Monday, August 04, 2008

Scott's family wants Cup: Part II

For the second time in recent years, the biggest signing of the off-season chose his team based on family ties. For the second time, he's called Scott. The first time, for the Niedermayers, it worked, and it just could again (well soon, anyway).

I hope Chicago understand what they've gone and done here. They've gone and acquired the single most successful living hockey brain anywhere. They have made the biggest and most important move of the NHL offseason. It's making their recruitment of Stan Bowman look like a stroke of genius...

Sidney Crosby may be right in some of his assertions regarding Marian Hossa, but he is wrong if he thinks Detroit has not changed this offseason. Losing Bowman has traditionally been as devastating to dynasties as losing their star player in recent times, just ask the 1980 Canadiens and the 1993 Penguins.

But it's not what happens to teams on Bowman's departure that is most impressive, but rather what tends to happen once he steps through the door.

Scotty's pedigree
Scotty Bowman was brought into the Canadiens organisation following his attenuated playing career with the Baby Habs. From the mid-50s to the mid-60s, he was the on-and-off-again coach of the Baby Habs himself, overseeing the Canadiens most valued possessions (their young signings) and tutoring them in the ways of the organisation and the champion.

When the NHL expanded, the ambitious Bowman moved away from his hometown and the Canadiens to take control of the coaching duties for the St. Louis Blues. In what was no small feat, he brought the fledgling franchise to the Stanley Cup finals in each of its first three seasons – losing twice to his some of his wards from the Canadiens and once to Bobby Orr and the Bruins. What is worthy of note here is that Scotty was cutting his teeth in the Stanley Cup finals (as a coach) as a mere 34 year-old.

When he left the Blues, the Canadiens and Sam Pollock (never one to miss out on a quick way to improve his team) welcomed Scotty back into the fold. He didn't win the Cup in his first season, but as his team's record will attest, that was probably more to do with Esposito and Orr than any deficiencies of his own. The following season, the Canadiens would win the championship, and we all remember the 4 in a row to end Bowman's tenure. His acrimonious exit would coincide with the end of the Canadiens dynasty.

Following the Habs, Bowman had a relatively quiet decade. Critics of his would certainly pick on his tenure with the Buffalo Sabres as a sign that Bowman is not always a magician. This is certainly true. But, to coach any team in the era of the Islanders and Oilers was a monumental task. Even in the absence of Cups, his Sabres enjoyed mild success. They would have 2 100-point seasons and have their winningest period in team history to that point.

His next foray into NHL action was with the Pittsburgh Penguins. First as an advisor, then as head coach, he helped guide the talent-heavy Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cups. You get the feeling, he might have also had some say in that prophetic draft pick of Jaromir Jagr in 1990 and the important trade for Ron Francis, as well. Whatever you may say about Bowman and the Pens, one thing is clear: they won with him there and not when he wasn't. It is this knack for coaxing the best from stars like Jacques Plante, Guy Lafleur, Mario Lemieux and Sergei Fedorov that was so important.

Speaking of Fedorov, Bowman's latest association with the Red Wings has resulted in the only uninterrupted and unquestioned streak of championship success in the modern game. As with the Penguins, he provided a catalyst for success for a squad that had to that point been underachieving based on their talent. The latest feather in his cap, his ninth Stanley Cup this spring, was testament to all the work he and his team of managers have done. The Red Wings completely outclassed the league this season in play and results. Their team, developed from within, mostly during Scotty's time in Detroit is a marvel and a model.

All this is why the move to sign up Scotty Bowman is a wonderful coup for the Hawks. I'll be watching with interest as he once again advises on the progress of young hotshots on the cusp of something more. If nothing else, you get the feeling Scotty is excited, and for the rest of the league, that is a dangerous thing...

Finally getting to work with his son is great. But for Canadiens fans, Scotty finally getting to work with Denis Savard (a fellow Verdun boy and Baby Hab alumnus) will be interesting too. For me, it harks back to one terrible decision in team history (Grundman over Bowman for GM) which was shortly followed by another (overlooking Denis Savard). Who knows, Scotty might have done things differently for us in the 1980 draft.

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