NHL Free Agency: Someone the Chicago Blackhawks Should Consider

After getting manhandled for much of the regular season and throughout the playoffs against Vancouver, it’s a safe assumption that the Chicago Blackhawks will go shopping for a physical presence this summer.

And the perfect player just happens to be an unrestricted free agent: Erik Cole.

Cole is coming off a strong season in Carolina, scoring 26 goals and adding 26 assists in 82 games with the Canes. His cap number was $2.9M on a two-year deal and, at 32 years old (33 in early November), he is likely looking for the best chance to win another ring.

Chicago could be that fit.

Cole finished the season 13th in the NHL in hits with 225, and would replace some of the experience leaving the roster as Tomas Kopecky and Fernando Pisani leave after this year. With Troy Brouwer being a question mark as a restricted free agent this summer, Cole could be at the top of Stan Bowman’s shopping list.

If Cole is looking for a comparable cap number to where he was last year – in the $2.50-3.00M range – then he’s a player the Blackhawks could afford as well. In fact, Cole would be an ideal role model to have in Chicago for if/when the Kyle Beach Experiment reaches the United Center.

17 thoughts on “NHL Free Agency: Someone the Chicago Blackhawks Should Consider

  • April 28, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    You couldn’t have picked a better photo to use along with the story. That image alone is something the Hawks were lacking too much last year.

  • April 28, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    What is going on with Beach? I watched him through juniors in the WHL and was always impressed with his skill but he never seemed to be able to stop being a headcase. Is this still an issue plaguing him? I fully expected seeing him in a Hawks jersey long before now. The kid has talent but can’t seem to put it all together. Or am I just crazy?

  • April 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    I agree that an Erik Cole-type player is exactly what the Hawks need, however, he’s 32 (with a history of injuries) and bruising power forwards don’t age well in the NHL. There are always exceptions, but most often, those players have made adjustments to their playing style (i.e. less physical) to accomodate for the mileage they’ve taken.

  • April 28, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    From your keyboard to the Hockey Gods ears (and Stan Bowman’s too) !!! Having Cole in Chicago would make me happy for lots of reasons …

  • April 29, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Looking forward it is easy to pencil in some players where they spent some time this season, or to pencil a player in where they COULD (read: have the ability to) play. Examples would be Bolland as your second line center, or Bickell third line LW, or Stalberg as top line LW. I don’t question whether or not these players could play for the Hawks next season, but instead question, “if they play for the Hawks next season, where MUST they play in order for the Hawks to be more competitive?”

    Dave Bolland: Likely the best third line center in the league, seems likely that he would also be a comperable second line center, but his proven worth and maximized strength as a member of this team is as the third line center. If the Hawks want to be Champions again next season, look for someone else to play second line center.

    Brian Bickell: Q made a fairly obvious statement about Bickell this past season – third line LW. Admittedly, he did pretty well in this position and though I am about to recommend that he play fourth line LW next season, he has the talent to move up in this lineup. Like I was saying: fourth line LW; first of all, he needs to learn to play with an edge and add a physical dimension to his game, and like Stalberg this season, should sort that out playing 8-10 minutes a night. Beyond that the Hawks will need to get a good look at some youth this season (read: Ben Smith, Jeremy Morin, not Kyle Beach ect.) and the minutes they could recieve playing along side Dave Bolland would both benefit their style of play (Andrew Ladd esque) and their developement (defense first).

    Micheal Frolik: The most flexible player in the Hawks lineup; injury to a centerman? Shift from wing to the middle, no problem. Left side? Right side? No matter. The perfect top 9 forward; but where SHOULD he play for the Hawks to be champions again? The same place he did in the playoffs once Bolland returned – third line RW. I don’t think much more has to be said.

    Viktor Stalberg: Super fast, good size, will come cheap, and is learning to play with physicality and an edge. I am not 100% sold on Stalberg as being a member of the club next season, but you have to wonder if GM pride would get in the way of moving him. One year removed from trading Kris Versteeg I think Stan Bowman potentially feels like he needs to allow Stalberg the chance to grow as a Hawk. So, if Viktor Stalberg is indeed a Hawk next season, and if in that same season the Hawks want to win a cup, he will need to play fourth line LW.

    Marcus Kruger: Is clearly being groomed to play for this club next season, and proved well enough that he should be given the opportunity to play a fourth line center role. He never shyed away from the physical stuff this post season (even when much of it was dirty) and his strong hockey sense could make for a dangerous and reliable fourth line.

    So, then, given all of that, what does the 2011-12 Stanely Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks roster look like…. (so far)?

    Smith – Bolland – Frolik
    Bickell – Kruger – Stalberg

    That is a cheap, skilled, gritty, reliable, fast and hungry bottom six. What about the top end though? And really, no matter what you think about the bottom six, whether you agree with me, or not, the real question next season is – “what about the top six?” The Hawks have the pieces and/or the attractiveness as an organization to sign a strong bottom six. Where this organization should begin to lose sleep is the second line.

    You are paying one of the most elite LW’s in the game (Marion Hossa) over 5 million dollars a year and yet refuse to make the most of that investement and provide him a capable second line center. Within the system the Hawks best and closest prospect is Brandon Pirri. He played up at the start of the year but finished with Rockford and put together a nice year. He should do the same down there in 2011-12. So, who is going to win a Championship with the Hawks next year at second line center? Hossa is a big man that protects the puck well and likes to play downlow in order to create his chances. With the puck moving ability of the Hawks D it becomes less necessary to position Hossa with a light finesse centerman but instead compliment him with someone who can work it downlow. Admittedly, gaining depth at center from OUTSIDE an organization is a hard task. Very few GM’s are willing to part with the kind of centermen that I’m referring to. Therefore, I’ll leave any trading magic to Bowman. Signing a UFA however should be something this franchise can manage. Allow me to propose Brooks Laich. He is a big, powerful, board battling, tenacious center that wins draws, kills penalties and can go out for the PP. With previous cap hit of 2 million he would not be outrageous to sign. I would find it hard to imagine Laich turning down an offer from the Hawks to play behind Toews, beside Hossa, and in front of Keith and Seabrook.

    The Championship roster then looks something like this…

    () – Toews – Kane (12.6 million)
    () – Laich – Hossa (8.3 million)
    Smith – Bolland – Frolik (5.5 million)
    Bickell – Kruger – Stalberg (2.6 million)
    ** John Scott (0.5 million)

    What is remains is a Championship top six left side. What also remains are questions about a couple of current roster players (Corey Crawford, Patrick Sharp, Troy Brouwer, Tomas Kopecky, Jake Dowell) AND (most importantly) how much this Championship will cost.

    If you add up the 4 lines and John Scott it comes to around 29 million NEEDING two LW’s and possibly another depth player. The Defense is wonderfully easy to figure out with regard to cap obligation. With the same top six (who in my opinion are a championship top six) cost around 25 million (with a small raise to Campoli). Add that up, 54 million + Salak + Depth D-man = 56 million. It should be obvious at this point, that without a cap increase pushing beyond 62 million, the Hawks cannot sign Crawford and retain Patrick Sharp, Troy Brouwer or potentially the same 6 man defense corps.

    What should also be obvious is that the Blackhawks would be hard pressed to win another Champship next season without Sharp and Crawford; the remainder of that small list of players can (and should) be moved or allowed to walk. Crawford should sign from anywhere from 1.8 to 2.5 depending on how generous this organization feels. For the sake of simple math let’s say he signs for 2.1 million. He and Sharp then combine for 6 million and the team is capped out and down a second line LW.

    So, for 62.9 million dollars

    Sharp – Toews – Kane Keith/Leddy Crawford
    Morin – Laich – Hossa Hammer/Seabrook Salak
    Smith – Bolland – Frolik Stanton(Campoli?)/Campbell
    Bickell – Kruger – Stalberg ** TBD
    ** John Scott

    Where can the Blackhawks make sacrifices? Well, let’s first take a look at the remaining roster spot that I filled with Jeremy Morin; who, if not for a concussion this year during the World Juniors, would have rejoined the team to play in the top six. Being 900,000 over the cap is not so bad. The cap may go up beyond 62 million and then we need to tweek nothing. But say it doesn’t – the solution I offer is 22 year old Ryan Stanton, who was a ridiculous +9 on a largely minus Rockford defense corps. At six-two and 205lbs he doesn’t lose size on who he would replace – Chris Campoli – but saves (after raises) about 900k for this club.

    So there you have it, your 2011-12 Stanely Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.

  • April 29, 2011 at 10:52 am

    a bit tough to read that last mess…

    Sharp – Toews – Kane
    Morin – Laich – Hossa
    Smith – Bolland – Frolik
    Bickell – Kruger – Stalberg
    ** John Scott

    Keith – Leddy
    Hammer – Seabrook
    Stanton(Campoli?) – Campbell


  • April 29, 2011 at 10:58 am

    The Blackhawks will not be able to afford Brooks Laich. Sorry – he’s going to make Bolland-like money next year, and that can’t/won’t happen in Chicago.

    Also, the dollar amounts you put out there are way off. $5.5M barely affords you Bolland & Frolik, much less Smith’s $800k cap number.

    For a better clue about money, I invite you to read my breakdown of the roster for next year.

  • April 29, 2011 at 11:20 am

    5.5 million for that third line is almost exactly what it would cost.

    Frolik is only due for a qualifying offer of 10% under the CBA

  • April 29, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Laich making Bolland money puts my assumption of 3.1 million off only by 0.2ish million.

  • April 29, 2011 at 11:26 am

    For all the time I spent writing the biggest point to make here is the importance of a second line center. The Hossa investement looks weaker than it needs to without signing a player like Brooks Laich. We can disagree about money and cap situations, but in my mind spending more at center strengthens this organization more than spending that money on defense. Therefore if a player like Hammer needs to go (or the obvious Campbell) so be it.

  • April 29, 2011 at 11:33 am

    I tend to disagree re: center being the Blackhawks biggest need. I don’t view needs by position, but rather by skills. The Hawks need someone to come in and be physical, so that Bickell & Brouwer aren’t the only forwards putting a body on someone. If that means they get a 2nd line center, great. But those aren’t cheap, and in my mind Laich is as much of a 2nd line center as Bolland is. If the Hawks can find a physical wing to skate on the 2nd/3rd line – thus the Cole recommendation (who would be cheaper/better suited for this roster than Laich IMO) – then Sharp/Frolik can skate as a center. Honestly, I wouldn’t even be surprised to see Kruger next to Hossa next year.

  • April 29, 2011 at 11:50 am

    I agree with you that Laich is as much of a second line center as Bolland, but like you say addressing a different skill set. Laich would be much more capable of playing down low with Hossa, adding physicality to the top six, while Bolland has proven his worth beyond my words as a third line center.
    Adding Eric Cole with the intent of skating Frolik at center doesn’t (IMO) create a dangerous second line, as much as it creates reliable second and third lines. Therefore, putting much of the scoring pressure back on Toews and Kane and the powerplay.
    You may well be right about Kruger getting second line duties next year. It’s clear that the organization has a lot of regard for him. I think that if this is then the case the Hawks would be better served to grab an effective power forward LW. The need to have a dangerous Hossa line is at the top of my wishlist regarding this organization since it has a wonderful trickle down, and up effect on the remaining 3 lines (which I think already possess their proper identities) and defense corps.

  • April 29, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Brooks Laich is pretty much another Patrick Sharp in the sense that they are not “true” centers. There’s a reason why Washington has been looking for a legit 2nd line centerman (and got one in Arnott) ever since Federov left and that’s for the same reason why Chicago is looking for one. While Sharp and Laich can play center, they’re better playing wing.

    I think the only way Chicago gets a 2nd line center for next season is either by within their system, or a trade.

  • April 29, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    I agree with some of the postings in that overall we need to get more physical as a team. If that is through bigger bodies or guys that play with that edge so be it.

    We need a winger on the 1st line that dosen’t dillute the product of Towes/Kane.
    We need defined roles on each line. We need to get tougher on the back end also.

    To me it’s all value. Looking at player contracts it’s amazing to see players under/over performing their paycheck.

    There is no way Tallon gives up Reasoner but you look at what he does versus his cap hit last year and to me, it was Jr.’s worst offseason decision by far. But then they were trying to resign Niemi at the time so I can see the issue.

    I think it helped that Brouwer had an off year because we hopefully can resign him cheaper than if he had a huge stat year. I think he is getting shortchanged on these posts as he was/is the best power forward on this team.

    But this is all fluid, I’m sure management will have a plan but when July hits and the calls start flying you can’t always get what you want………

    I give Van management kudos for signing the manpower to get a cup this year. They will go as far as Louongo takes them.

  • April 29, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    @Buds -I can see your point about Laich. A good critique.
    @Jeff – Agree very much about someone not diluting the product that is Toews/Kane. It seems that over the last two seasons, for one reason or another, no one has been able to stick. I know with Sharp they present a tough match-up but I didn’t love how cute they got sometimes with the cross ice passes getting picked off in the offensive zone. I don’t want to re-open the Sharp or Byfuglyn arguement from last summer, but in terms of their respective skill sets, I prefer a guy that can create space for those two and then get to the net when he senses something is going to happen (especially come the playoffs). I don’t know what is out there with even a remote chance of landing in Chicago next season that can do that but it should be a serious consideration. That it would force Sharp to the second line is just an additional bonus in forward depth.

  • May 1, 2011 at 12:54 am

    I liked seeing Bolland playing on a line with Hossa

  • June 22, 2011 at 7:22 am

    I have to agree with the Cole suggestion. I like his grit.

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