Daily Herald
Bowman move signals Hawks' policy shift
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 7/31/2008 9:25 PM

For months, rumors swirled that Scotty Bowman was on his way to Chicago.

As late as a couple of days ago, we heard that Blackhawks assistant GM Stan Bowman had received a significant upgrade in his deal in anticipation of such a move, and that the Hawks weren't giving up on the idea of having father and son work here together.

So after nearly 10 months of cheerleading and jersey-raising, ticket selling and marketing, which amounted to nothing in the way of on-ice improvement, Rocky Wirtz and John McDonough may have proved Thursday that they weren't just paying lip service to the idea of winning.

They put booming voice to the concept Thursday by announcing the arrival of one of the best hockey minds in NHL history.

Best of all, Scotty Bowman doesn't suffer fools easily, and those who fit into that category are on notice.

Self-promotion, false hustle and glad-handing will no longer lead to better jobs on the West Side, and the Hawks had better win - and win fast - or the upcoming season could see significant changes.

"I'm looking forward,'' Scotty Bowman said Thursday, "to getting this thing to where it should be.''

If the Hawks struggle, and the team is treading water in a brutal Western Conference, it would not be a shock to see Stan Bowman named GM (with his pop advising him), as the younger Bowman suddenly has leapfrogged Rick Dudley, who had been quietly filling the organization with "Dudley guys'' at every turn and preparing for his own shot at the job.

If the team struggles, it also wouldn't be shocking to see new assistant Mike Haviland named the head coach, perhaps even with Rockford boss Al MacIsaac elevated to assist Bowman, since the Bowmans are well versed in all things Haviland and MacIsaac.

Finally, there will be some accountability, and those getting a free ride for the last decade may be forced to produce.

So this is all you can ask for as a fan.

If the Hawks get better in 2008-09 and win a playoff round or two, everyone gets to keep their jobs, and that's great for all involved, especially the fans, because that means the Hawks are winning.

If they don't, fans will be treated to a professional coach in Haviland who has been through the wars, the highs and lows, and knows how to coach a hockey team.

In Stan Bowman, they'll see a bright, young hockey-operations mind who understands the ins and outs of the cap, can look to the future and see tagging issues three and four years down the road.

And despite all the platitudes thrown the way of current management, and while you're not likely to engage in a reasonable discussion of such things, the reality is the Hawks have some serious financial issues facing them now and over the next couple of years.

They're at the cap right now, even though they don't have enough forwards signed to start the NHL season.

They're desperately trying to remove two of their biggest busts, yet most highly praised and expensive acquisitions, in Nikolai Khabibulin and Martin Havlat, and have given out some contracts to players such as Brian Campbell ($7 million), Patrick Sharp ($4 million), Brent Seabrook ($3.5 million) and Dustin Byfuglien ($3 million), that have raised eyebrows around the league.

Duncan Keith is going to jump from $1.9 million in 2009-10 to probably $5 million, they've got a host of kids they've been unwilling to trade who are going to need a place to play soon, tagging issues on the way, and - here comes the scary part - both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are going to come due at the same time.

Those two will cost the Hawks about $100 million, and if they aren't prepared for that, they risk losing one of them.

For years, by virtue of being terrible and drafting high, the Hawks have managed to stockpile some kids, and they've also been in the business of collecting talent, which is a far cry from building a "team,'' something with which the Bowmans are quite familiar.

And while it's a wonderful story that Scotty now gets to work with his son, and is a huge part of the reason the father came to Chicago, make no mistake about this:

Scotty Bowman was not coming here unless he had a say in hockey operations, because he wants to win a Stanley Cup with his son.

It says something about McDonough's learning curve that he has discovered Stan Bowman was underutilized and his opinions often ignored, and that the Hawks' hockey-operations department is not what he has been led to believe by the fans, media and his own people.

Had McDonough believed the current group of execs and coaches could lead the Hawks to a Stanley Cup, Scotty Bowman would not have been needed, not have been hired Thursday, and Wirtz/McDonough wouldn't have been chasing him for months.

For too long, we've been asking - pleading with, actually - the "new'' Hawks to demonstrate that winning, not just selling tickets, matters for the first time in our lifetime.

With fingers crossed, we believe Thursday that we received an answer.

brozner@dailyherald.com