So, About that Blackhawks “Rebuild”…

If you were wondering whether or not Stan Bowman would actually rebuild the Blackhawks or if he would simply “rebuild on the fly” as he has been, the GM offered his clearest answer to ESPN on Tuesday:

“But what I don’t want (this rebuild) to mean is we’re trying to tear this team apart and trying to bring in a whole new group of players in the next year and a half,” Bowman said. “But we do need to rebuild the depth of our team. We don’t have enough players, top to bottom, to compete with the top teams. We’ve got a lot of good players, we’ve got a pretty good start on the makings of a good team, but we still have a ways to go yet, and I accept that.”

There’s a lot to unpack here. First, Bowman says “we’re not trying to tear this team apart.” How can a real rebuild occur, without a complete teardown? The answer is, it can’t.

He goes on to say, “But we do need to rebuild the depth of our team.” You don’t say? Funny, because that’s exactly what Bowman has been trying to do for the last 4-5 years now. He certainly tried it last year when he brought in players like Zack Smith, Andrew Shaw, Calvin de Haan, Ryan Carpenter, Olli Maatta, and Robin Lehner; and in recent years past with Connor Murphy, Alex Nylander, Anthony Duclair; not to mention through the draft with Nick Schmaltz, Tyler Motte, Ryan Hartman, John Hayden – the list goes on.

“Most of the things that are discussed in the letter, we’ve been doing them anyway. We just haven’t been super forthright with the fact that we’re doing them.” Great – so more of the same then. Can someone in the front office please explain the definition of insanity to Stan?

The “forthright” admission was interesting. ESPN published this report on the same day the Blackhawks organization published a letter to its fans addressing the direction of the team. The fan letter was released only after Jonathan Toews’ public statement to The Athletic about being “shocked” after Brandon Saad and Corey Crawford were traded. So not only did Bowman – er, “the Blackhawks Organization” – release the fan letter, but Bowman also went directly to the media himself, as Toews did. Tit for tat?

“I think what’s assumed in (Toews’ comment to The Athletic) is a little bit of misunderstanding because I have talked to Jonathan since then; I’ve talked to all the veterans,” Bowman said. “I’ve tried to explain that the direction of the team — we’re on the same path that we were on last year. There’s really no change in direction. We’re being more honest about it. And if anything, we’re going to double down on investing even more in our young players. The direction is not something that is a sea change for us.”

Honestly, Toews is no different than the majority of the fan base. The confusion stems from Bowman’s continuous half-hearted attempt at a rebuild – it is and always has been a bewildering managerial approach. If you’re going to rebuild, there needs to be a complete teardown; if there isn’t a complete teardown, you can’t truly rebuild. Toews understands this – as does the fan base – yet Bowman does not. He believes he can “invest” in young players, but keep the core as is.

The problem is, in order to truly invest in and accumulate solid young players, you need to relinquish your core assets. In addition, you can’t truly develop young players with limited ice-time in limited roles. When asked specifically about moving his core-four – Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook – Bowman replied: “That’s not the approach we’re expecting to take. I don’t know if that’s going to happen down the road, I guess we’ll tackle that if it happens. But right now, I didn’t get the feeling from any of them that that was their desire.” Bowman claimed he has never asked any remaining core player to waive their no-movement clause and that none have ever requested to be traded.

After saying he was “most likely” going to extend Head Coach Jeremy Colliton, Bowman added: “I think Jeremy is a very important piece of this. His strength as a coach is that element — the development of young players, and taking raw materials and molding them into pieces.” Seemingly, a 35 year-old with only 57 career NHL games played and just two years of head coaching experience is the ideal choice for a young and/or rebuilding team.

So there it is, straight from the horse’s mouth. Ironically – and perhaps naturally – we learn more about the actual direction of the team from this ESPN report than we do from the official fan letter.

As Bowman briefly alluded, things can change – particularly a GM’s word. For Example, we’ve seen GM’s of every sport praise a coach publicly, only to fire him within the same year. Maybe Bowman’s hand gets forced by a core player asking to be traded. Maybe an opposing GM offers Stan an offer he can’t refuse. Maybe the team completely stumbles out of the gate and Colliton is shown the door. Either way, unless an unexpected occurrence force’s Stan’s hand, this year will be nothing but more of the same: a rebuild on the fly.

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