CHICAGO – It wasn't the splash that many Chicago Blackhawks fans hoped for, but Stan Bowman is happy with the two moves he did pull off before Monday's trade deadline expired.
The Blackhawks' general manager landed an experienced puck-moving defenseman in Johnny Oduya from the Winnipeg Jets for second- and third-round picks in the 2013 NHL Draft and also sent enforcer John Scott to the New York Rangers for a fifth-round pick in the 2012 Draft. After trading pricey, puck-moving defenseman Brian Campbell and not re-signing another puck-mover in Chris Campoli -- last year's deadline acquisition -- Bowman knew there was a glaring need for Oduya.
"He's one of the better skating defensemen in the NHL," Bowman said following the deadline's passing. "He's got experience. He's played on some good teams and played a lot of minutes. I think with our team right now, he's going to come in and be a calming influence on some of our players."
Bowman has two of those players most in mind -- 20-year old defensemen Nick Leddy and 21-year old rookie defenseman Dylan Olsen. Leddy is only 110 games into his NHL career, while Olsen's been thrown right into the fire by necessity by injuries to Niklas Hjamarsson and Steve Montador – both of whom are out with suspected concussions.
The Hawks, however, started to show leaks in their defensive coverage well before they got hurt. That's why Bowman started his search for a defenseman months ago, along with looking for a second line center to play with Marian Hossa. In the end, the price was too high to land a legit center and adding Oduya – who averaged 19:19 a game and was playing with Ron Hainsey on the third pairing for the Jets – became the best move available.
"Solidifying that back end has been something we've talked about for a long time and I think he's going to bring a lot to the mix," Bowman said. "Right now, we could use that experience. The way that he can skate the puck and make plays ... I think he can eat up some important minutes for our defense and it's a crucial time for our team."
Oduya, who's making $3.5 million in the last season of a three-year deal, scored 2 goals and added 11 assists with a minus-9 rating in 63 games for the Jets this year. He's planning to be in Chicago for Tuesday's practice and will be in uniform on Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"My initial thought is, for sure, excitement," said the 30-year old Oduya, who will be joining his fourth organization. "Anytime you're in a position where you're battling for a whole year, you don't want to leave your teammates and friends behind, but I am excited to go to Chicago. It's just a good hockey town."
It's also a town that's currently unhappy with the Hawks, who've fallen from the top of the Western Conference to sixth and got swept this past weekend in back-to-back road games. The biggest issue of late has been a stagnant power play, but the bigger problem is preventing goals and has been all season. Bowman said he tried hard to make other deals, working the phones constantly, but nothing else came to fruition.
"That was kind of our day," the Hawks' GM said. "We had a lot of discussions. We focused on getting a defenseman and getting some other things, but nothing else came to be. It’s a little different this year if you look at the standings. There's certainly more teams that are still in the mix, and when that happens there's not as many sellers. The standings dictated that this year."
Bowman simply did what he could and now has to hope it was enough.
"What you can do is focus on the trades you can make," said Bowman, who had plenty of salary cap space available. "We had a lot of discussions on some other things, but at the end of the day it takes two parties to try to make a deal. We saw a lot of teams just pull back and say, 'I'm just going to sit with what I got.'"
Bowman finds himself in that position now.
"I'm very confident in the team," said Bowman, whose team is also without injured center Jonathan Toews [suspected concussion symptoms]. "We knew that we had to add some experience on the back end. We've been talking about that for a long time. That was our objective going in. This is going to give us a big boost in the short-term and if you add some of those guys in when they come back, we've got a very strong group here."
Do they have enough on the roster to win the Stanley Cup?
"I believe we do," Bowman said. "These guys are excited with bringing in a new player and when you've got some young players, they bring some energy to the group."
Oduya will likely be used in either the second or third defense pairing, see some time on the penalty kill and might even log some shifts on the second power-play unit -- though he averaged just 15 seconds a game on the man advantage in Winnipeg.
"The important thing is he's capable of playing a solid 20 minutes a night," Bowman said. "We've been asking a lot of some of our young players lately."
Like other general managers, Bowman also saw a couple of trade targets sign contract extensions to effectively take themselves off the market.
"That's part of the business and I can see why teams want to lock up their players and that probably happened more this year than it has in the past," Bowman said. "I don't know if there's a reason for that. It could be a coincidence or it could be a trend, but when that happens I think it was fortunate that you're not trying to add five or six pieces. We were definitely looking for a defenseman, but it wasn't an environment where a lot of trades were made."
As for trading Scott, a locker room favorite, Bowman said it was mostly about the future.
"We're sad to see John Scott go, but at the same time we were very excited to get a fifth-round pick for John," Bowman said. "If you look back at our last couple drafts, we've had a lot of success in the fifth round with [Marcus Kruger in 2009] and [Andrew Shaw in 2011]. Although it's not a first-round pick, I think with our scouting staff we can still turn that into a good asset."
That's a really tough thing to play through; when you finally are thrown out there, the game is fast, intense, every single play matters, you've got to find a way to play through that and make smart plays. So it's a huge testament to [Vermette] and some other individuals in our locker room that are putting their own ego, their own wants and needs aside, and are ready for those opportunities when they do come.
— Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews on teammate Antoine Vermette, who returned from being a healthy scratch in Game 3 to score the double-overtime winner in Game 4