Patrick Sharp’s Extension Another Example of Stan Bowman’s Savvy Vision

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Patrick Sharp in pre-game warmups

Over the past few seasons, Chicago Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman has put his own spin on the rebuilding project that former headmaster Dale Tallon had begun back at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Bowman has taken players that Tallon acquired, such as Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Jonathan Toews, and formed a team around them that ended up winning a Stanley Cup and coming within one goal of making more history in April against the Vancouver Canucks.

With all of the intelligent moves that he has made (including the remarkable trade that brought first-round pick Nick Leddy and Kim Johnsson to Chicago in exchange for the corpse of Cam Barker), the most noteworthy ones have been the signings that he has put together. While he did nearly get the team in trouble with the NHL for his salary cap-skirting contract he arranged for Duncan Keith, he also made sure to keep the team’s core group of players intact through a long and painful summer that saw a slew of talented role players leave town.

These signings have all made Chicago into a perennial contender after years of mediocrity, and Bowman continued that run on Wednesday when he re-signed winger Patrick Sharp to a five year contract extension that will keep him in the Windy City until 2017. The contract, which will pay him nearly $6 million a season, is a representation not only of Bowman’s affinity for the sniper, but also a continuation of the policy of rewarding the team’s core players that has led him to this point.

To see the intelligence behind Bowman’s re-design of this team after the Cup victory, consider the end dates of the various contracts that he has locked his players up with. Over the next two seasons, Bowman will only have to deal with decisions on whether to re-sign various role players, and after the 2013-14 campaign, more paychecks will have to be cut to keep the team intact. Dave Bolland and Corey Crawford’s contracts will both end after that season, and with Bolland’s tremendous value come playoff time, as well as Crawford’s penchant for keeping his cool behind a defense that was largely shoddy last year, those guys could definitely stay with the team into the future.

After the season following that, Bowman will likely deal with his biggest hurdle, which will be to re-sign the two faces of the Blackhawks franchise: Kane and Toews. They will likely demand deals that will surpass the $6.3 million that they currently make, and while Toews is ultimately the captain and therefore hugely unlikely to go anywhere, it could be an interesting decision to see whether Bowman lets Kane go, or whether he keeps the offensive stalwart in the fold.

At the end of the 2015-16 season, Bowman will only have defenseman Brent Seabrook’s contract to deal with. When he signed the deal earlier this year, NHL pundits throughout the country decried it as a study in overpayment by Bowman, but in light of the contracts handed out to players like James Wisniewski and Shea Weber (who received a record $7.5 million arbitration decision on Wednesday), the $5.8 million that Bowman paid Seabrook could well turn out to be a bargain by those standards.

Finally, when the year 2017 rolls around, the contract of Patrick Sharp will expire. The staggered end dates to all of these contracts will undoubtedly give Stan some serious leeway in how much he pays out, and while six years is an eternity in NHL years, the planning and foresight that has gone into these contracts will pay dividends as he keeps up with the demands of keeping a team competitive.

All sorts of attention over the past four years has been dedicated to how the team has risen from the ashes of hockey oblivion and back into the conscious of sports fans from across the country, but not enough credit has been given to Bowman for the job he has done with the difficult challenges that have faced him. He took a ton of criticism for letting players like Dustin Byfuglien and Antti Niemi go after the team won their championship, but he hasn’t been given enough credit for the big picture view he has taken over how the team will be constructed. Hell, anyone who could manage to get rid of the albatross contract of Brian Campbell deserves more praise than he gets.

In the meantime, the Blackhawks will continue to prepare for the beginning of training camp next month, and while a first round playoff exit doesn’t nearly match the afterglow that comes with winning a Stanley Cup, this team is shaping up to be not only a contender for a divisional crown, but also a legitimate contender for another run at a title. Time will tell whether or not the team’s lower key acquisitions will pay off in the coming months, but one thing is for certain: this team has a lot fewer holes than the one that went into the Cup defense in 2010, and that’s saying a lot for a guy who had that kind of mess to clean up.

 

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