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Bowman adds size, toughness to Blackhawks roster

by Brian Hedger /
CHICAGO – There might be a minor move or two left to complete, but the Chicago Blackhawks are basically set for the rest of this offseason.

There is still the matter of how unsigned restricted free agent defenseman Chris Campoli will depart the Windy City – via a trade or unrestricted free agency after being unable to agree on a new deal – but otherwise this is likely the team Chicago will start training camp with in September.

What that team should be, at least from the looks of things, is a one with a lot of new faces that will add the grit and in some cases downright nastiness Hawks' management and coaches felt was missing last season.

Chicago will still be fronted by a star-studded "core group" of guys that include captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, but most of the new role players brought in via free agency or trade will be expected to complement all that skill with a blend of toughness, skill and veteran leadership.

"I think we addressed the needs of our team going into the season and we've got some experience, we've got some size, we've got some toughness and we've got a lot of guys with some motivation behind them, as well," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said during the team's fourth annual fan convention this weekend in the Chicago Hilton. "We've got a great core that's in place and these (new) guys should complement our type of team and our team game that we're looking to play. All aspects and areas of our team … there's a lot of options as a coach as you look at how the lineup's going to look and how we want to play."

Heading toward training camp in September, Chicago now has eight defensemen, 14 forwards and two goalies inked to contracts plus a handful of prospects who will be invited despite a dearth of openings. The Hawks are also nearly $4 million below the League's $64.3 million salary cap and the six veteran free agents they've signed are each playing on affordable, one-year deals.

It's probably how the Hawks would've preferred to do things a summer ago, after winning the 2010 Stanley Cup. Instead, they had to sell off a number of valuable puzzle pieces just to get below the cap and then fill in the holes left behind with whatever they could afford.

The upside of that was finding a potential star defenseman in 20-year-old Nick Leddy, who made the Hawks out of training camp and should have a much bigger role this season. The downside was being unable to find replacements on and off the ice for impact role players like the departed Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Adam Burish and Ben Eager.

So, this summer Bowman set out to change the makeup of his roster. He traded three more Cup winners in Troy Brouwer, Tomas Kopecky and top-four defenseman Brian Campbell – plus his pricey contract – before July 1, and those moves cleared enough payroll space to add five veteran free agents in July.

The new additions all share similar traits. They're big, strong, gritty and can do more than just handle their own in puck battles or fights. Among the most notable are power forward Andrew Brunette, grizzly defenseman Sean O'Donnell and hard-hitting forward Jamal Mayers – not to mention shift-disturbing scrapper Daniel Carcillo.

Bowman also pulled off a deal with the Buffalo Sabres a day before free agency started for the negotiating rights to veteran defenseman Steve Montador – then soon struck a deal for a reported four-year, $11 million contract to keep him.

After reaching an agreement Friday with restricted free agent Michael Frolik while also signing free agent blueliner Sami Lepisto to take Campoli's place, Bowman all but pronounced the Hawks done with their off-season makeover. The result could be a highly-skilled yet powerfully-built team that doesn't stand down to anybody.

"We tried to identify what we felt were the shortcomings of our team down the stretch last year and that was in some games, when the tide's not going your way … we had a hard time changing the momentum," Bowman said. "It seemed like if we scored a goal, we would be able to change the momentum of the game … but that was kind of our only mechanism to get things going when it wasn't working to start."

Now they can try to get it started with a jolt of "energy" players like Carcillo, Mayers and O'Donnell – who can fire up a team with a big hit or get under the skin of opposing players to throw off their focus.

"Sometimes you need to have other kinds of players who can contribute different things," Bowman said. "You need to be able to change the momentum and that's usually with guys who play a certain style. It's a good mixture for us of keeping our skill guys that are going to be offensive type players, but adding players that make the other team have to show up and be hard to compete with."

Combined with the return of 6-foot-8 enforcer John Scott – who will start off on defense – the Hawks' toughness shouldn't take long to show itself. That's something Quenneville – himself a former hard-hitting NHL defenseman – is anxious to see.

"We had to be harder to play against and I thought we addressed that this summer," he said. "We've still got all the pieces that we feel are as good a core as is out there in the League. Complementing it was our objective."
"Sometimes you need to have other kinds of players who can contribute different things. You need to be able to change the momentum and that’s usually with guys who play a certain style." -- Stan Bowman
Spicing up the personality of the locker room couldn't hurt either, which is another area Carcillo is said to be adept.

"That's what we like," Toews said. "I'll never say anything bad about our locker room last year and I don't want to take anything away from some of those guys, but we definitely want to add some of that charisma and that personality. I think a noisy locker room and an energetic one is always better than one that's the opposite."

He speaks from experience. The Hawks had a "noisy" room two seasons ago when they won the Cup, when the likes of Burish, Versteeg, Byfuglien and others made the journey even more entertaining. All of them were either dealt away or not re-signed because of the cap crunch, leaving some gaping holes in the team's personality.

"Those are big shoes to fill," Toews said. "Guys like Andrew Brunette and Daniel Carcillo have a lot of skill, but also a lot of personality. I'm excited about them. I think they're great changes. Management and everyone in the front office made some very tough decisions in the last couple years, but you look at our team heading into this training camp and I think we've got a great chance to repeat what we did a couple years ago – and that's our No.1 goal."
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