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SESSIONS WITH STAN: Evaluating the Opening Half, Pt. 2

SVP/GM Stan Bowman discusses the team's youth movement, whether they'll buy or sell at the deadline, a winning culture and more

by Chris Kuc @ChrisKuc /

On Monday, we presented Part 1 of our latest installment of "Sessions With Stan," a sit-down between Senior Writer Chris Kuc and Stan Bowman during which the Blackhawks Senior Vice-President/General Manager tackles questions about the team's current standing and Bowman's approach to the future of the team.

In Part One, Bowman gave 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 and more.

In Part Two, Bowman talks about balancing the present and the future of the team, the development of the Blackhawks' top young players, how to re-establish a winning culture, what motivates him moving forward and more.

Here is Part Two of the latest sit-down:

KUC: How do you approach making more Stanley Cup runs with the current group of core veterans - Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane - while also making a shift toward the younger players in Kirby Dach, Adam Boqvist, et al?

BOWMAN: Well, that's really the way this game is going right now. I think you're blending all the time the veteran players and the young players. In the past 10 years, the one phenomenon we've seen across the league is the emergence of the young player taking on a big role on the team. It really wasn't that prominent 10 years ago as you still had guys in their mid- to late-20s who were the drivers of your team. I think we're seeing that change. That doesn't mean the other players don't play a big role on your team still. Keith, (Brent) Seabrook, Toews, Kane, they know how to win. They've experienced what it takes to win a playoff series, to win multiple playoff series, to win the Stanley Cup and that's invaluable experience. So you need to blend that in with the young players who don't have that. They may have won at different levels but they haven't won at this level and they don't understand what it takes. I think you need both. As far as which one is more important than the other one, that's a hard question to answer.

The veterans understand what it takes and they understand the process of getting yourself from a frustrating situation to a rewarding situation because they've lived through that. It wasn't always perfect. When they first came here Seabrook and Keith didn't make the playoffs in the beginning of their careers and Toews and Kane did in the second year. With Seabrook and Keith, the team was struggling early on so they've seen that system play out and they know what it takes. So I think there is value in what they bring but the young players have to be given the opportunity to grow.

We're trying to have both of those happen at the same time. The degrees to which you rely on each is something that isn't a perfect formula.

When do you decide if you're a buyer or seller at the trade deadline?

It will be more apparent when we get closer where we fit in the standings. I guess it's a feel more than a mathematical thing. I think it's more where do you see your team going and what's the proper move at that time? It's hard to answer right now. We've only played a little over 40 games. Things tend to crystalize over the next five to six weeks. We could probably have a better conversation closer to that date and see where we stand.

Nothing good ever comes out of injuries, but if there was any kind of bright side to it when Dach and Boqvist are playing significant roles sooner than expected?

I always like to look at things from the bright side of it. The tough side is just that Brent, in particular, and Calvin have dealt with some injuries. Those guys are both warrior-type players and they've played through some injuries for a long time and it's time for them to get healthy. The upside of that happening is an opportunity for younger players who otherwise probably wouldn't get that chance. They would be just working their way up and right now I think it's nice to see how they can do at the NHL level. They don't look overwhelmed, they look like they can play. We look at their play today and you compare that to their first couple games in the league and they look more confident and they look like they belong and that's what we're looking for.

We've shown in the last couple of weeks we've had our strongest consistent play when we've had the most guys out of the lineup (with injuries). It shows that we're starting to come together as a group and understand how we have to play in order to be successful. We've got five or six veteran NHL players out of the lineup and we've got a lot of younger inexperienced guys and we've still found a way to play competitive hockey. I think that bodes well. Our team is going to take a step forward when our younger players take a step forward individually and help impact the game a little bit more.

How do you go about re-establishing the winning culture that was prevalent during much of the last decade?

It's the cyclical nature of our sport. With the system that we play under it's difficult to stay on top forever as much as we would love to. Look around the league and you see that a common trajectory of teams that have had sustained years of success there is a price to play for that success. We're seeing that first-hand right now and if you look at some of the other teams that are having challenging times right now they are teams that had multiple years of strong play.

That's just a commentary on where we are in our sport and how difficult it is to stay up for a long time. So, how do you do it? There's no magic formula. We'd love to accelerate the process but you have to acquire young players through the draft or free agency and then you have to allow them to grow their games to the point where they can make an impact in the league and then you have to have a supporting cast. You have to have a lot of different things to be a top-tier team. We have elements of that, we haven't been able to nail it all yet but we're building to reach that.

Our goal is to be on the top of the hill and we want to get ourselves back up there. We know it's a nice view from the top and there's no shortcut for getting there. We have some really talented young players that are going to take bigger roles in the coming years but that's not all you need. You need good depth and that's something that we're in the process of building up. We've been able to do that over the last couple of drafts with some of our secondary players that we've added to our organization that aren't really on the scene yet but are working their way up.

You can't just have a few star players, you need to have the supporting cast, too, so we're working on building up that group of players as well and not just the top stars.

Even when you were winning the three Cups you could see a downward trend was coming. Is it frustrating you knew it was coming and you couldn't head it off?

What ends up happening is when you're chasing the Cup, No. 1 if you do keep all of your assets you're picking later and later and when you do that you don't get access to the same pool of talent as you do when you're picking earlier. Then in the process of chasing those Cups you make moves to help you win in the moment so you trade away assets, whether it's young players or draft choices, which don't hurt you that year because those players typically don't (make an immediate impact) … but it will hurt you three, four years later when that player should be 21 or 22 and have worked a couple of years on their game. All of a sudden you're seeing other teams pop these guys into the lineup that have developed in their system for a couple of years and we were missing that so we don't have the infusion.

Now, we're starting to get the infusion but these guys are 18, 19, 20 years old - and we have some more good ones coming - but the guys that would be a few years older - we don't have those because that was the price of winning.

That is a common refrain around the league. All you have to do is look at the best teams now and look where they will be in four or five years and they don't have the plethora of young talent because they've utilized it to get where they are or they've traded it away. It's the cyclical nature of our sport but we all play under it and we all have to find a way.

Do the young players on the roster and those on the cusp give you the most optimism about the future?

As those players expand their roles and get more comfortable being in the NHL it will help. But, certainly, looking at the talent that we have on the way - some of it is in Chicago now and some of it is on the way to Chicago - I think there is reason for optimism knowing that the young players are going to take a step forward and not just be on our team but make a difference on our team. That's what we need going forward.

Is that what gives you the passion to keep doing this job, watching youngsters develop and become a big part of the team?

Yeah, it's a big puzzle trying to put it together. Even when you're on top, it's always looking down the road. What's challenging for me and what I get excited for is the challenge of how do we make this work? What's the next progression for our team, how can we be better, how can we innovate, what are things we can do to make ourselves a little bit better than we were today?

It sounds like a cliché, but the only way you get better is incremental change. It's difficult to make a dramatic leap forward. In the next couple of months or even the next year we have to continue to be better in small ways and then those add up to be a big difference if it all comes together the way you hope.

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