- Scott Powers, Reporter
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Stan Bowman, general manager
Season recap: The difference between looking like a genius and failing can sometimes be cruel for general managers. The Blackhawks were a goal away from reaching another Stanley Cup finals and getting the opportunity to attempt to win back-to-back Cups. That's where the bar is now for the franchise and because that didn't happen some of the blame has to fall on Bowman.
Bowman decided after winning the 2013 Stanley Cup he was going to make a run at another title by only tinkering slightly with his team and coming back with nearly the same roster. He re-signed unrestricted free agents Michal Handzus and Michal Rozsival. He traded away Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik. He created some cap space in order to give Corey Crawford, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Bryan Bickell long-term deals and emphasized wanting to turn to some of the organization's prospects to fill some holes, including second-line center.
Bowman's strategy didn't go according to plan. Handzus and Rozsival couldn't maintain the consistency they gave the Blackhawks during their Cup run. Bolland and Frolik weren't so easy to replace. Second-line center continued to be a revolving door throughout the season. Brandon Pirri, Jeremy Morin and Jimmy Hayes, three prospects who were expected to make the jump to the NHL, couldn't stick in Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville's lineup. Pirri and Hayes ended up being traded.
Also unlike the previous season, Bowman wasn't able to improve the team with a trade. He added Handzus in 2013, and that worked out well in the playoffs. Bowman touted trading for Kris Versteeg in November as his major move this past season, and Versteeg wasn't the player they expected him to be coming off a serious knee injury. He was inconsistent in the regular season and was a healthy scratch at times in the playoffs. Bowman also acquired Peter Regin from the New York Islanders, but Quenneville used him sparingly.
Of course, Bowman also deserves credit for the Blackhawks already winning two Stanley Cups and being in a position to win more down the road. Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw, two of Bowman's draft picks, continued to develop last season and should be key pieces going forward. Bowman's commitment to growing players within the organization has also paid off with Ben Smith, Marcus Kruger, Nick Leddy, Bickell, Hjalmarsson, Crawford and others.
Season highlight: The Blackhawks came together late in the regular season and into the playoffs. They were playing some of their best hockey during the first two rounds of the playoffs. Repeating seemed realistic then, and Bowman was being praised for that.
Season lowlight: Versteeg, Brandon Bollig, Morin and Regin being healthy scratches in the playoffs had to be disappointing for Bowman. He traded for Versteeg and Regin. He signed Bollig to a three-year extension during the season. Morin has been considered one of the organization's top prospects.
Final grade: B.
Quotes: "There's lots of opinions at this time of year and that's understandable," Bowman said after the season. "What we need to do is stick true to what we've done in the past. We certainly know our team very well. We understand the strengths of our team and that hasn't really changed over time.
"We play a fast game. We have a lot of skilled players. To get big just to say you're big and look at the score sheet before every game and maybe you have bigger players, but they have to be able to play the way we play, play to our strengths.
"There will be some new faces coming next year. I think the most important thing for us is to maintain that same style of play. It's been successful for us obviously the last few seasons. Looking forward, we're not going to deviate because that's what the core of our team does well. We're going to try and accentuate that whether it's with bigger players or making a couple additions here or there. There are a lot of options."
What's next: Bowman's priority now is re-signing Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to extensions. Bowman has been confident all along he'll be able to do that. After that, the Blackhawks do have to make some decisions for next season. They still don't have an answer at second-line center. Teuvo Teravainen, the organization's top prospect, could be the answer, but the Blackhawks are reportedly inquiring about other proven centers around the league. Bowman accomplished re-signing forward Ben Smith and goaltender Antti Raanta on Friday. Both should be key role players again next season.
Bowman has committed to Versteeg and Bollig for future seasons, and the Blackhawks will need them to be better, especially in the playoffs. Bowman and the Blackhawks would also benefit if Bickell could be more consistent next season. Bowman expected him to be more than a playoff performer at $4 million a year. Along with everything else, Bowman has the job of managing the cap and making sure the Blackhawks are in a position to win now and in the future. So far, he appears to be on track to do that.
Stan Bowman, general manager Season recap: The difference between looking like a genius and failing can sometimes be cruel for general managers. The Blackhawks were a goal away from reaching another Stanley Cup finals and getting the opportunity to attempt to win back-to-back Cups.