GM: Tough to improve through free agency

CHICAGO -- Everytime Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman speaks publicly, his team’s offseason strategy becomes clearer.

The Hawks like their team a lot and if they can add, that would be gravy. Otherwise, they’ll go into the season with what they have and be confident they can win.

“If you’re counting on going in the free agent market to improve your team that’s a tough strategy to be successful at,” Bowman said on Friday regarding the Hawks’ quiet approach to free agents. “We’re in a good position relative to some teams which is we have a good group of players already under contract. Some of them are young so you can always push them down if you have to. I think it’s going to be a competitive camp right now without even adding any players.”

The Hawks have up to 24 legitimate NHL players heading to training camp, which doesn’t include several who saw time with them over the past couple of seasons. They sought big names such as Ryan Suter and Zach Parise but missed out when Minnesota signed both stars.

The Hawks are still content with what they have.

“It’s not just bringing back the same guys,” Bowman said. “There’s growth in their game. We didn’t really have Brandon Saad last year. We had him for three of four games. Andrew Shaw we didn’t have for a full season. These guys aren’t just bit players. They’re players that are going to play a significant role on our team.”

And therein lies the strategy, at least from the Hawks’ perspective. You might say they only added defenseman Sheldon Brookbank, who Bowman says fills a big need, but they’ll say Saad is an addition as is Shaw for a full campaign.

Then there’s the return of Dan Carcillo and a full year out of defenseman Johnny Oduya. To the Hawks these are essentially like offseason additions. And the Hawks feel their prospect pool is second to none, starting with 2011 draftees Saad and Shaw.

“That’s not the norm,” Bowman said. “There aren’t too many teams that have players that were drafted a year ago that are significant players on their team … We do have a very good group here. And there are going to be guys from within that will improve and take us to the next level.”

So while Bowman didn’t want to address the likes of Shane Doan or Roberto Luongo, he continues to sing the praises of what he has. The Hawks are banking on a 101-point team getting better because of all the “full-year additions” stated above.

“When you have a lot of holes to fill I could see a need to dip into the free agent market more often,” Bowman said. “If July 1 proved one thing it proved it’s really difficult to improve your team through free agency.”

Unless you’re the Minnesota Wild. But that’s about the only team that did so. Bowman might be right about one thing: Relative to other teams they’re not in a bad position. But is it good enough?

  • Bowman re-iterated Joel Quenneville’s thoughts on Marian Hossa’s recovery: it’s going well. Hossa will be at the fan convention next weekend. “Everything at this point sounds great,” Bowman said. “He’s feeling much better and there is no reason to think he’s not going to be (ready for camp).”