BOSTON – Stan Bowman took a good look at his Chicago Blackhawks roster last summer.
The Blackhawks had just come off another disappointing first-round postseason loss, and with that there was the pressure of making sure it didn’t happen again. But by the end of the summer, there were very few changes to that roster. A depth defenseman addition here and there, but that was it.
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At first, it seemed like it wouldn’t be enough. But in retrospect, the Blackhawks general manager’s lack of moves was the best move he could’ve made.
Bowman figured out the right formula, from keeping that Cup-winning core intact to adding the right pieces, and it led to the Blackhawks claiming their second Cup in the past four seasons.
“Our job in management is always to try and upgrade the team if we can but there are a lot of ways you can have success,” Bowman said. “Having some consistency year-to-year -- there were a lot of people questioning that because we didn’t have the playoff success last year, but we still did a lot of good things. And we had a good foundation of a team. We didn’t need to make sweeping changes. I said at the time, ‘I like the group we have here. I think we can have success with this group.’”
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Bowman was right. The tweaks worked just fine, from signing Michal Rozsival to bolster the defensive depth to trade-deadline acquisition Michal Handzus’ emergence as the team’s second-line center throughout the playoffs.
There were a few big fish available over the summer. Yes, the Blackhawks looked at both Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, but they didn’t really need either one of them. Lack of superstars was not their problem, shoring up depth in a few areas was. And with his moves, Bowman wrapped up a few loose ends.
“You make little additions here and there, whether it’s Rozsival or Handzus. They don’t have to be the biggest name in the league to come in. they can fill in their spots and improve,” Bowman said. “So we felt confident a year ago, and it certainly turned out to be a strong group.”
While the lack of moves also paid off, so did individual Blackhawks’ game elevations. Corey Crawford went from maligned, questioned goaltender to a proven winner who gave the “Who’s No. 1?” question a resounding answer. Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger accepted, and embraced their roles as penalty killers, bolstering a special teams category that struggled last season.
The heart-and-soul players were pivotal. Patrick Kane clearly benefited from his lockout playing time in Switzerland. Marian Hossa clearly benefited from his lockout rest and recovery period – to a degree, so did Jonathan Toews. With a deeper defense, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook played fewer minutes per game. Their games were crisp and productive from the start, and shot the Blackhawks out of the gate fast.
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And for the first time since the post-2010 Cup roster upheaval, the Blackhawks knew each other entering this season. There weren’t as many surprises, not as many new players who had to adjust. The 2010 core led the charge and everything else fell into place. As the Blackhawks said often this season, everyone knew their roles and everyone played them well.
“Two times, two times in four years. There’s something about this core, I tell you,” said Patrick Kane, who also skated away with the Conn Smythe trophy on Monday night. “And we’ve got to stick together because I think we can do some special things in the future.”
There are going to be some changes in the future. Bowman’s already said that – “we’re not going to bring the exact team back, but I don’t think any team is bringing the same team back.” But Kane is right: this group could keep doing some special things, as long as Bowman makes the right adjustments moving forward.
Bowman’s best moves in the summer of 2012 were minimal ones. The Blackhawks did nothing outlandish, nothing salary-cap breaking. Bowman pretty much inherited the 2010 Cup-winning team. This one is all his.