As soon as the Blackhawks hoisted the Stanley Cup in Boston, you know changes were coming...and quickly. It only took six days for Stan Bowman to conduct a draft, re-sign Bryan Bickell, and trade Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik. Five days later, former Hawks Viktor Stalberg and Ray Emery have new homes (Nashville and Philadephia, respectively). Michal Handzus and Michal Rozsival are back, and the Blackhawks have a new, old backup goaltender in Nikolai Khabibulin.
The only piece of business that needs resolution is the signing of restricted free agent center Marcus Kruger. Bowman has been definitive in saying a deal will certainly get done. It's just a matter of time.
With all that said, let's take a look at the likely roster for opening day of next season.
Bryan Bickell/Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp - Brandon Pirri - Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad/Bryan Bickell - Michal Handzus - Andrew Shaw
Dan Carcillo/Brandon Bollig - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith / Jimmy Hayes
Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Johnny Oduya
Michal Rozsival - Nick Leddy
Corey Crawford / Nikolai Khabibulin
While it obviously hurts to see players like Bolland, Stalberg, Emery, and Frolik go, this lineup is still one of the best in hockey.
Brandon Pirri is the key to the whole thing. The Hawks want him to win the 2nd line center job. He led the AHL in scoring last season with 75 points in 76 games. He's a scorer, but the AHL is filled with guys who can score in the minors and not in the NHL. It remains to be seen if Pirri is a "next level" guy, but he's looked solid in his brief call-ups and preseason games. He will get the first shot to win the job. If Pirri doesn't work out Kruger could potentially get a chance, while Handzus would move to the 4th line. Shaw would then move to the 3C spot. That's the trouble with Pirri. If he can't center the 2nd line, I don't think Quenneville wants him on the 3rd or 4th. His game is offense...his weakness is defense. If he doesn't win the job, he might not be on the big club.
There are other forward options from Rockford. Winger Jeremy Morin has had a few impressive looks, and center Drew LeBlanc, who played in 2 games with the Hawks last season, could be a dark horse for the 2C job. Morin, in my opinion, would have to play in a top six role. I suppose he could be a winger on the 3rd line with some combo of Shaw and Saad / Bickell, but the top six suits him best.
As for Khabibulin, I was as shocked as anyone when I saw the Hawks were talking to him. It wasn't a name that had crossed my mind as far as a potential backup. The more I think about it, the more it kind of makes sense. This is a veteran goaltender who has been a starter and has won a Stanley Cup. Yes, those things happened years in the past, but I think he has enough game left to be a competent backup to Crawford for one season. His .923 save percentage last season tied him for 8th in the NHL (among goalies with 10 or more starts). Khabibulin's resume was the best of the available backups. $2 million is a little too rich for my blood, but I've learned to trust Stan Bowman. His work since taking over has earned him that trust.
Khabibulin's signing also allows Antti Raanta to get the bulk of the starts in Rockford, and get used to the North American game. If he proves he can play, he'll get his NHL opportunity. If that happens this season, teams are always looking for goalie help around the trade deadline, especially veteran goaltending with an expiring contract. Khabibulin could easily be moved for a pick.
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Filed under: ben smith, Blackhawks, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Sports, daniel carcillo, dave bolland, duncan keith, hockey, Jamal mayers, jay zawaski, joel quenneville, johnny oduya, jonathan toews, Marcus Kruger, marian hossa, michael frolik, Michael Handzus, michal rozsival, NHL, nick leddy, Patrick Kane, patrick sharp, sports, stan bowman, Stanley Cup Champions, viktor stalberg, wscr