November 6, 2019 — the day the Chicago Blackhawks as an organization, and specifically Stan Bowman, drew a line in the sand. Joel Quenneville was fired, and the Blackhawks sent the message that their issues stemmed from the second-winningest head coach of all time. They chose Bowman. They chose wrong.
This roster is decimated of talent. That was not Joel Quenneville’s fault. It isn’t the fault of the new guy, Jeremy Colliton, either. You can put anyone behind that bench to bark orders; this team would not compete.
The salary cap in the NHL does not allow much room for error. Make an over-payment, and an NHL general manager is in a lot of trouble. That’s where Bowman finds himself after handing the then 30-year-old Brent Seabrook an eight-year contract extension worth $55 million in 2015.
Paying an already slowing defenseman with a lot of miles on his tires big money through age 39 is a bold strategy. Seabrook is making nearly $7 million each year and is a bottom-pair defenseman at best. That handcuffs a team big time because they no longer have the ability to go out and pay for a top pair guy.
Not having a new, young top-pair defenseman doesn’t allow a guy like Duncan Keith to slide down to the second pairing where he belongs at this point in his career. The Blackhawks now need Keith to drive the bus, and he simply is too old to hold that burden at this point in his career.
This is the biggest reason the Blackhawks are struggling. However, it isn’t the only reason. Bad trades. Poor signings. Bowman has struggled mightily since the Blackhawks won their last Stanley Cup in 2015.
He traded Artemi Panarin to the Columbus Blue Jackets to bring Brandon Saad back to Chicago. Saad has been the best Blackhawk so far this season, but that isn’t nearly enough value for a talent like Artemi Panarin.
This team also doesn’t have much depth at center, which doesn’t help solidify lines and keep the scoring consistent. The Phillip Danault trade of 2014 looks worse and worse by the day. The trade didn’t make the team better in 2014, and now they are missing the guy who would slot into the Hawks’ third line beautifully.
Kirby Dach can be that guy eventually, but asking an 18-year-old to hold down an NHL line is a tall order. This team desperately needs another top-six winger. They might also need a top-six center if Dylan Strome can’t return to last season’s success.
Strome has struggled early on (outside of one game against the lowly Kings) and has found himself demoted to the fourth line. Strome was part of a trade with the Arizona Coyotes that sent Nick Schmaltz to Arizona and Strome and Brendan Perlini back to Chicago.
Perlini has already been moved via trade and Strome is on the fourth line. What once looked like a good trade for Bowman is beginning to look like a win for Arizona, as Schmaltz is Arizona’s leading scorer through 11 games with 11 points.
The list of bad trades goes pretty deep. Bowman gave Nick Leddy away for nothing. That was a cap casualty, but you still have to get value for a young and talented defenseman. The Niklas Hjalmarsson–Connor Murphy swap has not worked out how the Blackhawks had planned thus far. He traded Vinnie Hinostroza to Arizona two summers ago to dump Marian Hossa‘s contract, and he didn’t even utilize the cap space which that move created at the time.
Bowman traded budding star Teuvo Teravainen to Carolina with Bryan Bickell. Bowman supporters will point to the fact that this was to clear Bickell’s bad contract. Well, who signed Bickell to that deal? Teravainen tallied 76 points for Carolina last season and is only 25 years old.
Manning was quickly shipped to Edmonton. Kunitz did absolutely nothing for the Hawks. Cam Ward was a nice addition to back up Corey Crawford, but that doesn’t move the needle enough.
Bowman has missed the mark one too many times. He has had some good moves. Trading Brandon Manning for Drake Caggiula was a win. Signing Robin Lehner this past offseason was a great move. Getting Calvin de Haan for virtually nothing in a trade with Carolina was unbelievably good.
However, these moves are few and far between. Stan Bowman was a huge part of three Stanley Cup winners in Chicago. However, Dale Tallon built the core. Bowman did nice work throughout it to put pieces around the core, but this is a “what have you done for me lately?” league, and Bowman has dropped the ball time after time since 2015.
Bowman tried to paint Quenneville as the team’s biggest issue when he fired the future Hall-of-Famer last season. Since Quenneville was fired, not much has changed.
The Blackhawks missed the playoffs for the second straight season under Colliton last year. They are off to a putrid start this year. Colliton sites the team’s lack of effort for their losses. There is plenty of truth to that, but the main issues stem from this roster’s lack of impactful depth.
That is an indictment on the general manager. Even if the coach is in over his head, which he sure seems to be, Bowman is the one who put him in that position. Bowman drew the line in the sand last year with Quenneville’s firing and now the clock is ticking.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews aren’t getting any younger. While they are still in their primes, the decline is inevitable. Bowman has wasted two great seasons of Patrick Kane (which were two of the best of his career) because he has failed to put enough talent around the future Hall-of-Famer.
The Blackhawks, as of today, sit at 3-6-2 to begin the 2019-20 season. That record is good enough for second-to-last place in the Central division. Time is ticking. The Hawks don’t have much margin for error. If things don’t change soon, Bowman has to go. He should have been fired last season instead of Quenneville.
That mistake has already been made. The Blackhawks fired the wrong guy and you’re seeing that clear as day this season. This team didn’t suck because of the head coach. They suck because there simply isn’t enough talent on the roster. Tick tock, Stan, your days are numbered.
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