Many Hawks fans were relieved when General Manager Stan Bowman publicly committed to a rebuild in October of 2020. Bowman had just traded Corey Crawford and Brandon Saad – two stalwart veterans of the Cup Era – and a complete tear down seemed all but inevitable. Yet here we are, almost one year to the date of Stan’s letter to the fans, and those relieved that a rebuild was on the horizon are now utterly bewildered, if not outright furious. For them, Stan has once again reversed course, retooling the roster instead of rebuilding.
The disconnect between Bowman and the masses stems from how a “rebuild” is defined by each party. Many pro-rebuild fans believe a true rebuild is impossible without a complete tear down, while Bowman, for better or worse, believes the exact opposite. Instead, Bowman subscribes to a “rebuild on the fly” approach, where he will shed certain veterans, only to replace them with other vets (Hjalmarsson for Murphy; Jones for Keith; etc.).
Bowman does acquire picks and prospects, but he doesn’t stockpile them consistently. In many cases, he treats his prospects in the same manner he treats the veterans – cutting them loose, only to recycle them with other prospects. This prevents said prospects from ever developing because Bowman doesn’t grant them enough of a window to do so. Henri Jokiharju (traded for Alex Nylander) is a prime example, as is Nick Schmaltz (Dylan Strome) and Adam Boqvist.
Bowman also has no qualms about flipping his prospects for more veterans. Adam Boqvist was part of the trade for Seth Jones, while Phillip Danault – who had grown into an elite third-line center with Montreal – was traded for two playoff rental veterans in Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann.
The Danault trade may go down as one of Stan’s biggest failures as a GM, but at the very least, it was executed in a year when the Hawks still had legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations. What worries some fans is that, as evidenced by many of Bowman’s moves this off-season, Stan is still executing similar trades even when it’s beyond obvious his club is far from being a Cup contender. His trigger finger is as itchy now as it ever was.
Seth Jones, Marc-Andre Fleury, Tyler Johnson, and Jake McCabe are solid veteran players – but they are not players with which you traditionally rebuild; they’re players with which you go all in. Instead of constructing a new core via a rebuild by developing prospects, Stan has all but abandoned that approach, vying for already-established veterans to substitute departed players like Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford, Marion Hossa, and Duncan Keith.
This strategy of establishing a core from outside sources via trade and free agency only highlights the fact that Bowman’s draft record has been fruitless overall, with the recent exceptions of Alex Debrincat and perhaps Kirby Dach. There are plenty of players that have shown promise in Ian Mitchell, Wyatt Kalynuk, Nicolas Beaudin, and Philip Kurashev – but will Stan allow them time to develop?
In many ways, Stan’s penchant for building a team via trade and free agency is little surprise, because it’s all he’s ever known and executed successfully. For most of his tenure as GM, Stan’s role solely consisted of acquiring solid depth players (John Madden, Brad Richards, Michal Handzus, etc.) to round out an already formidable roster; but he has never had to actually build a core, let alone an entire team, from the ground up. Stan is reverting to what he knows best – perhaps out of necessity, or desperation, or both – because he has left himself with little choice, particularly when it comes to his “new” core.
Stan’s record isn’t all bad. He has had success by drafting players like Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Ryan Hartman, and Teuvo Teravainen, to name a few. Yet many of his “players of the future” picks either failed or were jettisoned.
Currently, Kirby Dach and Alex Debrincat are the two lone draft picks for which Stan is responsible. Dominik Kubalik, Brandon Hagel, and Kevin Lankinen were also acquired by Bowman and figure to be part of the core going forward. Add in Seth Jones, Tyler Johnson, and Jake McCabe; in addition to the newly-inked Connor Murphy (4 years, $4.4 million per).
Bowman isn’t going “all in” on this season (simply making the playoffs would be a success), but he is going all in on the idea that he has a reformed core in place for years to come. If he couldn’t get a core via drafting and developing picks/prospects, he got one through what he knows best; and only within a year since his rebuild letter to fans.