The following ran in last Saturday’s first edition of “The Committed Indian”:
Um, so what do we do now?
For those of us who never saw someone wearing the Indian head sweater skate around with the Stanley Cup, we have officially entered a new frontier. (Of course we had seen it before but it’s a little different when it’s not in 32-bit computer graphics. And our version of a victory parade was running around the house with our pants off – though, this was never something we did together.)
Still, what do we do now that we’ve seen the Hawks win the Cup? The reason we kept coming back year after year was in the hopes that it would be “The Year.” Well, we’ve lived through “The Year” and now we’ve discovered there is, indeed, life after Elysium.
We’ll always look back at 2009-2010 and remember what happened whenever the Hawks get eliminated from the playoffs or lay a stink bomb in St. Louis. No matter how bad things get, most of us are unlikely to become as desperate or depressed as we once were.
But being a Blackhawks fan, we can always go back to the one thing that’s engrained in our DNA: our distrust of management. And what a summer it was for that. Never in the NHL’s history has there been turnover on a championship roster like there was with the Hawks this summer, and the man who will be forever judged on those changes is Stan Bowman.
His first full summer on the job saw more difficult decisions than most GM’s face in a career. The effects of those decisions will echo for many years throughout the NHL. Good or bad, the moves have been made and all we have left to do is pick up the pieces.
Let’s get down to it.
Choosing to part with Dustin Byfuglien – It’s hard to blame Bowman for accepting the package Rick Dudley and Atlanta sent his way for Byfuglien. Jeremy Morin is going to be an NHL player soon and it seems he’s going to find the back of the net…a lot, but using the first round pick on Kevin Hayes, a player who most thought was a mid–second-rounder, was a bit of a reach. Having to replace Buff’s penchant for coming up huge when it counted most may be this new group’s biggest challenge. Rest assured, arm chair GM’s, with Big Buff becoming a free agent at the end of this season, his Blackhawk goose was cooked anyway.
Sticking with Dave Bolland – Last summer, the five-year $17-million deal Bolland signed looked OK for a young second line center with scoring in his past. Fast forward 15 months, and Bolland’s a third line center coming off back surgery and a productive playoff. We’re sure he garnered consideration as someone who could have been dealt. In Bolland’s three NHL seasons, two were significantly affected by injury. In the end, it’s likely that Patrick Sharp’s status as a “winger-slash-center” made it difficult to deal a bona fide center. Now it’s time Bolland takes the next step – the one he began taking during last year’s playoffs – to become an impact player.
Moving Kris Versteeg – Twenty-four-year-old former Calder Trophy finalists don’t grow on trees. But, when they play on third lines and carry a significant cap hit, they can be hard to hold on to. (Of course, we’ll find out all the STD’s Snooki is carrying around before we find out who was to blame for the front office snafu that caused his large cap hit once upon a time.)
Such is life in today’s NHL. While predicting Versteeg would be voted off Blackhawk Island was easier than forecasting the end of each Jennifer Aniston movie we’ve ever seen, he’ll be missed. ‘Steeger was a valuable special teams contributor, and he had a flair for the dramatic – something not so easily quantified or replaced. The Versteeg trade is also the one that can be evaluated the earliest, as Viktor Stalberg, the man chiefly acquired in the deal, is billed as NHL-ready. If Stalberg – called “Stal-turd” by many already – struggles and Versteeg clicks with his new linemates – Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel – early, beware of bodies being hurled from the upper UC bowl.
Letting Adam Burish move on – Just kidding. Other depth guys who moved on like Brent Sopel and Ben Eager will be missed, but there was never any chance they were coming back. When 60% of the salary cap is chewed up by seven players, fourth liners and 5th defenseman can’t be driving around Bentleys.
Letting Antti Niemi walk in arbitration – If anyone questioned the size of Bowman’s balls, that likely stopped in late June. When Niemi was awarded a $2.75 million annual salary from an independent arbitrator, Bowman decided to walk away from it and deal with the repercussions head-on. Marty Turco fell into his lap and signed an incredibly cap friendly deal. For Bowman, he’ll have to cross his fingers that Marty Turco doesn’t become Cristobal Huet 2.0 and that the Niemi decision doesn’t bite the organization when it matters most, given that Niemi is the only significant ’09-’10 Hawk who left during the offseason but didn’t make it out of the conference. Joel Quenneville was also reportedly displeased the Hawks didn’t do more to keep Niemi. Maybe that new three-year extension helped heal Q’s wounds.
Signing Nick Leddy and Brandon Pirri to entry-level deals – Two of the bigger jewels in the Hawks farm system – Leddy and Pirri – were coming off freshmen years and ready to play a bigger role for their respective NCAA teams. After the Hawks prospect camp this summer, though, Bowman saw enough out of them to sign each to an entry-level contract. Now, Leddy finds himself opening up the season as the Hawks’ fourth defensemen because of Brian Campbell’s injury. Eventually, he’ll end up with the IceHogs playing top-four minutes. Meanwhile, Pirri will anchor a scoring line in Rockford. They’ll join Igor Makarov, Kyle Beach, Jeremy Morin and Shawn Lalonde and perhaps that’s the biggest reason Bowman took them out of the classroom. It wasn’t too long ago that Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer, Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Colin Fraser, and Niklas Hjalmarsson all cut their teeth together in the ‘A’. Now it’s this young group’s turn, and it wouldn’t be the same without Leddy and Pirri there.
Matching the Hjalmarsson offer sheet – It’s entirely possible the Hawks fourth defenseman has reached his ceiling. With his propensity to sacrifice unpadded limbs to booming slap shots, it may be a matter of time before the injury bug bites him badly. Is he still going to be worth a 1st and 3rd round pick a couple years from now? He better be.
Still want “In Bowman I trust” on the small of your back? Maybe it’s best if you hold off on that.