Now is when the kick in the nuts sets in…Writing this as the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers are getting ready to square up in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, a game where the Kings can get the Stanley Cup to take home, and the Chicago Blackhawks will have no doubt as to who the target will be for the next 11 months and 2 weeks.
What changes can we look for in Hawk-land?
The Hawks have a few Unrestricted Free Agents…Michal Handzus, Sheldon Brookbank, Peter Regin and Nikolai Khabibulin. They also can count Jason Labarbera, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Brad Mills among UFAs. There’s no reason to expect anybody to come back. Although, this time last year I said the same thing about Handzus. Zus, Regin and Brookbank leaving gives the Hawks a combined $3 million of cap space, or one Corey Crawford extension.
There are a couple other moves that need to be made. One is a defenseman needs to be moved. Brookbank walking brings them down to 7 on the NHL roster. So they need to move another body to both make a roster space for Klas Dahlbeck and/or Stephen Johns, and to clear cap space in order to give Stan Bowman some flexibility at deadline time, something he didn’t have this season. So who goes? The conventional wisdom says it’s Johnny Oduya. If Stan decides to swing for the fences (read: Ryan Kesler, or somebody of that ilk), Brent Seabrook would have to waive his limited no-trade for that to happen. While he grew up as a Vancouver Canucks fan, would he really want to cast his lot with a shitty team? Also, if Canucks’ new boss Trevor Linden decides to move Kesler, would he really want his first game back in British Columbia to be wearing a Hawks’ sweater? Nick Leddy is another guy who might generate some interest, but for what he brings to the table and his small cap hit it would have to be something that bowls Stan Bowman over for him to want to move him.
John Jaeckel over at hockeybuzz.com has been reporting teams are calling about Patrick Sharp. The teams that are interested are Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg. Do any of these teams have anything the Hawks would actually want? I mean, Andrew Ladd might be nice, but he’s basically a less-good version of Patrick Sharp. The Hawks already have another Patrick Sharp – his name is Brandon Saad. I don’t think Sharp goes anywhere. Simply because the Hawks could never get return in a trade that makes them a better team.
That”s not to say there won’t be forwards available. I’m sure if anybody wants to cough up a fourth-round or better draft pick, they can get themselves a Kris Versteeg. If anyone decides they can’t live without Brandon Bollig, Stan Bowman is certainly listening. Drew LeBlanc can be had for a song. Shit, he’s yours if you can hum a few bars…oh yeah, remember LeBlanc? Yeah, he’s on a one-way this coming season. So he counts against the cap no matter what. Since he’s got less than a snowball’s chance in Hell of being a Chicago Blackhawk, he’ll ply his trade elsewhere.
The guys you’d expect. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell, Marcus Kruger, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Corey Crawford, Sharp and Saad.
The RFAs at the NHL level – Ben Smith, Jeremy Morin and Antti Raanta – will all get qualifying offers. I’d be surprised if any of them don’t return.
WHERE WILL THE HAWKS LOOK?
Everyone on the planet knows what’s on the Hawks’ shopping list. Centers, centers, centers. But not for the long term. They have a future #2 (Teuvo Teravainen) and #3 (Philip Danault) center that are each maybe a year away. So they will look for either centers on one-year deals (Jason Spezza and Kesler will top the list in terms of speculation), and then there will be possible compliance buyouts they might be able to entice for a one-year Cup-hunting deal (Brad Richards?)
Every year we hear how the Hawks need to “get bigger”. This is meatball thinking. They’ve won two Stanley Cups against teams who were bigger and played heavier. Size wasn’t their problem this year, it was lack of depth. They missed the Stanley Cup by a Game 7 overtime goal in the Western Conference Final. If QStache was able to roll four lines like he did in 2013 instead of three, would it be unreasonable to think they wouldn’t have been one goal better? I don’t think so.
The other thing everyone on the planet knows is Bowman is always looking for more draft picks. Right now the Hawks have 8 picks, none in the second round. There’s no way Bowman is going to want to sit idle that long. He usually feels comfortable with 9 or 10 picks going in. So if nothing else, between now and Draft Day, expect the Blackhawks to get a 2 out of somebody, at the very least.
Stay tuned, we’ll see how full of shit I am.