Chicago Blackhawks Organizational Depth Should Impact Free Agent Shopping

 

As the Blackhawks approach free agency this summer, everyone has their opinion of who, or what position, should be at the top of GM Stan Bowman’s wish list.

One of the most popular “needs” on this roster is center, and names like Jason Arnott have been tossed around

But before we start handing out contracts as a fan base, placing the potential of a shopping spree into the context of organization depth is a mandatory exercise in reality.

Obviously, the Blackhawks have their top line center position locked down until Jonathan Toews retires. And David Bolland is under contract in Chicago for three more seasons. Off the 2010-11 roster, Ryan Johnson is an unrestricted free agent and Jake Dowell is a restricted free agent this summer.

However, there are other players that spent time at the dot last season, specifically Patrick Sharp. Most fans agree that Sharp is a better player at wing – especially with Toews and Patrick Kane – but he was a productive second line center nonetheless.

So the Blackhawks have two players, Sharp and Bolland, that could ultimately be the center on the second line next year. Additionally, a thin free agent class this summer, coupled with the Blackhawks limited cap flexibility, could drive the price of average players like soon-to-be former-Blackhawk Tomas Kopecky up.

Should the Hawks overspend in dollars, or years, for a player to fill a perceived need? And how much is too much?

To appropriately answer those questions, we need to circle back to another discussion of supply and demand.

The Blackhawks have some surprising depth at center as an organization that should give Bowman pause when considering anything longer than a one year contract to a veteran. In 2010-11, we saw a few youngsters make their NHL debuts: Brandon Pirri and Marcus Krüger. There are other centers developing in the system that should be considered before handing anyone a two or three-year contract.

Let’s look at some of the young centers in the Blackhawks organization.

  • Brandon Pirri
    Listed at six feet tall and 160 pounds, Pirri is a smooth skater who can finish. He’s still only 20, and spent his first professional season in Rockford this year, posting 43 points (12 goals, 31 assists) in 70 games in the AHL. He likely needs more time to develop physically, but he could project as a second line center in the not-too-distant future.
  • Marcus Krüger
    Krüger spent last season in the Swedish Elite League with Djurgardens IF Stockholm, and has been a popular name in conversations lately because of his strong play in the Vancouver series. Bowman has referenced Bolland when asked to characterize his game. He scored 35 points (5 goals, 29 assists) in 52 games this season. Like Pirri, Krüger is still only 20 but will probably be on the NHL roster next year.
  • Byron Froese
    Froese, 20, is a little bigger physically than Pirri or Krüger (6-1, 180) and is coming off an offensive season that not many scouts anticipated. With the Red Deer Rebels in the Western Hockey League, Froese saw a 20-point jump from his previous career best to 81 points (43 goals, 38 assists) in 70 games. He had been described as a defensive forward, but his 2010-11 production may transition that into a “two-way centerman” label.
  • David Gilbert
    Gilbert, 20, saw a wonderful increase in his offensive production this season in juniors. He’s a little bigger than Froese (6-2, 185), but also had a strong campaign with 51 points (28 goals, 23 assists) in 52 games with Acadie-Bathurst before joining the IceHogs for five games at the end of the season. He was able to score one goal and added two assists in those five AHL contests.
  • Rob Flick
    Flick, 20, is the most physical of the Blackhawks’ young center prospects. He’s listed as being bigger than any of the other prospects (6-2, 208) and has racked up 324 penalty minutes in 133 combined games the last two years in juniors, but his offense elevated to produce 57 points (27 goals, 30 assists) in 68 games during the 2010-11 season.
  • Mirko Hoefflin 
    Hoefflin, who won’t turn 19 until June 18, showed a wonderful understanding for the game and great vision on the ice at last year’s prospect camp. He has a lot of physical maturing to do before he skates in the NHL (listed at 6-0, 163), but had a productive season in juniors with 45 points (14 goals, 31 assists) in 54 regular season. Hoefflin followed that with 14 points in 15 postseason contests, and represented Germany in the World Junior Championships this year as well.

As you can see, most of these centers share something in common: they can’t legally consume alcohol in the United States. They also have all produced well on the offensive end of the ice, and have a future in the National Hockey League.

An argument could be made that Bowman made a mistake by signing too many veterans before taking an appropriate inventory of his organizational depth last summer, especially with Jordan Hendry, Nick Boynton and John Scott all being signed to help the blue line depth when Nick Leddy ultimately ended up being a better player than any of those three in April.

We aren’t saying all of these kids are ready for the United Center in October, but certainly the depth the Hawks have at center should provide management with confidence to avoid overspending whenever possible.

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11 Responses to Chicago Blackhawks Organizational Depth Should Impact Free Agent Shopping

  1. jeff says:

    Good article, thanks for the info.
    It would be sweet to have Sharp on that top line next year ’cause that’s nuclear power baby. Fill the 2 center with a guy who fits well with Hossa. If a FA doesn’t work cap wise, would Frolik be viable there? Then you got Bolland and Kruger to round out the centermen. Not bad at all. I’m already looking for payback to the ‘Nucks…

  2. ozzzie19 says:

    While Kruger “impressed” in the playoffs, that was only in comparison to his woeful performance at the end of the year. He is nowhere near ready to play center on a top 3 line, nor even take a faceoff in the NHL. He really needs time in the AHL to develop physically and get used to the North American game. You can see how he has the sense to be a good two-way 3rd line center someday, but that is not next year and maybe not the year after either. Keeping him on the roster would be a huge mistake to his development and once again be a wasted roster spot trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

    The minor depth certainly is impressive, but as you said, these guys are all very young and aren’t physically ready for the NHL. They all need to prove themselves in Rockford before we can count on them to be productive on a championship caliber team.

    Bolland is not a second line center. He has not been able to consistently stay healthy and even when he is on the ice, his offensive performance has been terribly spotty. Hes an ideal third line center because his defense is always excellent and when he does go down, its not as big of a hole to fill.

    This team’s number one priority should be a second line center. While Sharp can fill in for that role, hes much more effective at wing (and its nice to have a backup second line center just in case).

    Stephen Weiss would be a tremendous addition to the Hawks, centering Hossa and filling productive minutes on the PP and PK. Hes signed for 2 more years (at a reasonable 3.1M cap hit), which I think is the realistic timeline for the crop of center prospects outlined above to progress to the point where they can be considered potential productive pieces. He was available at the deadline and we’ve got plenty of minor league depth/draft picks to give Tallon as he works on rebuilding in FLA.

  3. Nathan says:

    @ozzie19:

    Spot on observations. One thing that we need to consider when talking about Kruger is that the center position in Rockford next year will be filled without him. Pirri will be returning as the top center next year with Froese, Gilbert and Flick all getting serious looks to make the team. Gilbert, for instance, played 5 games with the IceHogs at the end of the season posting 2G 1A and +3. Consider too that players Jeff Taffe and Peter Leblanc both had good seasons and could return. When you consider the situation at center in Rockford it becomes a little more obvious that Kruger will be a member of the Hawks next season. The question remains, in what capacity? I think the organization is smart enough to keep their expectations in check and progress Kruger slowly. For my peace of mind, I would love to see him as the 4th line center with a veteran 4th line center waiting in the wings if the team needs something more from that line durning the year. Maybe a 13th forward center with size for games against St. Louis, Anahiem, ect.

  4. Jim says:

    Am I the only one who think the Hawks need a little more size? The Hawks can’t have so many sub 200lb players. They got pushed around too much this year. When Kane got picked on against Vancouver, Sharp was the one who had to come to aide. If they don’t re-sign Brouwer, there will be problems. Bickell is big, but isn’t interested in hitting anyone. They wasted a playoff lineup spot with Scott to “police”, because the Hawks were getting pushed around. If they had been bigger that would not have been an issue.
    I know we had him, and Tab eluded to this before, but I think Marty Reasoner would be a good pickup.

  5. Adinoch says:

    What’s the deal with TJ Oshie? Hearing hes on the outs in StL because of his erratic behavior. Maybe getting back with his college teammate THE CAPTAIN can straighten him out? Young, high potential, willing to play physical, plays C and W. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.

  6. Jay says:

    I’m with ozzie19 regarding Stephan Weiss.

    All these players you mention in the blog are roughly 2-3.. maybe 4 years away from being a 2nd line center.

  7. ozzzie19 says:

    @ Nathan

    Sadly, I think you are right regarding the excuse of “limited” space for playing time in the Rock will lead to the the Hawks pushing Kruger to stay in the NHL. Frankly, though, thats just about the most assbackwards logic ever. If a guy needs more development time, you can make room for him by not resigning effective but non-prospects like Taffe and leaving some lower level/younger/less developed prospects in the ECHL. Why hurt the NHL team and the prospect’s development so Rockford can win a couple extra games or to rush more players??? Two of the three of Froese, Gilbert, and Flick should spend a year in Toldeo. The other (I’d pick Gilbert) should join Kruger and Pirri, who should be the top 2 centers for Rockford.

    As for Kruger as a 4th line center, I think he’d be terribly miscast (again, I think you’re right in thats where the Hawks will have him, but I think its a mistake). A 4th line center gets such limited minutes, its no place for a prospect to adjust to the N.A. game. It should be a spot for a guy who can win faceoffs, kill penalties, and isn’t afraid to block a shot or throw his body around. Thats really not Kruger at all right now. I think one (minor) reason the Hawks hummed along last year was because Fraser and later on in the year Madden fit that role and late this year Johnson fit that role well (I’d love to bring Johnson back).

    Completely unrelated, but is Chris DiDomenico playing center anymore?

  8. Tab Bamford says:

    Ozzie: You’re ignoring the fact that Bowman thinks enough of Kruger that the Blackhawks wanted him on the NHL roster to start the 2010-11 season.

    While he’s young and still physically developing, I think it’s very dangerous to make the huge assumptions so many fans are after seeing a 20-year-old for what? 8 games? at the end of the year and in the playoffs? I’m willing to give him a shot if it means we don’t have to waste a roster spot on someone like Pisani again.

    Furthermore, the assertion that some of these kids need 3 or 4 years before they get to the NHL is LAUGHABLE. I’m sorry, but that’s ludicrious. Taffe is gone and we’ll probably see Flick, Froese, Filbert & Pirri in Rockford this year w/ Kruger in Chicago to start the year. Whether or not Kruger is good enough to skate w/ Hossa & _______ on the 2nd line is to be determined, a full summer working out w/ NHL training staff & coaches and a full training camp w/ NHL players could make a world of difference. Hell, 12 months ago Nick Leddy was moving out of a dorm at Minnesota…

  9. ozzzie19 says:

    @ Tab

    I’m ignoring that fact, because that fact is complete and utter PR bullshit. If you were an aspiring NHLer and the Stanley Cup champs asked you if you wanted to play for their team would you said, no, no thanks, team who controls my future, I don’t want to do what you want, I think I’ll stay in Sweden for another year. I mean come on, do you really believe that BS? Riiight, it was the Hawks plan all along to throw Kruger into the lineup for the most crucial part of the season (not that Bolland and Sharp were injured), and then be so impressed that they put him the press box. I am not ignoring the fact that the Hawks are going to continue on with the PR BS, which is why I agreed with Nathan that he’ll be on the NHL team to start next year. That doesn’t mean that its the right thing to do or that I have to think its the right thing to do.

    You are right, it isn’t fair to judge him after 10 games. We saw that with Leddy, who was terrible in his first 9 with the Hawks, but who was fairly adequate after that. I thought it was the wrong decision to bring him back up to waste a year on his contract, BUT there are some important distinctions. Leddy went back to the AHL and played well in the N.A game against men. And also there wasn’t a decent alternative to Leddy for the NHL team. There should be many available better options than Kruger for the start of the 2011-2012 season. Also, Leddy was continuing his development, playing with Keith, whereas Kruger will most likely be getting 10 minutes with 4th liners. If Kruger plays 25 games at Rockford and lights the world on fire and we can give him anything more than garbage time the NHL, then I’m fine with him in CHicago. But while we may not be able to be sure that he isn’t ready for the NHL team based on his handful of games, we absolutely cannot be sure that he IS ready. Leddy is certainly the exception to the rule as far as development speed goes.

    I’m not saying that all of these guys need 3-4 years, but come on, other than Pirri, these guys have only a handful of professional games. Look at a talent like Beach and how difficult the transition is to the pro game as a 21 year old. Theres no reason why a couple of these guys can’t go to the ECHL for a year, is that really worse than throwing them (literally) to the wolves in the AHL? I don’t think it would hurt their development at all and would help Kruger by opening up space for him in Rockford. 4th rounders aren’t typically making the NHL (and contributing to a Stanley Cup aspiring team) as 22 yr olds. Now THATS laughable.

  10. Tab Bamford says:

    “4th rounders aren’t typically making the NHL (and contributing to a Stanley Cup aspiring team) as 22 yr olds. Now THATS laughable.”

    On June 10, 2010 –

    Niklas Hjalmarsson was 23 yrs old (by 4 days), and was a 4th round pick.
    Kris Versteeg was 24 yrs old, and was a 5th round pick.
    Troy Brouwer was 24 yrs old, and was a 7th round pick.

    I agree that I would like to see Kruger get more North American experience, but I watched him at the Prospect Camp in July last summer and wanted him in Rockford last year. He’s got the goods. And while I appreciate and respect your assertion that Leddy grew more playing w/ Keith & Campbell in the NHL, you’re ignoring the options your presenting Kruger: play in Rockford w/ four centers that are probably all 20 years old, or skate w/ Bolland & Toews in Chicago. The role Kruger would play as a 3rd/4th center next year in Chicago would be very similar to what was expected from Leddy; indeed, I would argue that Leddy being paired w/ Keith to start games is MORE pressure than Kruger would face unless he’s dropped on the 2nd line w/ Hossa right out of the gate.

    I say get all of these kids to Rockford and let them compete their asses off against each other. The ECHL is for kids returning from injury or struggling w/ the professional game. I don’t see any of the centers I listed in the same class as a kid like Chris DiDomenico. With all due respect, I completely disagree w/ you.

  11. ozzzie19 says:

    Exactly, Brouwer and Versteeg needed two years in the AHL, which would put Gilbert, Flick, and Froese ETA in 3 years.

    I agree, I would have loved him in Rockford last year. I think that would have accelerated his road to Chicago and I would be much more comfortable handing him an NHL spot with a year at Rockford under his belt (which is exactly what I’m saying the Hawks should do). True, I am ignoring that Kruger could be playing non-4th line minutes, but I just don’t think he can perform right now on a higher line. A major concern of mine is that we hand him that role and he fails and we are left without center depth again. Also, I’m not concerned about the pressure, I’m concerned about stunting his growth and hurting the team by fitting him into a slot that does not mesh with his current abilities.

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