NHL Free Agency: What Blackhawks Fans Should Take Away From Day One

As we head towards July 2, the insanity appears to have settled down (well, except for Brad Richards). A lot of money changed hands on Friday, and now that the dust has settled there are as many questions as answers.

Let’s take a look at the moves the Blackhawks made, and around the Central Division, in an attempt to make some sense of what happened on Friday.

Including the deal from late Thursday night, here are the new contracts on the Blackhawks’ books entering the 2011-12 season (with the term of the deal):

S. Montador $      2,750,000 4
A. Brunette  $        2,000,000 1
S. O’Donnell  $          850,000 1
D. Carcillo  $          775,000 1
J. Mayers  $          550,000 1
B. McLean*  $          525,000 1
Total  $        7,450,000  

In these six contracts, one of which (McLean) is a two-way deal, the Blackhawks only committed for longer than this season to one player.

While the addition of Dan Carcillo is questionable/ridiculous/out-of-left-field, the other four veterans clearly bring size and quality depth to the Blackhawks roster at affordable dollar amounts. Brunette will probably replace Troy Brouwer’s production and might slide into the top six this fall, while a bottom defensive pair of O’Donnell and Montador is an enormous upgrade from last year’s season; with Brian Campbell on injured reserve in October, the Hawks were stuck with Nick Boynton, Jordan Hendry, John Scott and a babyfaced Nick Leddy to hold down the blue line.

Most of the headlines were made by Eastern Conference teams on Friday. Buffalo made a splash, handing a six-year deal to Ville Leino. Washington also shot for the moon, adding Joel Ward, Roman Hamrlik and still negotiating with Troy Brouwer.

The biggest noise came from the Florida Panthers, though. Former Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon is getting the band back together, trading for Brian Campbell, Tomas Kopecky and Kris Versteeg. He also took advantage of the higher salary cap by signing Tomas Fleischmann, Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc, Ed Jovanovski and Jose Theodore.

Back with Dale

But in the Western Conference, the team making the biggest statement so far has been the Columbus Blue Jackets. They added a top-line center, Jeff Carter, and a top-pair defenseman, James Wisniewski, in a total annual salary cap commitment more than 20 percent of the team’s payroll (more than $10.7M) to the two new faces.

Detroit spent Friday retaining their internal free agents. St. Louis and Nashville were also quiet, staying on the sidelines while other teams spent a king’s ransom on paupers.

What should we take away from the Blackhawks moves on Friday afternoon?

First of all, clearly the team was too soft for the coaches and management last year. The one thing Montador, Mayers and Carcillo have in common is a willingness to drop the gloves with anyone.

Secondly, Stan Bowman obviously wanted to be stronger in front of the net defensively. Between Montador and O’Donnell, the Blackhawks added 214 blocked shots and two physical defensemen for roughly half of Brian Campbell’s cap number.

But those two considerations aren’t the real story.

The Blackhawks made subtle moves to increase their depth without mortgaging their future on Friday. So far, 28 contracts have been handed out that are longer than two years in length. Only one of those, Montador, is with Chicago.

Blackhawks brass has been consistent in the last year that there is a great deal of faith in the organization’s depth, but the team wants to develop prospects appropriately; unless lightning strikes, we may not see another pair of 18-year-olds on the United Center ice for a long, long time.

By signing all short-term, inexpensive paper, the Blackhawks are putting together a competitive roster in 2011-12, but aren’t making the mistake of putting a concrete ceiling on their payroll ahead of the prospects their nurturing in Rockford (and elsewhere).

Perhaps the most subtle reality of the Blackhawks moves is the volume of deals that took place. If we include Ben Smith on the NHL roster but consider Marcus Kruger to be a prospect still, the Blackhawks have a 20-man roster filled already without signing any of their restricted free agents. Bowman has been clear that he would like to keep Michael Frolik and Chris Campoli, and even perhaps Viktor Stalberg, and has the financial flexibility to do so.

But not many teams start a season with 23 players on their NHL roster. Indeed, what happens if Kruger, Jeremy Morin, or any other prospect decides to take the next step at some point between mid-September and the end of March?

Contracts that are less than one-year in length and $1M in value are the easiest to make disappear.

As injuries happen around the league, the Blackhawks will have options on the trade market with these cheap contracts. There is also no guarantee that Carcillo or John Scott will even make the team out of training camp simply based on the volume of players available to Blackhawks coaches.

Did the Blackhawks find their second line center? No. Did they add a game-changing forward? No.

Are those answers enough to write off the entire 2011-12 season? Absolutely not.

As Brunette said when he spoke briefly with Chicago media members, the Blackhawks still have arguably the best core of young talent in the game. And there are reinforcements coming up through the organization. But some of those players (read: Kyle Beach) aren’t ready yet in the eyes of management. So Bowman filled out his roster with character players (except Carcillo) and with minimal financial exposure.

Blackhawks Day One Grade: B-

Bowman had a solid B until the Carcillo deal, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever; he is the worst possible role model for Beach that the organization could bring into the mix. But Carcillo might not even make the team, so it’s hard to hold that deal against Bowman long-term. Similarly, there are strong indications that Rostislav Olesz isn’t expected to make much/any of an impact in Chicago this fall (or ever). If he’s buried in Rockford, the Blackhawks have an additional $3.125M to play with.

Another major consideration that must be made is that the Blackhawks did get better on Friday. Detroit hasn’t replaced Brian Rafalski yet, and Nashville and St. Louis did nothing. Indeed, Columbus may have taken steps to catch up to the rest of the division, but the Blackhawks improved the most so far this summer.

So while lemmings are jumping off the bandwagon all weekend, take a deep breath. All is not lost. We’re still two months away from training camp, and seven months from the trade deadline. The Blackhawks’ roster is a work-in-progress, and Bowman’s still working.

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16 Responses to NHL Free Agency: What Blackhawks Fans Should Take Away From Day One

  1. NavyLifer3 says:

    I am psyched! Should be a wild and CA-Razy camp this year! I still cannot believe how managing this franchise has turned. I was worried last year, but understood and was amazed at what Boman was able to get back when everybody in hockey knew he had no leverage.

    This year – the draft was an A; Free Agency has been a logical and targeted success. But, this year’s camp will be anything but staying healthy and assigning lines. This year’s camp will be competitive mix of up-and-coming talent battling gritty, take-no-prisoner veterans – both fighting tooth and nail for roster positions!

    If anyone is foolish enough to jump off Rocky’s bandwagon at this point…let them go…they couldn’t possibly understand that the Hawks are positioned to make a long run. Boy does that feel nice.

  2. Cam says:

    “there are strong indications that Rostislav Olesz isn’t expected to make much/any of an impact in Chicago this fall (or ever).”

    There are? All I heard was Bowman say he didn’t know if Olesz would be more of a grinder or skilled player for the Hawks. Burying him in Rockford isn’t going to help his trade value. Unless the idea is to buy him out next year, but that buyout won’t be as advantageous as one this year would be.

    While I don’t care for Carcillo at all, I don’t think his presence has anything to do with Beach. Beach has made an idiot of himself plenty with no “role models” to speak of. Quite frankly, if Beach can’t control himself around Toews and Quenneville, then there is no hope for him anyway.

    Overall, I am relieved that the Hawks are looking to build the team with their prospects in subsequent years. However, outside of Morin and perhaps Kruger, I don’t think any of them are close to being NHL contributors.

  3. Tab Bamford says:

    LOL… you referenced “trade value” and Olesz in the same breath… you do realize the Panthers had been trying to get rid of him for a couple years now, right? He has NO trade value. NONE. The Hawks will bury him & buy him out next summer.

  4. Kris says:

    One thing you forgot to mention, we also beefed up on veterans which was sorely missed last year!

  5. Cam says:

    I didn’t say he had trade value, but burying him in the minors is going to make sure he never has any, even as part of a package.

    I’ll take the bet though. Bowman didn’t bury Huet in the minors and he won’t do it to Olesz either.

  6. Dwebert4 says:

    if they were going to buy him out they would have done it this year at half the cost, he may get buried, but it would be stupid to buy him out next year.

    “•For players under the age of 26, a buyout costs the team one-third of remaining contract value.
    •For players 26 or older, a buyout costs two-thirds of remaining contract value.
    •On a buyout, the team takes a cap hit for a percentage of the buyout value (according to a very complex formula) spread over twice the length of the remaining contract years.”

    Wait until next year and he’s 26. I think he’s here to stay.

  7. Blake says:

    @Cam, Bowman buried Huet in another country. I’d call that worse.

  8. Cam says:

    @blake, I’m sure Huet was far happier playing in a league he played in previously than getting stuck in the minors with a bunch of kids. Pretty certain the Hawks sent him to Switzerland rather than Rockford for his own benefit.

  9. Brad Stevenson says:

    I agree in general with all that you said Tab, but I still feel we left the proceedings, still one forward away from where we needed to be…the players on the market that I thought would have been nice fits, are gone at high dollar figures, but trades are still do able…

    What do you think the Hawks will do at the centre position??? Bowman has been leaning in his comments towards Bolland as the 2nd centre, possibly Kruger as the 3rd and perhaps Mayers as the 4th…

    No matter what ANYONE says on this matter, I think it is a mistake…and while we are in a position to make trades during the season to correct mistakes, this team cannot afford another bad start to the season…

    Bolly is the best 3rd line centre in the league…and that is where he should stay…Kruger can centre two bruisers on the 4th line…I am not worried about that…but unless Brunette goes to the first line and Sharp centers a combination of Hossa and Frolik, I am NOT sold on the centre position as is…so I do hope that SB has something else up his sleeve…

    I would really like to know your thoughts on the centre position as it stands right now…

    Thanks.

  10. Phil Avalos says:

    LOVE THE ANIMAL HOUSE VIDEO!!! Stick Tap for that Call!

  11. Bryan says:

    I agree with the post but I feel the negative feedback on here is a bit of a shock, when talking about what bowman “failed” to get done. It was pretty obvious that what Stan was able to accomplish on Friday was tremendous to me. He filled a ton of holes in the hawks game. Yes, they didn’t fill a position of need being a 2nd/3rd line center, but they were still one of the most productive offenses in the league. He cleared cap space which gives us the option to be buyers come trade deadline during the season and he revamped our penalty kill completely. I am very happy with what Stan has done to this point and look forward to what he has up his sleeve in the coming days.

  12. Tab Bamford says:

    @Dwebert – the Blackhawks couldn’t buy him out this year because he’s still injured. Players have to be healthy to be bought out.

  13. stealthwise says:

    Not sure where the talk about the need for a second line centre comes from on this blog, given that Sharp is a perfectly good one.

  14. Cam says:

    @stealthwise- Sharp is much better suited for wing. He’s capable of playing center in a pinch, but it’s not his natural position.

  15. Jim says:

    This was a pretty weak FA class. I am glad the Bowman didn’t overpay in money or years for anyone. There is tremendous flexibility with this direction. A lot of these signings are for older players that will not be here next year. Like Tab eluded, this gives the prospects another year to develop, without rushing them up for injury replacements. I don’t mind if the Hawks have another average year in order to secure many dominating years after with all of these prospects. The Hawks could be the new Detroit with deep playoff runs every year. Not just 7th or 8th seeds with 1st round exits. The true fans will appreciate that there is a valid plan here and will be patient.
    As you look at Florida and Tallon, he obviously hasn’t learned his lesson about over paying players. He will run into the same problem he did in Chicago. The pining for Tallon should be over after the last two weeks.
    I am looking forward to the next five years and after.

  16. I, for one, like the moves that have been made with the exception of signing Carcillo; I think he’s far too loose a cannon but I’ll wait to see what happens. I do like the other signings, especially Brunette, Mayers & O’Donnell. Factoring in Montador with that group we really brought some balanced physicality back to the mix. I can’t wait to see this group take the ice against Vancouver; payback time for all their crap. I agree with the thought that it would be great to bring in another center to allow Sharp to go to a wing…and one more thought; any chance for a Ladd return? I truly think we’re going to be damn good.

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