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Ask The Oracle: Bowman on scouting, Cup hangovers and Gretzky vs. Orr

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

Scotty Bowman, Senior Advisor for Hockey Operations, brought his Hall of Fame resume to the Blackhawks in 2008. Now the man with 12 Stanley Cup rings will share his knowledge with this forum, “Ask the Oracle.” Got a question for Ask The Oracle? Submit it here.

When you are evaluating young talent, what do you look for in a player? --Brad Brondsema, Elk Grove Village, Ill.

Oracle: There are three main components. Head, heart, feet. Head involves the ability to think a good game and exhibit a sixth sense. Heart is harder to judge. The more you see a player, the better idea you get about whether he’ll play with an injury and under adversity. Feet is the easiest one to judge. Can he skate? But not just that: Can he skate with the puck? Big difference. A guy can fly all over the ice without the puck, but how well does he move with it? I would say that if you have two of the three, you have a pretty good player. If you have all three, you have a chance to be a star.

Now there are more tests for physical attributes than ever before. Fitness is big, but most tests are for off-ice fitness. You will see the odd occasion when a prospect grades out great in off-ice fitness, but then you put him on the ice and he changes. Then you have a kid like Taylor Hall, the No. 1 pick overall with the Edmonton Oilers. He had just finished a long season. His team won the Memorial Cup and he was drained, so his advisor told him not to take the VO2 test. Don’t go on the bike. His advisor is Bobby Orr. It worked out fine. Hall went first, and he’s a terrific talent.

When you have an early pick in the draft, you try to find out as much as you can about a young player. With the hard salary cap the way it is now, you can’t afford to make a mistake. There’s less hit-and-miss than ever. There are also these national camps, for 16- and 17-year-olds. Patrick Kane left his home in Buffalo and went to Detroit to play midget hockey. You get an early line on kids like him; you talk to everybody you can, like coaches, even parents. Programs are very good now, whether it’s junior hockey in Canada or universities in the United States. You scout players, you gather information, you find out everything you can. The draft is so important.

We hear the term “Stanley Cup hangover” used more and more. With the Blackhawks, was that a reason for their slow start or is it more to do with new players fitting into their roles with the team? --Gary Brodhagen, Stratford, Ontario

Oracle: First of all, the Blackhawks went through more changes than any Stanley Cup champion ever. Never before has something like this happened, and it’s because of the hard salary cap. Nothing even close. The hangover is real, because it’s a marathon of four rounds over two months, so it drains players, mentally and physically. No question. Then after you win, if you win, you have celebrations that include each player having the Cup for a day to take home, or wherever. If you win a Cup, you can’t as management say to the players who worked so hard to earn it, "Don’t celebrate." That’s not right. It’s not fair, but before you know it, the summer is over and it’s time for training camp again.

The more tangible fact is that after you win a Cup, at least for the first half or so of the next season, there is a big target on your backs. When other teams play the Blackhawks now, it’s a measuring stick game for the opponent. As for the Blackhawks, when you win it all, you are tempted to bring everybody back. Naturally, that’s not possible anymore and it’s always good to make at least two or three roster changes, anyway. When you make nine or ten, it takes time for the new guys to fit in. But don’t forget the marathon aspect. The Blackhawks played 22 playoff games, which is like a quarter of the regular season extra. It’s the hardest trophy to win in sports, and when you do, enjoy it. If you’re the Blackhawks and you can’t enjoy last summer, when are you going to enjoy it? Meanwhile, six days after training camp begins, you’re playing exhibition games. If you have a lingering injury, or needed off-season surgery, not much time there.

You can have only one, Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky. Which do you choose? Also, why don’t players shoot it like Bobby Hull anymore? --Arnie Stevenson, Lansing, Ill.

Oracle: Ooh. Gretzky was an offensive machine; Orr changed the whole game from a defensive standpoint. Two different players, though, and one played twice as long as the other. Bobby had to retire at 30, but he was basically done at 28. I mean, if you’re starting a team, you couldn’t go wrong with either. The guy who sometimes gets short-changed because he didn’t play his entire career in the NHL is Bobby Hull. And I still believe, if you wanted to take the mold of a hockey player for size, strength, offense, defense, the full package, you go with Gordie Howe. Plus, he had a mean streak.

As for Hull’s shot, I don’t know. They all shoot so hard now. In his day, Hull really stood out, along with a few others who had a great slapshot, like Boom Boom Geoffrion and Andy Bathgate. Strength and conditioning is so much better now. Also, in the old days, we spent a lot of time on trains and therefore not as much time on the ice practicing. Hull was different because he was so powerful, as a skater, going end to end with people hanging on him, even before he unwound and shot.

I have not witnessed anything like the Stanley Cup celebration in Chicago last June. In all the cities you’ve coached, how does Chicago rank? --Dennis Ferguson, Crestwood, Ill.

Oracle: I go back to Chicago Stadium, a tremendous place to play in a great hockey city. You felt real crowded when you brought a team in there. I felt real crowded at the parade last June too. There was a big buzz in Detroit when we won because they hadn’t won in a long time either. Detroit had suffered through some lean years, like Chicago, maybe more than Chicago. But I couldn’t believe what I saw in Chicago after the Blackhawks won. What was that old story about there being only 20,000 hockey fans in Chicago? I don’t think so. That was amazing, what happened here. And the feeling in the United Center for games, even though it’s so much bigger than the Stadium, it’s something. These fans are loyal, they were hungry and they deserved a Cup, just like the players did

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