Blackhawks VP/GM Stan Bowman’s phone has been ringing quite a lot lately, and it’s a good bet that things will only get busier before the NHL Entry Draft kicks off Friday. Whether the Blackhawks’ movement during draft weekend is limited only to selecting eligible players, however, remains to be seen.
“I try not to put expectations on it; if there are deals to be made, we’re not hesitant to do that,” Bowman said Tuesday during a media call. “There have been a lot of discussions in the past couple of weeks, and I’m sure there will be more heading into Friday. It’s not an objective to make a certain number of moves. There have been a lot of discussions, but we’re not counting on anything.”
Currently, the Blackhawks hold eight picks in the 2012 draft, including the 18th overall pick. Last year, the team selected Mark McNeill at the exact same position, and Bowman says that he is confident the team will find another good prospect whenever the Blackhawks go on the clock.
“It happens every year; guys slide down who you didn’t expect to, and I’m optimistic we can get a very good player with the 18th pick,” he said. “You may get a guy who you have ranked in your top seven or eight, just because of the way the other teams view players differently. We’ve watched all of these players all year long, we’ve interviewed them and gotten to know them, so now we’re going to try to really find out where the players break into different tiers.”
While many analysts have said that this draft is not as strong as previous years, Bowman says that it’s dangerous to leap to those types of conclusions already. There are always good players to be found in any draft if a team knows where to look.
“It’s too early to tell,” he said. “We can look back in a few years and make a better judgment [on the draft’s strength overall]. Obviously, there are players who we’re very high on. We’ve had a good string of success the last couple of years, drafting players not only in the first round, but in subsequent rounds.
Free agency only part of the answer
The second part of Bowman’s hectic few weeks kicks off the Sunday following draft weekend – July 1 – when NHL teams can negotiate with other team’s free agents. While the general manager said that the team will look for help in the free agent market, it’s only part of the team’s strategy to improve this offseason.
“We want to improve our team. If it means the free agent market, then we will look at that,” he said. “When you’re dealing in the free agent market, you’re competing with other teams, so usually the term and dollar amount go pretty high; that’s not necessarily a deterrent to us, but it might lead to other different moves you need to make in order to accommodate that.”
Ultimately, success is measured in wins and losses, and the Blackhawks’ Hockey Operations staff is busy exhausting all possibilities to improve the team.
“We’re not going to be afraid to try to improve our team, and [free agency] is one way to do that,” said Bowman.
Though cautiously optimistic, Bowman said that Marian Hossa and Steve Montador, who both missed the end of last season with injuries, are progressing well and are likely to be ready for training camp in September.
Right Wing - CHI
GOALS: 29 | ASST: 48 | PTS: 77
SOG: 248 | +/-: 18
“Marian continues to improve, the same with Steve Montador,” he said. “They’re both on the mend and starting their summer training programs, getting ready for the season. It’s still June, and training camp isn’t until the middle of September, so it’s not anything someone can guarantee, but at this point we’re very optimistic. I suppose that can change, but most likely it’s going to be ‘full steam ahead.’ They’re both doing well.”
What can also be considered promising news, wingers Daniel Carcillo, who tore his ACL in January, and Ben Smith, who underwent hernia surgery in March, are also both on target to be ready by the time camp opens.
“Carcillo is back skating already, and he’s close to 100 percent. He’s certainly ready to roll, even if training camp were to start in a week or two, he’s cleared. Ben Smith has been recovering, he’s on track as well; he’s probably got another few weeks before he would be ready to start a training camp, but by September he’s going to be certainly 100 percent. They’re both training and preparing for next season, and we’re excited to have both of them back in the mix and being able to contribute.”
Hutton was a pleasant surprise
While the Blackhawks are busy trying to find pieces outside the organization to build on the core, Bowman has also been busy re-signing some of the team’s pending free agents as well; forwards Ben Smith and Brandon Bollig were given two-year deals Monday, and goaltender Carter Hutton, who was one of the biggest surprises on the Rockford IceHogs last season, received a one-year deal.
“[Carter] surprised all of us with how he played,” said Bowman. “He gave that Rockford team a chance to make a strong push in the second half to almost make the playoffs after they really struggled early. It was good to see how the players responded to him and played well in front of him.”
Hutton went 22-13-4 with the IceHogs last year, compiling a .917 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average, winning the starting job in the second half.