Blackhawks VP/GM Stan Bowman spoke with the media Friday night to discuss the first day of NHL free agency, the team's signings and more.
On his free agency strategy...
"I’ve always had the philosophy that if you’re relying on the free agent period in July to save your team, that’s probably not the prescription we’re working for. Adding a player here and there is certainly understandable, but the way to build success and sustain it is to draft and develop your own players, and add in the occasional player through free agency. If I had my choice, I would do it the way we’ve done it recently: develop from within, have your young players emerge over time, don’t rush them to the NHL and use the draft and development of your players as the way to find the good players. Fortunately, we’ve been able to do that, and when we do find a group that’s had success, we’re able to keep it together like we have this summer. I think it’s the most prudent way in the salary cap world to be able to sustain success."
On newly-signed goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin...
"We spoke to Ray [Emery] quite a bit down the stretch after the season and it became apparent, talking to his agent, he was looking for a different opportunity. I can’t speak for him, but it sounded like he wanted to go somewhere that he had the chance to be the number-one guy, or a different opportunity. He obviously experienced the past two seasons here and I think he enjoyed it, but I think he was looking for a little something different for himself.
"So at that point, we turned our attention to other goaltenders. It was pretty apparent when we looked at the list of goalies that were available that Nik was the best candidate for that position. We’re really thrilled to add him to our team for a number of reasons: number one is that I think he will be able to be the tandem with Corey [Crawford] that we’ve experienced the last couple of years and has worked so well.
"We’ve got a goaltender who has had an accomplished career and he’s still got a lot of game left in him. He’s a competitive guy and wants the chance to help our team, try to come back with a strong season. For that reason, it was very appealing for both sides. We have a lot of familiarity with Nik. He was a really good goaltender with us and he sort of helped us get back on track as a franchise. It’s nice to have him here now as our team’s even stronger now than before.
"We were looking for someone who had not just been a backup goalie. Nik has always been a number-one guy. I think it’s nice that he sees enough in our group to want to come back. He knows that Corey is the guy here, but he’s comfortable in supporting him. One of the things that was so evident last year was we had two top-notch goaltenders and our team never had to change their style depending who was in net. We just played the same way every night because both goalies were excellent, and that’s what we see next year as well."
On re-signing Michal Handzus, and whether he can mentor young players coming up to the NHL level...
"It’s certainly nice to have some continuity. We had a lot of success with this group last year and I think Michal came in and in a short amount of time we could really see his value in a number of ways. He certainly brings some size and his faceoff ability was well-documented, along with his experience level and just the fact that our coaches are really comfortable with his ability playing many roles on our team. I think he brought a lot of good things to the table and we had a lot of success with him in the lineup.
"Brandon [Pirri] has had some good seasons in Rockford, and I think he’s ready for the next step. We have a lot of depth at center, and they’re all young players. Brandon is the furthest along, but we’ve also got Drew LeBlanc, who we added last year and is a promising player, Phillip Danault, Mark McNeill. These are four young players who we’re going to give a chance in training camp. We certainly know what Michal can do, and we’re going to have a nice mixture of some young players in the lineup and we have the veteran presence of Michal. It gives us that ability to utilize different players throughout the season."
On negotiations with RFA Marcus Kruger...
"We’re getting closer with Marcus. We’re not quite to the finish line, but we’ve had a couple of good discussions and we’re getting close. We’re hoping that will work itself out in the next couple of days. We’re certainly going to get that done, it just takes a little time sometimes."
On re-signing defenseman Michal Rozsival...
We’re going to have our same [defensive] group coming back that we won the Stanley Cup with. We’ve got some young players who are really on the verge of breaking through, as well. - VP/GM Stan Bowman
"I think with defense it's critical that you have depth and experience, and you have players that you’re really confident can get the job done. The way Rozsy played this year was really in excess of our expectations. We signed him later in the summer last year and hoped he would fill in, and when he was in our lineup he really contributed.
"He seems to really have the ability to help our offensive players out. He can log a lot of minutes, and he can play in defensive situations. He’s a very versatile player, and we wanted to bring that back. We’re going to have our same group coming back that we won the Stanley Cup with. We’ve got some young players who are really on the verge of breaking through, as well. That’s a good thing, though; you’re always going to experience some types of injuries during the season, and overall we’ve got a lot of guys we’re confident in at the NHL level and we can work these young defensemen in slowly; we don’t need to go into the season hoping they can get it done.
"I would always prefer to deal from a position of strength, having a lot of experienced NHL defensemen and then find some games for the young guys to work in. That’s a recipe for success."
On whether the Blackhawks are done with free-agent signing after dealing with their own restricted free agents...
"If you look at the group we had last year, we have a very similar group coming back, which was our goal; we’ve been mapping this out for a long time, trying to determine which players we were going to keep. We’ve only had to move a couple of players out of here. We do like the stability that we have. We’ve had a lot of success with the group, and we have some players who are ready to be given that opportunity. I’m pretty excited for that. It’s nice to have that youth and the excitement and energy they bring. The young players have had good seasons in Rockford and they really are due for the opportunity to show us what they can do at the NHL level. I like where we’re at; we’ve got a good combination of experienced guys who have had success as a group and young players that are ready to push and look for jobs."