Commentary

Bowman's keen eye will boost Hawks' journey back to NHL prominence

Updated: August 1, 2008, 12:15 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

It really is a simple formula.

Bring in smart people, trust them to share an honest opinion and, at the end of the day, your chances of building a winner go up exponentially. Go figure.

[+] EnlargeScotty Bowman
Dave Sandford/Getty ImagesScotty Bowman won nine Stanley Cup titles as a coach, including three with the Detroit Red Wings.

Look around the Detroit Red Wings' management table the past few seasons and you would have seen Jim Devellano, Scotty Bowman, Ken Holland, Jim Nill and Steve Yzerman coming up with answers to the team's hockey questions.

When GM Holland had to decide whether to give Dominik Hasek another go-round in Detroit a couple of years ago, those were the people he turned to in making the important decision.

Holland is a smart guy -- one of the smartest guys in the game, bar none -- yet he doesn't let that stop him from talking to other knowledgeable hockey people and trusting their judgment. Indeed, it's a chicken/egg proposition: Would Holland be as smart if he didn't listen to those people?

On Thursday, Holland lost one of those voices as Bowman, the greatest coach in NHL history and owner of 11 Stanley Cup rings, joined his son Stanley and the Chicago Blackhawks as the team's new senior advisor.

It is a move that appealed to Bowman on a hockey level (the Hawks have finally turned a mighty corner in returning to relevancy in Chicago and the NHL) and on a personal level. His son Stan is the team's assistant general manager and has been battling Hodgkin's lymphoma for the past year and a half while continuing to perform his hockey duties for the team. He just finished a round of chemotherapy last week following a stem-cell transplant procedure.

"Stan has been a real trooper," GM Dale Tallon told ESPN.com Thursday afternoon. "His eyes have been lit up like a Christmas tree [with the announcement his father will be joining the organization]."

Both father and son described it as a dream come true to be working together for the first time.

"I wouldn't have gone with another organization for sure," Scotty Bowman told ESPN.com. "Stan's pretty excited."

The elder Bowman retired from coaching just seconds after the Wings won the Stanley Cup in 2002. Since then, he has split time between homes in Buffalo, N.Y., and the Tampa, Fla., area. He has been a frequent visitor to Lightning games, not to mention being a late-night hockey junkie. He has always been just a phone call away when Holland wanted to talk personnel moves. Detroit coach Mike Babcock also forged a strong bond with Bowman. During the Wings' recent Cup run, Babcock talked about how honored he was to call Bowman his friend.

Naturally, Bowman was on hand this past June when the Wings hoisted the Cup for the fourth time since 1997, so he will be missed in Detroit in the way all the greats are missed.

In Chicago, the Blackhawks will rely on Bowman's keen eye for the game on a number of different levels: he will work with young prospects, scout other teams, offer advice to Tallon and coach Denis Savard. He will work closely with his son and Rick Dudley, the team's other assistant GM, in identifying problem areas and potential solutions.

It's nice to sell out games and put games on television -- both unusual feats for the Blackhawks until recently -- but the real goal is winning, team president John McDonough said Thursday.

"I think you're viewing the face of winning in professional sports," McDonough said of Bowman's presence with the organization. "Eleven Stanley Cups -- it's amazing. It's a very elite class."

Bowman, who will turn 75 in September, won't necessarily vault the Blackhawks into the Stanley Cup finals, but his presence is another piece to what is always a complicated championship puzzle.

Look around the NHL. Which teams are the most successful?

There are two GMs in Dallas, a team that has returned to contender status. GM Brian Burke assembled a smart hockey team in Anaheim; its Cup win in 2007 was a direct result of that hockey assemblage, given the number of undrafted players who had crucial roles in the Ducks' win. Montreal's front office includes veteran hockey folk like Pierre Gauthier and Trevor Timmins. On Thursday, Edmonton hired Steve Tambellini to become its new GM as Kevin Lowe moves to president of hockey operations.

NHL GMs sometimes feel compelled to prove how smart they are by either eschewing help or surrounding themselves with people they know will nod their heads emphatically at their suggestions.

Bowman, as far as we can tell, has never said anything just to make someone feel good. Few men have ever seen the game as well as Bowman, and when he tells Tallon et al what he thinks of a player or a situation, he won't be worrying that it's going to hurt someone's feelings.

It's a small price to pay for success.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.

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