CHICAGO -- Based on their tight schedule and upcoming four-game road trip Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville gave his surging club a well-deserved day off Thursday. But General Manager Stan Bowman was in the office and he graciously gave NHL.com time for a phone interview in the afternoon:
NHL.com: After doing some analytics on your schedule going down the stretch, you have 18 games left, 11 on the road, and your opponents have an average winning percentage of .586 (as of Thursday). I guess you would have to agree that it isn't easy going down the stretch, right?
Bowman: No, no. We play a lot of the teams in the East, which is different. Whether it's good or bad, it's just unusual to have half your games out of conference. You can't take anything for granted, truthfully. It doesn't matter who you play, what their record is, whether it's home or away, you still have to go out there and do it. We're not taking anything for granted at this point.
NHL.com: Last year you had a lot of guys that had established niche roles with this club and it was a big reason why you were able to win. This year some of those guys aren't back and other guys had to find their way. Has that finally happened, that the so-called role players are finding their niche on this club?
Bowman: I think that's a fair statement and it did take some time. The one thing I talked to our guys about, and our coaches earlier in the year, was it doesn't happen overnight. As much as you'd like to have these things sorted out back in the fall, when you have a new group like we had this year it takes time before everyone really settles into what they can do to help the team.
Last year's group had been together for the most part for a couple of years. We knew them and the team itself had been growing for a couple of years. They didn't get thrown together last year and win the Cup. It took time.
As much as you want to accelerate it I don't know if you can. We tried everything we could to sort things out sooner this season, but it took until probably a month ago before everybody realized, "OK, this is where I sit on this team and this is where I can help the group." When you get guys buying into that, that's when you succeed. Not every guy on last year's team was playing the role they would have drawn up for themselves, but at the end of the day they accepted it and excelled at it.
NHL.com: A key guy with this has to be Dave Bolland, who is part of the core of this group. It seems like he wasn't comfortable as the No. 2 center before but has gotten comfortable in that role now. Do you see that and the chemistry with Marian Hossa finally coming to fruition to help this club?
Bowman: I do. I think it's been a work in progress to get to this point, but you have to remember that Dave was a high scorer in junior with London, but he redefined his game when he got to the pro level. He had been in that mode for a few years now where he was the third line, responsible, pest, tough guy to play against. This year his role has expanded a bit more and he's now approaching things differently. He's always been capable of being on our power play, but he's on the unit with Hossa and they've been very productive lately. It's always been in him, but for a couple of years there he wasn't approaching games that way. We needed him to step up and he's done it.
NHL.com: At any point have you said to yourself, "Oh my god, we might not make the playoffs?"
Bowman: No. When you're in the game you don't look at it that way. I understand why the fans and media do, because they see it from a different perspective, but when you're in the trenches you're focused on the task at hand, which is winning the next game. When you start thinking of the other things like what happens down the road, that's when you get away from the preparation and the attention to detail, which is actually going to get you wins. We don't talk about that internally. We talk about getting consistent performance. Our focus is on that, not so much on the other things that tend to occupy the media and fans.
NHL.com: All things being equal, isn't Jonathan Toews carrying you guys now?
Bowman: He's been tremendous, there's no doubt about that. He's been everything we always hoped he would be. He's got an awful lot on his plate, but he seems to be able to manage it and continues to improve. I think he is a better player now than he was a year ago. I guess it's kind of a scary thought, but I think three years from now he's going to be even better than he is now. That goes the same for Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook -- I mean these guys are young players. They're great players, but I think their best days are still ahead of them and that's part of the reason we wanted to make sure we had them here with us.
NHL.com: You're saying that Toews is going to get better? Stan, isn't it frightening to think with all he's done that he's still going to get better?
Bowman: Yeah, well I know he's not satisfied. I know you hear about [Sidney] Crosby in the summer, one year he didn't score a lot of goals so he wanted to become a goal scorer, and one year he wasn't good on faceoffs so he worked on faceoffs. Our guys are the same way. Patrick Kane worked on his shot and quickness over the summer, wanted to get stronger. They try to add new layers to their game each year. It's a credit to them that they don't get complacent. That's why they're special kids and why we're so fortunate to have them with us.
NHL.com: One last question: I know the schedule is tough, but is there a feeling now that maybe the worst is behind this club?
Bowman: Well we've gone through more adversity this year certainly than we did last year. I guess you have to hope that prepares you well for what is ahead. The danger there, though, is you've got to realize you haven't accomplished anything. The minute you start to get satisfied or complacent, that's when you get in trouble.
I don't sense that with these guys, though. I think they realize what it takes because they've just been through it. They realize the commitment. You have to battle so hard to win every period, let alone every game, that you can't get ahead of yourself. You can't say you play a certain team on a certain night and we're going to win that game, because those are traps and you fall into traps. We're hopefully past the point where we have to worry about that.
If we execute to our level, I'm very confident in these guys. But that's the big if. That's the reason you play the game. On paper it doesn't matter, you have to do it. Our guys recognize that and they have a determination recently. They have to continue that because there are no guarantees. You don't just show up and win games at this time of the year. I don't know that you ever do, but definitely not at this time of the year.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl