At the end of last season, the Chicago Blackhawks were facing an unusually long off-season. It was the first time they had not made the playoffs since 2006-07. Consequently, the team and its faithful fans were left looking for answers. The long off-season offered several ways for the Blackhawks to improve after the disappointing season. Could they recover that swagger of the team that won three Stanley Cups in six seasons? The NHL draft and free agency would give the Blackhawks brass two ways to quickly improve their roster.
Chicago Blackhawks Lineup Improvement
The first thing the Blackhawks needed was to review the previous season. There is no doubt that the season-ending injury to Corey Crawford last December was the main reason for the team finishing out of the playoff picture. Before his season-ending injury, Crawford was playing at a near Vezina level. While he carried the team, his great goaltending covered up for the Blackhawks continuous defensive lapses. Because Crawford was gone, the team spiralled down out of playoff contention. The poor play by the defence was certainly something that needed improvement in many fans eyes.
The first chance for Bowman to improve his roster was the 2018 NHL Draft. The Blackhawks had the number 8 overall pick, the highest pick they’ve had in years. As a result, many expected Bowman to draft a defenceman or two in the first round with pick numbers #8 and #27.
The hope was that the Blackhawks would draft a defenseman with size who wouldn’t take several years to develop. Unfortunately, those hoping for this were disappointed as Bowman drafted small offensive-minded defencemen Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin. Both of these picks have great promise, however, it may take several years before they’re able to contribute at the NHL level.
Fans expecting a quick turnaround for the franchise through the draft were left wondering what direction their favourite team was heading. While everyone realizes that the vaunted Blackhawks core is nearing the end their prime, many were hoping for more than a rebuild this summer.
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook had a miserable season last year. Patrick Kane had a solid season, but it was evident he missed his favourite sniper Artemi Panarin who was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets. In addition, Brandon Saad who was reacquired in the Panarin trade had an unusually unproductive season. Captain Serious Jonathan Toews has had a steady decline over the past two seasons from the ultimate play-maker of the past. The sudden downturn for the team is very concerning for those hoping for another Cup run in the near future.
As the draft was completed, the talk turned to free agency. Bowman’s draft picks were intended to restock the team for future seasons, not the present. Social media in Chicago was in turmoil with many asking “Surely he has a plan to improve the team through free agency, right?” With that in mind, we’re going to look at the team as it is today and see what lineup holes exist.
Here are the positions and each players salary cap per CapFriendly.com The Blackhawks now have $9.225 million in cap room.
- Jonathan Toews – $10.5 million
- Artem Anisimov – $4.55 million
- Vinnie Hinostroza – $1.5 million
- Nick Schmaltz – $925,000
- Patrick Kane – $10.5 million
- Brandon Saad $6 million
- Dylan Sikura – $925,000
- Alex DeBrincat – $778,333
First of all, we are not including wingers Tomas Jurco or Anthony Duclair who were not tendered offer sheets as RFA’s. As a result, they will be free agents on July 1st. In addition, we left out Marion Hossa‘s contract of $5.275 million which the Blackhawks are trying to trade or place on Long Term Injured Reserve again due to his medical condition.
- Brent Seabrook– $6.875 million
- Duncan Keith – $5.538 million
- Connor Murphy – $3.85 million
- Jan Rutta – $2.3 million
- Erik Gustafsson – $1.2 million
- Jordan Oesterle – $650,000
- Corey Crawford – $6 million
- Anton Forsberg – $750,000
- Kevin Lankinen – $925,000
- Collin Delia – $767,500
As you can see, the winger position has openings which could be filled through free agency. There are several free agent wingers available such as James van Riemsdyk, James Neal, David Perron, Rick Nash, Patrick Maroon, Michael Grabner, and Thomas Vanek. Whether any of these wingers would be willing to come to Chicago is the question. For more on the top wingers available check out Last Word’s Dan Mount’s reviews.
Without a doubt, the Blackhawks could use another top 4 D-man. Their problems on the back-end cannot be repeated next season. For the top free agent defencemen available, here is Last Word’s own Dan Mount on who to watch. The list of the top 10 free agent defencemen include Mike Green, Calvin de Haan, John Moore, Jack Johnson, Thomas Hickey, Ian Cole, Alexei Emelin, Toby Enstrom, and Dan Hamhuis.
Because goaltending is a hot topic in Chicago, it would not be surprising to see the Blackhawks make a move on another competent backup goalie. Here’s the top 5 free agents goalies as reviewed by Last Word’s Dan Mount: Carter Hutton, Cam Ward, Petr Mrazek, Jonathan Bernier, and Robin Lehner.
Speaking of Cam Ward, rumours are rampant that the Blackhawks are prepared to sign Ward on July 1st. Ward would be signed as insurance and compete with Anton Forsberg for the backup job behind Corey Crawford.
The Blackhawks have several options to improve their roster through free agency starting this Sunday. They have some cap space and maybe more if they can shed Marion Hossa’s contract. They could use an upgrade on defence, a productive forward, and a capable goalie to fill in if Corey Crawford‘s health falters again. It will be interesting to see who Stan Bowman can bring to Chicago. Due to how last off-season’s moves worked out, this may be his last shot to bring the team back to prominence.
Main Photo: October 19, 2016: Leafs James van Riemsdyk (25) takes a shot during the Winnipeg Jets vs Toronto Maple Leafs game at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg MB. (Photo by Terry Lee/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)