"We're going to have some different looks to our team," the Blackhawks general manager said on a teleconference Tuesday afternoon to talk about contract extensions announced earlier in the day for veteran forward Jamal Mayers and defenseman Johnny Oduya. "We're not going to look identical to last year."
It's still quite early in Chicago's offseason -- the Stanley Cup Final hasn't even started -- and things could change quickly with potential trades. However, at the moment the Hawks have 22 players signed from this past season's team that bowed out in the Western Conference quarterfinal round for the second straight year.
"We're not even to July yet," he said. "We're still going to look to make additional changes to our team."
The Hawks actually did make a big change when they fired former assistant coach Mike Haviland -- who helped Chicago win the 2010 Stanley Cup. While they search for Haviland's replacement, the roster is also being assessed.
As part of that assessment, Bowman wanted to make sure the guys he wanted back were taken care of quickly. It started with a two-year contract extension for gritty forward Daniel Carcillo toward the end of the season, which was followed by another one-year deal for veteran goalie Ray Emery. Now come the new agreements for Mayers and Oduya -- a trade-deadline addition from Winnipeg whose salary-cap hit for the new three-year deal is a reported $3.375 million.
That's less than the $3.5 million cap hit of his previous contract, which shows that sticking with a winning team was a factor in his decision. After joining the Hawks, Oduya scored one goal and added four assists with a plus-3 rating in 18 games, finishing with season totals of three goals and 18 points overall.
"I did some thinking (about it), but it wasn't too much to think about really," Oduya said on the conference call. "I felt I had a good time last year, even though it ended a little quicker than I wanted it to. I felt it was a good place, so I'm really happy about this. Shorter or longer (contract length) didn't make a difference for me. I knew I wanted to come back."
Bowman said Oduya's eagerness to stay made getting the new deal done an even higher priority for the Blackhawks -- who have seven guys signed on the blue line for roughly $22.9 million combined. Chicago actually appears set on the back end if Bowman wants to be, despite a potential lingering upper-body injury to veteran Steve Montador that's strongly believed to be concussion-related.
Some who want the Hawks to be in the market for a bigger, stronger defenseman are wondering how signing Oduya helps that issue. Bowman, however, said it doesn't necessarily prevent a new piece to the puzzle from being added. It does, however, keep the team from having to find another puck-mover in addition to added bulk.
"When you have a guy right under your nose here, who is a very good player and wants to come back … it would be foolish not to try and get something done," Bowman said of the puck-moving Oduya, who fit well into the Hawks' up-tempo style on the back end. "If we had chosen not to try and sign Johnny, we would really be looking for that element in addition to some size (in free agency). He played a big part of the turnaround on our team. His style of hockey complemented our style."
The 37-year-old Mayers, who signed with Chicago on the opening day of free agency last summer, was also a good fit in the forward group during the regular season. He played 81 games primarily centering the fourth line and scored six goals with nine assists. Mayers also led the team with 91 penalty minutes and was one of the top enforcers whenever teams took liberties with star players or rookies.
"I did some thinking [about it], but it wasn't too much to think about really. I felt I had a good time last year, even though it ended a little quicker than I wanted it to. I felt it was a good place, so I'm really happy about this. Shorter or longer [contract length] didn't make a difference for me. I knew I wanted to come back."
-- Blackhawks' defenseman Johnny Oduya on his contract extension
"As a competitor, that was a tough pill to swallow," Mayers said during Tuesday's call. "But the reality is we anticipated a long playoff run and we had a lot of guys. (It was) tough as a competitor (to take), but once you take a step back and take look at the whole year … it was a good fit for myself and the Hawks. I tried not to just look at how things ended. I still felt I had a lot to give and felt it was a great fit. I'm excited about next year."
The Blackhawks as an organization are, as well.
Oduya's deal leaves them with a little less than $3 million in cap space heading toward the start of free agency on July 1, but that's assuming all five of the rookies who contributed as role players down the stretch and into the playoffs will make the team out of training camp.
That's also discounting the possibility of trades that could clear both salary-cap and roster space for potential additions -- such as the deals last summer of veterans Brian Campbell to Florida and Troy Brouwer to Washington.
Both of those moves happened during the 2011 NHL Draft weekend. The 2012 Draft will begin on June 20 and could once again see the Blackhawks active in the trade market leading up to it, during the weekend and possibly in the week afterward -- prior to the start of free agency.
"You have to be open to try and improve your team, but we will approach (free agency) like we have in the past," Bowman said. "We'll come up with some players we want to target and we'll also talk about some things leading into the draft which may materialize and we'll kind of take it from there."