Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman was more than fine with being a minor participant in the first day of NHL free agency on Friday.
Bowman’s lone moves Friday were signing Nikolai Khabibulin to be a backup goaltender and re-signing forward Michal Handzus and defenseman Michal Rozsival. He also previously re-signed forward Bryan Bickell and defenseman Nick Leddy.
“I’ve always had the philosophy if you’re relying on the free-agent period in July to save your team, it’s probably not the prescription we’re looking for,” Bowman said on Friday night. “Adding a player here and there is certainly understandable. Bryan Bickell, I guess, could fall into that category. We got him signed a week ago leading into this. He’s the only guy you can put into that category for us, the frenzy.
“I think the way to build success and sustain it is through the draft and develop your players and add in the occasional player through free agency. If I had my choice, I would do it the way we’ve done it recently which is develop from within, have your young players emerge over time, don’t rush them to the NHL and really use the draft and the development of your young players as a way to find really good players. Fortunately, we’ve been able to do that. When we find a group that has had success, we can keep it together like we have this summer. That’s the preferred method for us. I think it’s the most prudent way in the salary cap world to sustain success.”
As of Friday, only four players from the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup roster had moved on to other teams. The Blackhawks traded forward Dave Bolland to the Toronto Maple Leafs and forward Michael Frolik to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday. Forward Viktor Stalberg signed with the Nashville Predators on Friday, and goaltender Ray Emery signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Bowman said he also still planned to re-sign forward Marcus Kruger, who is a restricted free agent. The Blackhawks tendered qualifying offers to restricted free agents Kruger, Kyle Beach, Shawn Lalonde, Ryan Stanton and Drew LeBlanc.
“In terms of Kruger, we’re getting closer with Marcus,” Bowman said. “I think we’re not quite to the finish line yet, but we’ve had a lot of good discussions and we’re getting close. I’m hopeful that will work itself out over the next few days here. We’re certainly going to get that done. It’s just that they take a little time sometimes.”
Aside from returning a majority of players from last year’s team, Bowman said he does plan on giving some younger players an opportunity, too. Brandon Pirri, Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin, Ben Smith, Adam Clendening and Stanton are among the prospects who could be in the mix for the Blackhawks next season.
“In terms of our roster, if you look at the group we had last year, we have a very similar group coming back, which is our goal,” Bowman said. “We’ve been mapping this out for a long time, trying to determine which players we’re going to keep. We knew we had to move a couple players out of here. I think we do the like the stability we have. We’ve had a lot of success with this group.
“I think we got some young players who are really ready to be given the opportunity. I’m pretty excited about that. It’s nice to have the youth and the excitement they bring. The young players I mentioned all had good seasons in Rockford. They really are due for the opportunity to show us what they can do at the NHL level. I think we’ve really set ourselves up for a good position going forward. I like where we’re at. We have a combination of experienced guys here who have had success as a group and young players who are ready to push and work for jobs.”