NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.
The latest edition features Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman:
Typically at this time of the season, Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman is scouring the market for cost-effective rentals, which could help the Blackhawks push for another Stanley Cup championship. It's worked before, so it wouldn't be surprising if he were at it again.
However, he's not doing that. Bowman is instead content, or, dare we say happy with what he has seen from the Blackhawks of late. For good reason, too.
The Blackhawks have won six of seven games and 13 of 19, renewing hope of finishing first in the Central Division despite being seven points behind the Minnesota Wild, who they play at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, FS-N, FS-WI, CSN-CH, NHL.TV).
"I like the way we've come together over the past probably six weeks," Bowman said Monday. "I think we're playing more as a team, and what I mean is we have a little bit more cohesion. Earlier in the year when we were winning games it would usually be one line got hot or the goalie was great, and when you're relying on things like that to carry you it's not really a long term plan for success. You want to see your team play as a team and have everybody contributing and have more even contributions across the board. We've seen that lately, which makes us a harder team to play against."
However, Bowman hasn't stopped looking at the market in advance of the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline on March 1 at 3 p.m. ET. He spoke about his plans with the deadline approaching and more about the Blackhawks in a Q&A with NHL.com.
Here are Five Questions with…Stan Bowman:
You have made comments to other news outlets about the deadline and said you don't think you'll weigh too deep into the market, especially for rentals. Is your position on that the same? If so why won't you do that when you have done it in the past and it has worked?
"My position really hasn't changed. Our team has done what I saw coming with our group. I saw us starting to play more of a team game and the younger players were starting to become just regular players. There is always that thing where everybody talks about the rookies, but they've played 50-60 games, so they're rookies technically by the rulebook but I don't look at them that way anymore. What I was trying to explain to people was these guys are just part of our team now. They're not trying to stay in the NHL or worried about getting sent down, they're just like anybody else now and they're getting better as the year goes on. Younger players have a lot of growth potential and they're better in March than they are in November whereas your veteran guys aren't going to be improving their game as you go along, they're just going to be maintaining it. They're already at a high level so how are you going to get better over the course of the year if you don't add players and just use the same group, and the answer is if you have young players, they're going to get better as the year goes on. If you have a bunch of veterans they're not really going to get better as the year goes on. So for that reason I am really not focused on a rental. I haven't had any discussions to that. If we add a player it might be more of a depth-type move but I really don't see us making a big splash and adding one of these names that you're reading about in the papers. It's just not in our plans right now. You have to have room for improvement from within. It's really hard to improve your team if you're going to go out and look to acquire players or sign free agents. It's just difficult to do that. I don't want to trade these young players."
Regarding the young players, Jonathan Toews is playing with Richard Panik, who is not a young player, but Nick Schmaltz, the other guy on that line, turns 21 on Thursday. Is that a line you can see sticking together for the long haul?
"Yeah, they've played great hockey. Johnny has played his best hockey with those two guys. I think it gives him some speed and some skill, which complements his game. Johnny is such a two-way player and he's got so much competitiveness and he battles very hard and he matches up really well against any player, so the thing you like about that line is they can score a lot of different ways. Panik likes to hang around the net. He's a strong guy. Nick Schmaltz has made a nice addition in terms of his play recognition and his ability to hold onto the puck and find guys. Obviously Johnny is what makes the line go, there's no question about that, but those other guys have added a really nice element and they keep getting better. We really couldn't find the right combination for Jonathan in the beginning of the season, but now they've been probably our best line for the last few weeks here and I don't see a reason to change that up right now."
Video: EDM@CHI: Toews sets up Panik to reach milestone
OK, but you know as well as I do that Joel Quenneville likes to put the lines in the blender when he doesn't like what he sees. Can Schmaltz and Panik have the same impact on the game they're having now if they're not playing with Toews? Or, is that a reason why you're looking to add a depth guy, just to give Joel more options in case he wants to change things up and is worried about a drop-off from Schmaltz and Panik if they move away from Toews?
"Earlier in the year Richard was on more of a checking line with [Marcus] Kruger and [Dennis] Rasmussen. For about a month straight they played together and it's a different role for him, more physical, not as much offense. Schmaltz, he didn't really have a role for us early in the year, which is why we sent him to the minors, but now that he's got so much confidence I think he could play somewhere else with his skills. He never played wing before, which was part of the problem earlier in the year. He had been a center his whole life, so when we first moved him there he was playing with Toews and [Patrick] Kane to start the year and he wasn't really comfortable in that position. But now that he's comfortable playing wing or he could play center they could move him around, but that's why we are looking at other options. The way our team is right now I'm very comfortable. What you don't know is injuries. I was watching the Ottawa game and they had three forwards hurt in one game. Nobody can withstand that. I don't care how deep you are, if you lose three guys it hurts. So you have to look ahead that if you do run into injuries you have to have players who can fill in. We do have some guys still, but they're younger guys so we may look to see if there is some depth. It doesn't mean that it'll be a rental, but it is something we're looking at."
That line being together plus the second line with Kane, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin has forced Marian Hossa to play on the third line. Does that role work for him?
"Yeah, because his minutes aren't really down, maybe very slightly. We do find ways to get him extra shifts throughout the game. He'll double shift once or twice here and there to get another minute or so and he's obviously used a lot on our special teams. His 5-on-5 minutes aren't much different and I think it makes us more of a dangerous team because Marcus Kruger is a very good, reliable player who can play against anybody. Then all of a sudden you have three lines you can match up against any team. When you're on the road you have to put your players on the ice first and now we have three lines we can throw out there at any point of any game and you don't have to worry if the other team puts their top line out. That's the benefit we get from moving Marian down. He's still leading our team in goals even though he's not playing on the top two lines."
Video: CHI@BUF: Hossa sneaks a wrist shot past Lehner
From a League-wide perspective, do you think the upcoming expansion draft for Vegas and the protection lists that teams are working on now is having an impact or will have an impact on the trade deadline? Are those factors going to prevent trades from happening and make the deadline slower, less active?
"That's a good question and I don't know if I have an answer for you. It's probably playing some role, yeah. What you might see, and I've talked to some GMs about this, is you might see some moves right at the end of their seasons, whether that's in May or June. They might be thinking, 'I can't trade this guy now but I'll probably have to move somebody before the expansion draft, so we can circle back before that happens and look at this guy, have a look at these players, because one of them is probably going to be traded before the expansion draft.' I think it is factoring in, but I don't know if it's necessarily factoring in at the deadline. I think there will be moves made in the run-up to the expansion draft."