Truth be told, I’ve been trying to write this blog for some time. The opening of free agency in the NHL is Christmas in July for me. I get extremely excited, and spend all of July 1st online, watching NHL Network, or on Twitter.
So why the delay? Easy. The impending trade of Niklas Hjalmarsson was going to happen any minute. Losing his $3.5 million cap hit would change the Hawks’ free agency plans. So I waited…and waited. Well, as of press time, he’s still a Hawk.
The Blackhawks, at least under Stan Bowman, have been extremely difficult to read. Fans, observers, and beat writers seem to know what the Hawks should do…and have realistic free agent or trade ideas, but it seems like Team Bowman never has the same plan.
That’s not necessarily a shot at the organization. Very few people objected to last season’s free agency additions.
Steve Montador was going to be the physical, stay at home veteran defenseman the Hawks so badly needed. Daniel Carcillo and Jamal Mayers were going to add much needed toughness. Andrew Brunette was going to score 20 goals and contribute to the power play, as well as help lead in the locker room. Sean O’Donnell and Sami Lepisto were nice insurance policies in case a regular defenseman went down. While none of these deals were quite as successful as many had expected, the plan seemed sound.
With that in mind, instead of predicting who the Hawks will sign, we’ll take a look at some of the bigger needs on the team, and list a few realistic options to fill those holes.
Last season, the Blackhawks finished 26th of 30 on the powerplay.
The Hawks had huge problems entering the zone and setting up the powerplay. Too often, forwards would try to skate into the zone with the puck and set up from there. It didn’t take long for NHL teams to scout this out. Opponents adjusted and the Hawks didn’t. While personnel changes won’t necessarily change the approach, they might help with maintained control once the powerplay is set up.
The biggest prize on the free agent market is New Jersey forward Zach Parise. He would help every team in the league in nearly every facet of the game. Parise is a feisty little winger who never stops working. Over his last 3 healthy seasons (he missed nearly all of the 2010-11 season with torn meniscus) , Parise has scored 245 points. He’s one of the best players in the NHL. It will take a king’s ransom to get him, but if the Hawks can move a contract (Hjalmarsson) they can give him what it would take.
Phoenix captain Shane Doan is on the market as well. He fills many needs. Not only is he a reliable scorer (91 goals over the last 4 seasons), but he plays with a physical edge and is tough around the opponent’s net. Last season he was guilty of a few dumb hits. A player that important to a team can’t be that dumb on the ice. Chances are he will be grossly overpaid by whoever signs him, but if it’s in the $4-5 million range, I’d pull the trigger.
Dallas defenseman Sheldon Souray has one of the biggest shots in the NHL. In his 13 year NHL career, he’s scored 49 powerplay goals. While his mobility, defense, and overall health can be an issue, there is no doubt he’d help a putrid powerplay, and maybe push a guy or two out of his goalies crease now and again. At 36, many assume he’ll demand much less than the $5.4 million annual contract he signed in 2007. For the right price, he’s worth a phone call.
Florida defenseman Jason Garrison, 27, is a late bloomer. He finally became a full time NHLer in the 2010 season. That year, he recorded 18 points in 73 games. Last season, Garrison’s offensive numbers exploded, with 33 points in 77 games, including 9 powerplay goals. Unlike Souray, Garrison is reliable defensively as well. He rarely makes an unsafe play, and contributes on the penalty kill. With a thin free agent defensive market, the Hawks need to be careful not to get in to a bidding war. Garrison will likely be overpaid for a guy with one great year under his belt.
With Corey Crawford and Ray Emery both signed for next season, it would appear that the Hawks are standing pat in goal. However, with the recent news that New Jersey Devils legend Martin Brodeur would explore free agency this summer, the Hawks might just have to kick the tires. Yes, Brodeur is 40 years old. Yes, the Hawks have struggled in the past with such an active / puck handling goalie. Yes, his numbers on paper compared to Corey Crawford don’t seem like much of an upgrade. All that said, he’s one of the best of all time, and for my money, he’s better right now than Corey Crawford. I still think it’s highly unlikely the Hawks sign him, but at the same time, no other team seems to make as much sense.
Roberto Luongo. Yes…Roberto Luongo has been linked to the Hawks more than a few times. I’m not buying it. There is no way in hell Luongo waives his no trade clause to come to Chicago. He wants to be a Florida Panther. That tells you all you need to know about Luongo, expectations, and pressure. He’s not interested in playing in a pressure filled hockey market…or Chicago.
Second Line Center
Although Stan Bowman denies this is a problem, the Hawks have needed a second line center since, well, since they mattered. Their depth in 2010 was enough to win them a Cup, but since then it’s been a huge hole. Bowman and company will tell you Patrick Kane is the number two center. I’m not buying it. He didn’t seem too happy about the switch last season, and is most effective offensively on the wing.
Detroit center Jiri Hudler is an interesting player. He fit’s the Bowman mold. Hudler is undersized, and not physical, but is offensively creative and versatile. Hudler put up 50 points in 81 games for the Wings last season. He will likely get a raise from his $2.875 million cap hit, but not much higher. I don’t think he’s ideal, but the market at center is pretty weak and he’s the kind of player Scotty, er, Stan Bowman adores. If they can get him for $3 million, I think he’s worth it.
St. Louis’ Jason Arnott is a guy I’ve always liked. At 37, his best years are well behind him, but he still plays a physical game and can win a faceoff or two. He put up 34 points in 72 games last season, but it’s fair to expect those numbers to go up with one of Kane, Patrick Sharp, or Marian Hossa on his wing.
Carcillo, Mayers and Brandon Bollig will all be back next season, but two of those players three failed to respond when Hossa was leveled by Raffi Torres on April 17th. That was Mayers’ last game played in the playoffs.
The Rangers have decided to let winger Brandon Prust walk. Last season he put up 17 points to go with his 144 hits and 156 PIMS. The year before that, he registered 29 points with 161 hits and 160 PIMS. Prust can play the game. He’s not just a goon. I think he’d be a great fit in Chicago.
Ottawa center Zenon Konopka is a guy many Hawk fans have wanted for a long time. For whatever reason, he can’t seem to stick with a team. Whoever he signs with will be his 6th team in 8 seasons. He’s a ferocious fighter, and one of the premier faceoff men in the NHL.
Lack of Suter’s
The Hawks haven’t had a Suter since Gary Suter in 1997-98. That’s far too long to be Suter-less. If Parise is free agent prize #1, Nashville’s Ryan Suter is #1B. An all around defenseman who is now in his prime, Suter will likely land the highest price among available free agents. The Hawks can afford him (and only him without a move) and have been said to be interested. Landing Suter would be huge. Keep your fingers crossed that he signs the dotted line on the Blackhawk letterhead.
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