In 2016, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series after 108 years, giving Chicago its first non-Blackhawks title since the 2005 White Sox. Since before the turn of the century, Blackhawks titles have outnumbered all other Chicago titles 3-2 with their championships in 2010, 2013, and 2015. Their success makes you wonder “What could have been?” if the other teams had been led by such intelligent management.
Seriously, starting with the foresight of Dale Tallon at the end of his run with the team, as he drafted both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, and through the Stan Bowman years, the Blackhawks have seemed to make all the right moves. Under strict salary cap limitations, Bowman managed to form quality teams year in and year out, while constantly having to lose and acquire new players, and keep the core intact.
These efforts were remarkably successful as evidenced in the Blackhawks’ recent string of titles. From acquiring key pieces like Marian Hossa and Niklas Hjalmarsson, to finding emerging stars like Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad, Bowman enabled his teams to win around the core he has kept intact, of Toews, Kane, Duncan Keith, and more.
Starting in 2006, when Toews was drafted third overall, what would it be like if the other Chicago teams had made such great decisions? Yes, the Blackhawks had minor roster blunders like all teams do, but for the most part, they’ve out-managed every Chicago team, save for the Epstein-led Cubs. What would Chicago sports have looked like in the last ten years?
Before Gar Forman bumped Paxson up in 2009, Paxson still oversaw years of disappointment during his early decade reign. Though Rose and Noah were solid picks, they lacked the continuing intelligence that Bowman brings to the table to effectively build around the core. Once Rose tore his ACL in 2012, it was all over for that era. How could it have gone with Bowman making the decisions?
For starters, Tallon’s amazing 2006 decision to grab Patrick Kane is the opposite of what the Bulls did in 2006: trade away current star LaMarcus Aldridge for a deluxe assortment of garbage (Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa.) A tandem of Aldridge and pre-injury Rose would have rivaled any of LeBron James‘s teams.
Moving on, the stardom of Rose and the effectiveness of players like Luol Deng and Joakim Noah should have been enough to lure a top free agent to the Bulls in the last ten years. That never once happened. Unlike how Bowman lured Marian Hossa to Chicago, Forman and Paxson settled for second-rate players like Carlos Boozer and an aging Pau Gasol. As a result, all Bulls fans could cherish in the early 2010s were amusing Kyle Korver “hot sauce” T-shirts while the Blackhawks were reveling in Stanley Cup glory.
What could have been: July 8th, 2010. LeBron James is making his decision on which team to sign with. After talking with Gar Forman, James decides to sign with the Chicago Bulls on a long-term deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Forman used Derrick Rose to show LeBron that the future was brightest in Chicago.
That could have transpired if Stan Bowman were GM, as Bowman’s 12-year deal with Marian Hossa, after tantalizing Hossa with the bright future of Kane and Toews, is very similar to a LeBron and Rose type situation. In 2011, the Bulls would have cruised through the Eastern Conference, and in all likelihood, won the NBA Championship with two MVP-caliber players on the roster. Sounds better than a 4-1 letdown to James and the Heat, doesn’t it Bulls fans?
Since the loss to Peyton Manning in the 2006 Super Bowl, the Bears have only returned to the playoffs once when they went 1-1 in 2010 after a painful loss to the Packers in the NFC Championship game. It’s safe to say that bad management decisions have played a huge part in the lack of success.
Let’s be honest, the Bears weren’t too far away from being a championship contender a few years ago. However, it seemed like when one aspect of the team improved, another deteriorated, as an examination of the Bears yards per game rankings on both sides of the ball show a roller-coaster of success and failure. The only year both units were in the top 10 was 2013, and they somehow managed to miss the playoffs that season.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks were performing well year in and year out behind both blue lines, as neither the defense or offense became a real weakness. Bowman was a large reason of this, as he continually supported the core of the team with acquired skaters. What would it have looked like if the Bears aided Cutler, Forte, Marshall, and Jeffery with strong side pieces?
What could have been: The 2012 draft has arrived, and the Bears are looking to bolster their defense. In his first pick as Bears GM, Phil Emery selects LB Shea McClellin. After a couple lackluster seasons, McClellin departed town. Bowman and his assistants might’ve gone with LB Dont’a Hightower, who is now a Pro-Bowl veteran of the New England Patriots.
In addition, Bowman might have signed a guy like Reggie Nelson, now-two-time Pro-Bowler, to fortify their secondary in 2012 and years later. Although, let’s be honest, a tandem of Virginia McCaskey and the ghost of George Halas would still be better than Chris Conte and Major Wright in the safety spots in 2013. Or, Bowman could have grabbed a third wide receiver like Eddie Royal, because behind Marshall and Jeffery, the wide receivers were awful.
Honestly, I’m probably thinking too small-scale here, considering Tallon’s brilliant drafts in 2006 and 2007, and Bowman’s solid future choices. The Blackhawks thrive with two stars in Kane and Toews, but all the Bears could’ve used is just one. In 2012, the Bears had the option of taking Russell Wilson, and they passed. More recently, they skipped Derek Carr and Dak Prescott. That’s not even getting into the myriad of defensive players who could anchor down certain positions.
Though some Bears picks have been great like Matt Forte, Kyle Long, and Alshon Jeffery, the bottom line is Tallon and Bowman have drafted much better, and built better than the Bears did. With a surplus of talent on both sides of the ball, the minor weaknesses and lack of a star QB prevented the 2013 Bears from reaching the playoffs. If the Bears had signed and picked more like Bowman, a long playoff run could have resulted. It seems unrealistic, but if you told one of the four existing Blackhawks fans in 2005 that their team would be contending for a Cup in five years, they’d call you ludacris.
“The Bears are now knocking at the door after the pressure by Muhammad Wilkerson and the ensuing interception from Reggie Nelson. Russell Wilson takes the snap. He can’t seem to find his two favorite targets open. But he lofts one, and…Eddie Royal comes down with it! The Bears are up 24-14 and are in prime position to win the 2013 Super Bowl!”
11 years removed from a world championship, the White Sox may have been the worst of any of the teams since 2006, when Tallon drafted Kane. They only made the playoffs once since 2005, when they were quickly eliminated by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008. At least the Bears and the Bulls made it to conference championships in relatively recent years.
That said, the Sox possessed a decent amount of talent in 2012 and 2016, and with better management, they easily could have made the playoffs.
What could have been: The easy way out here is to simply propose that the White Sox would have picked Mike Trout with the 23rd overall selection in the 2009 MLB Draft. Trout and Sale would be the Kane and Toews of the south side from 2012 onward. The White Sox narrowly missed the playoffs that year, and it’s safe to say they would have made it with Trout contributing instead of Alejandro De Aza. Furthermore, this might have enabled Jerry Reinsdorf to spend more money in free agency, creating a well-rounded, perennially-contending team with such young stars leading the way (Sale, Quintana, Trout, etc.)
Restricting myself from the idea of having Mike Trout in a White Sox uniform, there’s still probably a scenario in which the Sox contend in the 2012 playoffs. That team was constructed out of high-performing veterans and disappointing newcomers like Adam Dunn, Kevin Youkilis, and Gordon Beckham. With only four wins missing from a division-winning record, the White Sox just needed upgrades in those positions. A Bowman-esque decision would have been to recognize Dunn’s inability and sign free agent DH Prince Fielder in the prior offseason. In addition, a Bowman team would have had better prospects in the system who could outperform Beckham and Youkilis.
Though Rick Hahn seems to have figured it out now, and the future is bright on the south side, life would have been a lot more enjoyable the last few years with Mike Trout on your team, or memories from a playoff run in 2012.
Since Theo Epstein is easily around Bowman’s caliber when it comes to forming a championship team, as proven last year, I’ll refrain from knocking the Cubs. Though they struggled from 2008 to 2012 before hiring Epstein and formulating a solid rebuilding plan, the recent success makes that all seem a moot point.
One unmentioned aspect of all this is the dynastic success of the Blackhawks. Though it’s one thing for me to suggest way better draft picks, it’s another to come up with decisions that result in a decade+ of success. Bowman has managed to keep the core intact while also keeping the future bright. While Kane and Toews are still in their prime, when they start aging, the Blackhawks will still have Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, Richard Panik, and encouraging prospects like record-setting right winger Alex DeBrincat to fuel the team.
Maybe in five years, when the Blackhawks will still be competing, the Bowman test will come into play with the Cubs. They look amazing now, but with massive contracts only a few years away, can Theo Epstein successfully shape his team into one that competes both now and in the future? Time will tell. For now, the Blackhawks are in the playoffs, and we can all sit back and enjoy the wonderful team Stan Bowman has gifted us.