Perhaps it’s a good thing, at least for him, that Stan Bowman has become a master in saying nothing. Because if he were honest or forthcoming about the position he finds himself in, we all might understand just what a difficult spot he’s in at the moment.
Obviously, everything hinges on Corey Crawford, and there isn’t much Stan can do about that. But if he were to come out and say publicly they don’t have any idea when and if Crawford is going to play again, then whatever calls he’s making for even a backup goalie suddenly get a lot tougher. Whether that’s Darling, or maybe a call on Grubauer, or whatever other idea he might have, everyone is going to know that he’s looking for someone who can step in as a starter if need be, not just a backup.
But it runs deeper than that. A theme of Stan’s press conference yesterday was that he wasn’t going all-in on this season, wanting to build for as much down the road as this season. That hasn’t stopped us from pointing out that if the Hawks don’t massively rebound this year, the long-term isn’t going to matter for him because Stan’s not going to have a job, at least not here.
But there’s a two-pronged problem with that. One, even if Stan went all-in on this season, where does that leave him? What’s a successful season for the Hawks next year? Second round of the playoffs? When you’ve won three playoff games in three years that’s a pretty big step, but is it enough for McD and Rocky? A valiant defeat to Nashville or Winnipeg there? Because it’s unlikely there’s any amount of moves the Hawks can make this summer where you’d go into next season saying they’d be favored over either of those teams. The Hawks can overhaul Minnesota, St. Louis, Colorado and Dallas, but those two remain ahead of the rest of the pack.
So say you do all that, but in the process you lose…oh I don’t know, Jokiharju and/or Sikura and maybe one or two others in pursuit of the defenseman and forward you need and more, without giving up anything major on the NHL roster. Where are you for ’19-’20? Is it likely with “THE CORE” another year older that you can improve without a pipeline of kids aiding them? Would you have to keep being active in free agency after you’ve used all the powder in your system? Would you have just put off your firing one season? Any free agent you sign is likely to skew older as well. Justin Faulk is a good age, but he’s not turning it around on his own.
Secondly, Stan might be gun-shy on any “win now” moves, considering how his coach has handled them in the recent past. Go back all the way to the Vermette trade. It took until Game 4 of the conference final before Q bought into Vermette, who cost a pretty penny. The following season, Stan brought in Ladd, Weise, and Fleischmann. The latter two were discarded essentially by the time the playoffs rolled around, and Ladd didn’t have much to offer. Those trades cost picks and Phillip Danault, and man would Danault look nice about now.
Connor Murphy was a move for now and later, and spent most of the season having his coach shit on him like he was Roman Reigns (WRESTLING REFERENCE). Alex DeBrincat, certainly one for the future but definitely a help now, spent way too much of the season on a third line and on the right side.
So if you’re Stan, are you truly confident any big move you make is going to be deployed properly? Because if they aren’t, then you have to fire the coach in the middle of the season. Does Stan draw enough water to do that? Who’s more important to the higher-ups, Stan or Q? Does he already know he doesn’t? Do we know? Does Stan have a Plan B in case he does get to make that move? Would Jeremy Colliton be ready? And as a GM if you pull the trigger on a coaching change, your neck is now exposed. If it doesn’t turn things around, you and the coach you hired are out on your ass come the summer.
It seems Stan knows that whatever moves he makes specifically for next season, he can’t completely lose what’s after that, even if he’s not around for it. Because this roster is going to need to be augmented, fed, freshened by kids through the system each of the next two, three, four years to maintain and eventually replace THE CORE.
With Tavares looking likely to stay put, the one-and-done answer in free agency isn’t there. Anything else is subject to usage, which hasn’t always gone Stan’s way. We’ve said it wouldn’t make sense to fire a GM and not a coach midseason, because an interim GM can’t change much midseason. But not everything with the Hawks management has made sense, despite what their success says. They apparently gave the reins fully to Stan last summer, and then they missed the playoffs. Is he still as trusted? Or are Q and his allies getting their influence back?
We’ll know soon enough.