The Blackhawks Convention ended on Sunday with the usual fanfare and excitement from fans who met their favorite player(s), spent a lot of money, and had great experiences.
But the post-Convention reality now sets in: the Hawks have some work to do before the season (theoretically) begins in September.
This hasn’t been an active summer for the Blackhawks front office, but there haven’t been many players on the open market that would have fixed their problems.
Getting better thanks to attrition on rival rosters isn’t a formula Stanley Cup contending front offices can adopt, but overspending on the wrong players is also a dangerous trap. This summer, a number of defensemen – specifically Dennis Wideman and Matt Carle – broke the bank in free agency with deals that were larger, either in years or dollars (or both) than most expected them to be worth.
As the summer progresses and the trade market opens up a little, it’s up to GM Stan Bowman to use the assets he has to improve the club. He has not added the physical defenseman fans crave. But short of the offer sheet Philadelphia gave Shea Weber, a player that fits the need in Chicago hasn’t switched rosters yet this offseason.
The blue line at the United Center is still crowded. With Sheldon Brookbank in the fold, the Hawks have eight defensemen under contract that, at some point, were an NHL player last year.
Not much needs to be said about the Blackhawks’ top pair, which remains one of the best in the game in spite of the lackluster performances at times from Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook last year (mostly Keith). Obviously the Hawks will need consistently better play from their former Norris Trophy winner in the coming season.
But after them, there are a lot of question marks on the roster.
Everyone hopes Nick Leddy continues to progress, and that Johnny Oduya plays like the guy we saw between the deadline and the end of the regular season more than the hot mess he became against the Coyotes.
But those are hopes and expectations. Not guarantees.
And as long as both Oduya and Steve Montador have no-trade clauses on their contracts, Bowman has tied his own hands when trying to make changes to his roster via trade.
How Montador bounces back from his concussion is still a question, and how Dylan Olsen fits into the plans for the 2012-13 season after briefly getting a taste of the big time last year is also unknown.
And where does Niklas Hjalmarsson fit into the mix (if at all)? He lacks the no-trade clause that Oduya and Montador have been afforded by Bowman, and wasn’t specifically mentioned by anyone in the postseason press conferences, leading many (including me) to believe his days in Chicago are numbered.
But considering the Hawks can afford him, and he would be on the short list of “best bottom pair defensemen in the NHL,” they certainly aren’t obligated to trade him any time soon. But, given the number of players fighting for ice time and the potential market for a young, one-time champion defensemen with the skills Hjalmarsson possesses, the return in any deal might be too much to ignore.
We’ll never know what a full season of Sami Lepisto may have looked like, but we do know that Sean O’Donnell didn’t fix much last year and John Scott was… John Scott. With coaching changes already made this summer, how players are used will be as interesting during the season as the changes that might still be made before we get to Opening night (whenever that happens).
For now, fans will have to wait for the next piece of Blackhawks news to filter out to the world. Will Bowman leverage the team’s depth on the blue line to improve another area? Will there be a trade for a top-six forward or a goalie? Or will the Hawks begin the 2012-13 season with a crowded roster?