Stan Bowman received a promotion this week, but fans won’t immediately see many tangible changes in the Blackhawks’ roster or Bowman’s outward stature as a result.
The effects of his new title as President of Hockey Operations, on top of his retained general manager duties, will be more evident internally.
“Hockey-wise, for the most part, things are going to continue on the way they’ve been,” Bowman said Friday. “But part of the new role and leadership is to play an active role in the development of your staff. One of the things is we want to try to invest in a lot of new people in new positions. [We] promoted a few younger people, and part of the job is to guide them in the coming years so that they can expand their careers.”
Indeed, Wednesday’s Hawks front office shakeup that promoted Bowman and hired Jaime Faulkner opposite him only provided the topping on a series of personnel shuffles within the front office in 2020.
The younger people Bowman referenced include the three newly promoted assistant general mangers — Mark Eaton, Ryan Stewart and Kyle Davidson — and newly promoted director of hockey administration Meghan Hunter. (A story exploring the three new AGMs is coming soon.) Part of Bowman’s new job will apparently ask him to mentor them more closely.
But new CEO Danny Wirtz on Thursday described Bowman’s new role with different word choices, and one in particular stood out: accountability.
“The way in which it’s structured is to give him the accountability, the complete line of sight and obviously the support and empowerment from us,” Wirtz said. “He has the accountability and he’s empowered to go and make the decisions and do the things we need to do to get our team back to that elite level.”
When John McDonough was president, he was rumored to meddle more than occasionally in trades, signings, draft picks and other player decisions that Bowman would have normally handled himself. Veteran coach Joel Quenneville, given his experience, had a say too — as did longtime high-ranking executives like Al MacIsaac.
Asked Thursday if Bowman lacked full control previously, Wirtz didn’t say yes, but he tellingly didn’t say no either.
“I don’t know if it was a reflection on what he had or didn’t have in terms of control before,” Wirtz said. “But I do think that there’s a piece of reframing of what’s expected. And with that comes reframing your role, what you’re responsible and accountable for and what the expectations are.
“You want to give leaders the autonomy to make those decisions and hold them accountable for those decisions. So that’s really what it’s about more going forward [rather] than trying to fix something that may or may not have been there before.”
Now McDonough and Quenneville are gone, and while MacIsaac, Kelley and others remain, they explicitly rank below Bowman in the hierarchy. This presidency makes blatantly clear that Bowman controls 100% of the decisions moving forward.
If the Hawks’ player moves work out favorably, Bowman deserves credit. And if they don’t, Bowman takes the blame.
It has, refreshingly, become that simple. And Bowman seems genuinely enlivened by that new reality.
“I try to keep a more calm approach and demeanor,” he said. “But inside, I’m very determined and I’m excited about the challenge ahead. It’s something I wake up excited to do. I love that…part of the business is building something. That’s something I was a part of in the past, and I’m excited to be a part of it now as well.”
Wirtz has sensed that same exuberant drive for self-innovation within Bowman. He referenced it when defending his decision to not bring a new set of eyes into the hockey operations department — following three straight losing seasons on the ice — like he did with Faulkner in business operations.
Given how Wirtz’s close relationship with Bowman has mainly formed just over the past eight months, perhaps that indicates a new light switch has clicked on recently within the GM, even 11 years now into his tenure.
“You can bring in new for the sake of new, or you can work with existing folks who have a hungry curiosity to grow and learn and develop,” Wirtz said. “What I really took away from Stan was that he wasn’t satisfied. He was not a finished product. He was interested in advancing himself, advancing our hockey operations. And so he exhibited just as much of the aspiration as we have on our business side.”
The fact Bowman now holds both the GM and president titles doesn’t necessarily exclude him from hiring a different new GM to work underneath him in the future, though.
Wirtz said part of Bowman’s new powers will include hiring decisions within the department, and Bowman didn’t shoot down the proposal Friday as fiercely as he often does with ideas more popular in the fan base than in the front office.
“That’s something we’ll look into in time,” Bowman said. “But for right now, we’re just sort of at a beginning stage of next phase.”
Strome talks still going
Dylan Strome has been a restricted free agent for more than two months now, and it doesn’t sound like a contract resolution is imminent.
Bowman said he’s continually talking with Strome’s new agent, Pat Morris, but doesn’t have any concrete updates about the situation.
“Really nothing to report other than we’re negotiating with him and hopeful that we’ll get that done,” he said.