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SESSIONS WITH STAN: Evaluating the Opening Half, Pt. 1

SVP/GM Stan Bowman discusses the opening half, the playoff race, his plans with cap space and head coach Jeremy Colliton

by Chris Kuc @ChrisKuc /

A lot has happened with the Blackhawks since the first installment of "Sessions With Stan," a unique forum where Senior Writer Chris Kuc sits down with Stan Bowman in the Senior Vice President/General Manager's office for an extended interview during which Bowman doesn't know what questions are headed his way.

In the previous "Sessions" held at the end of June (Part 1 and Part 2), Bowman spoke about the recent selection of Kirby Dach with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, building the '19-20 roster while navigating the league's salary cap, his goal of keeping fans informed of the decision-making process and more.

This time around, Bowman gives his take on the season thus far, if he would have done anything differently in building the team, what he might do with money under the NHL's salary cap, the evolution of coach Jeremy Colliton, what he's most optimistic about when it comes to the Blackhawks' future, his main motivation for doing his job and more.

Here is Part 1 of the latest sit-down:

KUC: How would you describe the season thus far?

BOWMAN: Up and down. Some strong performances and some inconsistent play have been the hallmark of the first half of the year.

We came back from starting in Europe and had all of those home games (seven) and we had some new players incorporated into the mix trying to find some chemistry and I think that first month with all of those home games we didn't get a lot of results. Even though we were playing well for large sections of those games it's like we found a way not to get points in them. And then when that happens you start to press a little bit and I think we had a couple poor performances.

For the most part in October we played well but we didn't get a lot of results from it. So then you turn the page into November and we got rolling a little bit, scored some goals. We got our offense going. I think early on as much as we were playing a pretty tight game we weren't scoring very much so we weren't getting any wins.

Then in November, leading into Thanksgiving, we couldn't seem to get consistent performances. We would make some strides and only in the last couple of weeks have we been a little bit more consistently good. With the exception of that New Jersey game right before Christmas when it was a poor performance (a 7-1 loss) I think we've had a long stretch of games during which we've played well. Even the other night (against the Flames on Jan. 7) when we didn't get the victory we played a much better overall game and I think those are the things you have to stick with in times when you don't get the results but you play what you would determine to be a solid game. You're not going win all of those games but you have to stick with it.

I think our penalty kill has been much improved from last year. We were last in the league last season and I think we're up close to the Top 10 now. Our power play has not found its rhythm. Poor start but it's shown signs of life over the last few weeks. We had five or six games in a row where we had a power-play goal. But we're certainly looking for more from that as well.

The goaltending has been tremendous from the beginning to now. I certainly can't ask for more out of both goalies. They've given us a chance nearly every night to be in the game.

So that's I guess the quick summary of how I've seen the first half go.

After all the moves you made during the offseason, are you disappointed with where the Blackhawks are in the standings?

Certainly, looking at where you want to be and you're kind of below that level and you're pushing to catch up to the pack a little bit, that's not the way you design it. But things do change as the year goes along and you kind of have to adjust your, not expectations, but your outlook on things and realize that we're not in a great spot but we're still in the mix and we've trended positively over the last three or four weeks and that's something we can build upon and we need to build upon.

It's easy to look back with 20-20 vision, but is there anything you would have done differently over the summer?

No, I don't think so. Generally, I don't operate that way. I'm sure people do but we haven't spent any time looking back and what could have been or what would have been. When you have new players coming in there is always an adjustment period regardless of which new players you bring in because it's a different mixture of guys.

The teams that have had the most success this year have relatively few changes. Their core group has been together for three or four years and they have a couple of little tweaks here and there. That's where we want to get to and that's where we were for a long time where we had sort of the core of your team was back and they were leading the charge. They knew how to play and they knew all the fundamentals that were important to the coach. Now, we don't really have that and we're trying to develop it.

So we could have brought a different group in but it still would have been a new group that was going to take some time to get acclimated.

With Brent Seabrook and Calvin de Haan on the long-term injured list, you've got some money under the salary cap. How do you balance maybe doing something now to help this team make a push while knowing you've got moves to make next season?

In the short term, if we're looking to use the cap space it would be most likely to be spent on a player whose deal was expiring. I guess you could call it a rental market and the prices are always high. We have to be cognizant of that. And it's still pretty early. It's only just past the midway point so there are really no deals like that out there at the moment.

If you look around the league with the exception of maybe one team, I would say everyone is still in the race so nobody is really moving their players out right now. That would be more of a position when you get closer to the end of February and you'll know where your team stands, you'll know which other teams are more likely to be moving players out and then you have a better feel for the marketplace.

If we were going to make trades right now I can't say we're going to be chasing rental players but those probably fit best in that cap space that we do have because obviously de Haan and Seabrook are coming back next year. So although we have money right now, it doesn't transfer into next year.

It's a puzzle that has us planning out where are we now, where are we going to be in six months and where are we going to be in 12 months. It's a puzzle to put together and we have not just one approach, we've got a few different approaches we're looking at. What happens over the next six weeks will kind of guide which way we go with it.

You said to reporters the other day that the lack of postseason berths the last couple of seasons doesn't have an impact on what you do moving forward. Why is that?

All I meant when I said that was, that's stuff is over with. Making a move now isn't going to change what happened two years ago. We have to look at where we are today. That's what the most important thing is. What's happened has already happened. That's not an approach I subscribe to, to try to let the past couple of seasons dictate what you're going to do here in January of 2020. We have to look at the team that we have, we have to look at the strengths of our team, where we are headed, the players that are playing a role and if we were going to bring new players in, whose roles would they take?

We're trying to incorporate younger players and there's not a perfect way to do that. You have to have the opportunity for the players to play and you can't put too much responsibility on them. But at the same time, if you block them too much then you're going to stunt their progression and development.

We have high hopes for Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach, in particular, and if you bring in other players all of a sudden their opportunities start to decrease. For that reason, we're trying to balance that. We don't want to give them too much but we also don't want to set it up so that they don't have the opportunity to grow.

How would you describe the evolution of Jeremy Colliton as an NHL coach?

Well, Jeremy is the same guy as he was at the start. His approach to the game hasn't changed, his communication level hasn't changed and those are all strengths of his. He's got good composure and he's got an ability to lead the team - even when times are tough he's a steadying force.

I think the only difference now, and it's a benefit for Jeremy, is he has more game experience in the league. You can study the NHL as an outsider - you can watch games but when you're coaching in the American League you have a team to coach and you have to prepare for the next game and you may watch a few NHL games each night but you don't really know the league, you don't know the ins and outs of the other coaches, you don't know the tendency of players, you don't know the intricacies of the NHL itself and I think now he's made his way through.

It's been a year. I've seen his comfort level and as you're preparing to play whatever team it is that night I think he's got much better knowledge base of the opponent, the opponent's coaching style and the ways that we can exploit that and use it to our advantage.

Check back on Tuesday for Part Two of 'Sessions with Stan'

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