Hall of Famer Steve Shutt once famously had this description of how Scotty Bowman’s players felt about him: “You hated him 364 days of the year, and on the 365th day you got your Stanley Cup ring.” Ken Dryden wrote in his book, The Game, that, “Scotty Bowman is not someone who is easy to like.” And Dino Ciccarelli had this evaluation: “He was a great coach and a rotten person.”
Chicago Blackhawks GM and Scotty’s son Stan Bowman does not generate the same kind of derision and admiration, but as a hockey executive, he is indeed proving that the apple does not fall very far from the tree. The moves he has made since the Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup, while dictated by salary cap constraints, are proving that, in many ways, the younger son has the same cold blood running through his veins when it comes to dealing with players.
Ask any executive what the biggest mistakes a GM can make are and fairly high on that list will be falling in love with one’s own players. And it’s an easy thing to do. You draft and develop a guy, you win with him and you forge a relationship based on mutual trust. It often makes it difficult to get rid of that same guy, even when the logic of doing so is staring you directly in the face.
That’s obviously not the case with Stan Bowman and this past weekend’s trade of Patrick Sharp was a classic example. When Bowman dealt Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets on the eve of free agency, there was some thought that perhaps Sharp might be able to stay in the fold. Remember, Sharp is one of the original Blackhawks in this dynasty, one of the guys who was there in the bad old days when you couldn’t even get people to come to games at the United Center for free. He was a huge part of the revival of the franchise both on and off the ice. He was a 30-goal scorer who was a huge part of the team, winning three Stanley Cups. Off the ice, he was enormously popular, with his rugged good looks and down-to-earth demeanor winning him a legion of female fans in Chicago.
But he was also taking up $5.9 million in cap space in each of the next two seasons and was a declining asset. So Bowman dealt him to the Dallas Stars, getting a massive return in defenseman Trevor Daley and winger Ryan Garbutt. There are those who have declared the Stars the winner of the trade, but this corner begs to differ. Bowman made out like a bandit on this one. Not only did he manage to trim $2.7 million from the Blackhawks payroll with this deal, he got a defenseman in the trade who had as many goals as Sharp did last season.
And the Saad trade was even more impressive from the standpoint of not allowing emotion to get in the way. You see, Brandon Saad was drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft, Bowman’s second one as the Hawks GM. Unlike Sharp, Saad was actually one of Bowman’s guys, a player drafted and developed under his watch and one whose future as a power forward in the NHL has been well documented. But the Bowman came to the conclusion that he simply could not afford to keep Saad and the core of his team together. No dithering. No extended soap operas. No public mudslinging about outrageous demands. Just a clean break with a player who was one in which he must have taken enormous pride.
So instead of having Saad, the Blackhawks now have Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano. Instead of having Sharp, they now have a top-four defense corps of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Daley. And they have the possibility of a third line consisting of Marcus Kruger between Garbutt and Andrew Shaw. Won’t that be a lot of fun to play against on a regular basis?
Depending upon how Anisimov and Dano contribute, I’m not sure you couldn’t argue that the Blackhawks are actually a better team now than the one that won the Stanley Cup almost a month ago. Bowman has made them that way by being the best manager of the salary cap in the game. The NHL has given out the GM of the Year Award for the past six years and Bowman’s teams have won the Stanley Cup three times in that span. But he has never won the award and, shockingly, has never even been a finalist.
If the Blackhawks manage to repeat as Cup champs, or even come close, we may look back to the summer of 2015 and point to that as the moment in time Bowman earned his first GM of the Year.