In June of 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. Not even a week later, GM Stan Bowman hosted the first fire sale of his young career by trading away (and in Antti Niemi’s case, walking away from) a number of valuable championship pieces and role players, namely Kris Versteeg, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel, Andrew Ladd, and fan-favorite Dustin Byfuglien, in order to free up major salary cap space and maintain the core the future. It was a tough pill to swallow at first, but there was no way around it. Players of Byfuglien’s caliber deserve to be paid and, unfortunately, it was next to impossible for the Blackhawks to sign his next pay check. The NHL is a business; we get hurt, we pick ourselves up, and we move on. That’s the nature of all sports.
Just three years later, Bowman’s plan proved to pay off royally. The Blackhawks were crowned 2013 Stanley Cup Champions, but as evidenced by the aforementioned summer just three short years ago, Bowman wasted no time getting back to work and proved, yet again, that he simply does not dick around. Merely six days after winning the Cup, Bowman simultaneously shipped half of the “17 Second Duo”, Dave Bolland, to his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs for three future draft picks, and Michael Frolik to the Winnipeg Jets for two draft picks in Sunday night’s draft.
Bolland will be entering the final year of a five-year, $16.8 million contract that carries an annual average value of $3.3 million, while Frolik has one year and $1.9 million left on his contract. These two trades got the Blackhawks to just over $11.2 million under the salary cap, giving them more than enough cap leeway to bring back the other half of the “17 Second Duo” and postseason hero Bryan Bickell at a team-friendly four-year, $16 million contract. Fresh off his coming-of-age season, Bickell ranked second on the team (post-season) in goals (9) and points (17), first amongst forwards in +/- (+11), first in hits (85) and first in shot percentage (18.4%). The 27-year-old left wing was absolutely huge, literally and figuratively, down the stretch, and given the home town discount that he was willing to take, it’s impossible to find any glaring downsides associated with this contract. After losing that monstrous front-of-the-net presence in Dustin Byfuglien after the first Cup run, Bowman saw the true value in maintaining a brutally hard-hitting wing in Bickell and chose not to let him walk for nothing. A+ for him.
Bolland and Frolik will be missed, but they are certainly not irreplaceable. Bolland gave it a great 7+ year run in Chicago, having scored 70 goals and recording 98 assists in 332 regular season games. He will forever be remembered and cherished by fans for his fantastic play throughout the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs (eight goals and eight assists, three of each coming in the Stanley Cup against Philadelphia) and for his Cup-clinching goal in Game 6 against Boston.
The timing to trade Bolland could not have been better, however, as the continuous injuries that have ailed him throughout his career (including throughout the postseason) may have been over-shadowed by the defining moment of his career last Monday night. Bolland is a good player, but those injuries have significantly prevented him from becoming great, as his average time on ice during the regular season decreased by well over a full minute since 2011 (17:39 to 16:20) and stood at a career low 13:30 during the 2013 postseason. He also proved to be one of, if not the, worst at winning faceoffs on the team (39.3% in 2010 playoffs, 42.5% in 2013 playoffs). Hockey enthusiasts will always appreciate the playoff memories he brought to fans around the country, but Stan Bowman made the right decision to move his expiring contract now and get assets in return. We can only wish him nothing but the best as he looks to improve an up-and-coming Maple Leafs team up north.
Frolik, whom Bowman acquired near the trade deadline back in February 2011, had a major impact on the Blackhawks’ success over the past two and a half seasons, specifically on the penalty kill and in this past playoff run. After a down year in 2011-12, the 25-year-old bounced back to identify himself as a central part of the third-ranked penalty kill in the league. Frolik helped that unit kill an incredible 62-of-70 power plays in 23 postseason games, good for 90.8%. On top of that, he recorded a very solid ten playoff points (three goals, seven assists), including the game winning goal on the road in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semis against Detroit to keep the Blackhawks’ playoff hopes alive, as well as four assists against Boston in the Cup. The positive impact Frolik had over the past couple of months cannot be understated; unfortunately, the young talent that the Blackhawks have in the pipeline has made Frolik expendable, as they are grooming some of that talent (and even Brandon Saad) to step in for him and take over on the PK as we speak. Winnipeg has picked up yet another great piece in Frolik from one of the two Blackhawk Stanley Cup teams (Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd) to add to their ever-improving squad and help improve their 24th ranked penalty-killing unit.
None of us can say right now what other moves Stan Bowman has left up his sleeve, but there are a plethora of decisions that have yet to be made. Michal Handzus and Michal Rozsival are amongst the unrestricted free agents who have expressed interest in staying in Chicago. Marcus Kruger and Nick Leddy are young, restricted free agents but coming off somewhat disappointing postseasons. UFA Viktor Stalberg, twice benched by Joel Quenneville during the post season, is eyeing major minutes with a chance to play as a top-six forward and will likely not be back. Ray Emery, despite his fantastic 17-1-0 season, will surely not be coming back either after the Hawks came to terms on a one-year deal with Finnish goaltender Antti Raanta, who led the Finnish league in goals-against average and save percentage this past season. Highly touted youngsters Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Pirri, Jeremy Morin and Ben Smith are all waiting in the wings and pushing for a spot in the lineup next season. Trading Bolland and Frolik in order to re-sign Bickell was the first of what should be many smart decisions to come, as Bowman has proven time and again that he knows what it takes to build a consistent winner in the NHL. Only time will tell whether those decisions will increase or decrease the Blackhawks’ chances of winning yet another Stanley Cup.
Don’t look now, but the Chicago Blackhawks may have just gotten the biggest steal in the first round of the NHL entry draft on Friday night. Teuvo Teravainen, a 17-year-old left winger out of Finland, is considered by many within the NHL circle to be the number two ranked skater in all of Europe and, according to ESPN Insider’s and former NHL scout Grant Sonier, was the 5th best prospect overall in this year’s draft (also ranked 5th by McKeen’s, 12th by Hockey News and 7th by TSN).
Before the draft, the Hawks thought they stood no chance at getting Teravainen with the 18th pick that they didn’t even bring a nameplate for him. No one in their right mind saw him slipping this far in the draft, but once he did, it was a no-brainer. Yes, the Hawks could use some more depth at defense. And yes, goaltending is a pretty major need right now (although they drafted two goaltenders in the seventh round to make up for not taking one earlier). But it’s not often that you see a player of Teravainen’s skill level fall into your lap at no. 18, so I can’t help but praise Stan Bowman’s decision to deviate from the pattern of selecting defenseman (eight of the first 10 picks were defensemen) and go with the best player available. As Teravainen continues to draw eerily similar comparisons to Patrick Kane because of his amazing puck wizardry, one would have to think about the possibility that Bowman will start (if he hasn’t already after his most recent drunken escapade during Mifflin weekend at Madison) shopping Kane around in order to make up for the holes that the Hawks haven’t seemed to fill up over the past two seasons.
All signs of Teravainen’s draft stock slippage point to his undersized body (5’11” and only 165 pounds). He will need to improve his muscular strength in order to wrestle physically with bigger defensemen along the boards, as well as his defensive game in order to become a complete hockey player. The Hawks front office, as well as a number of analysts, are confident that he will put on the necessary weight with time and will continue to fill out that thin frame of his. In spite of his small stature, Teravainen managed to put up 18 points (11 goals, 7 assists) in 40 games during the regular season as a member of the Jokerit professional team in Finland and win Rookie of the Year (Jarmo Wasara Trophy), which is quite impressive considering the fact that the league (SM-liiga) is filled with men who have been playing professional hockey for years, many of whom even played in the NHL.
McKeen’s Greg Burstyn claims Teravainen has “the best hands in the draft” which, along with his lightning-quick speed, fantastic on-ice vision, superior hockey sense and tremendous offensive skill set, will give him the ability to become an offensive stud in the NHL one day. Here is what TSN had to say about him:
He is elusive and is like a chess player in that he can anticipate moves 3-4 steps ahead of his opponent. Excellent agility and balance & he maneuvers away from danger and opposing checks very well. Great hands in traffic and he’s able to make any type of pass under any circumstance and he has a very good shot that makes him a multiple threat when he’s on the ice.
And that’s not all Teravainen brings to the table. This past season, he was running the power play for Jokerit at age 17, proving that he’s not intimated by the physicality of professional hockey and could be one of the long-term answers to a Blackhawk power play unit that ranked 26th out of 30 in PP% last season (15.2%), dead last in PP% (5.3%) during the playoffs and, to be honest, probably won’t improve all that much next season and beyond unless Bowman makes some legitimate moves.
With Teravainen set to return to Helsinki, Finland next season, it may be one or two years before we see him in a Blackhawk uniform. But once that day comes, another Blackhawk star may be born, only to add to the offensive juggernaut that Chicago has tried to rebuild since losing a good chunk of its players after the magical 2009-2010 season. There’s too much potential here for us not to be excited about what lies ahead.
Click here for a Teuvo Teravainen compilation.