemed critical to remaining competitive, like locking down Toews and Kane to identical, league-leading eight-year $84 million contracts, or matching the offer sheet tendered by San Jose to RFA defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson or gambling that goalie Corey Crawford was worthy of a long-term deal.

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Bowman has also shown an uncanny knack for addressing the roster holes he’s created not with free agent fillers, but with solid contributors like Scott Darling, Erik Gustafsson and, most recently, Artemi Panarin, the undrafted Russian who is on course to capture the Calder Trophy as the season’s top rookie.

And so here the Hawks are, having set a franchise record with 12 consecutive wins, holding down first place in the Central Division and poised to do what no team has done in 17 years: successfully defend the Stanley Cup.

Bowman’s new deal comes less than two weeks after he extended head coach Joel Quenneville with a contract that will run through 2019-20. Like Bowman, Quenneville has been a constant in the face of change through the years, helping create a winning environment that is unmatched in the league. Together, they’re the most effective and most successful GM/coach duo in the game.

The Hawks are lucky to have them.

The numbers game

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• The Rangers are 18-5-2 (38 points) this season at Madison Square Garden, tied for the NHL’s second best home mark after the Blackhawks (21-5-1, 43 points). Derick Brassard, their leading scorer (17-19-36), is now the first Blueshirt to have a five-point game since Ryan Callahan on March 6, 2011 and the first to produce four points in the third period since Mark Messier on Nov. 25, 1992.

•  The Red Wings' seven road wins in January have tied their franchise record for one calendar month, also achieved in April 1995 (7-3-0), March 2006 (7-0-0) and February 2011 (7-1-0). 

• Coyotes captain Shane Doan played in his 1,433rd career game to move past Mike Gartner (1,432) into 25th place on the NHL’s all-time list.

Hot links

• Does the sinking Canadian dollar buy time for Seattle’s stalled NHL expansion dreams?

• With his prime years steadily passing, Henrik Lundqvist deserves a roster shake-up in New York.

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• Elliotte Friedman considers the new KHL developmental model and offers updates on trade talk around the league in this week’s 30 Thoughts column.

• Cold feet? Now you can warm ’em up with Babsocks, the only socks with a picture of Mike Babcock on them.

• The #fancystats say that the Lightning must receive this in exchange for malcontent winger Jonathan Drouin.

• Rescheduling the two games lost to last week’s blizzard could make a long season longer for the Capitals.

• Speaking of the blizzard, this Swedish fan picked a lousy time to fly to Washington for a couple of games.

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