Chicago Blackhawks' Offseason Agenda: The Offense
*Part one of a three part series of the Chicago Blackhawks offseason agenda*
A great season for the young Chicago Blackhawks has come and gone, but now is when the real work starts for the team's front office. The Chicago Blackhawks will have many issues to address, including Martin Havlat's contract status, the numerous restricted free agents, the goaltending situation and many others.
In this article we will focus on the offense of the Chicago Blackhawks, the forwards under contract, the restricted free agents, the unrestricted free agents, the free agents the Blackhawks may consider, and the forward prospects that could crack the lineup in 2009-2010.
Here is a list of the players the Blackhawks currently have under contract as well as those who will be free agents.
Forwards Under Contract
All seven players listed as under contract will likely be with the Blackhawks next season, including right wing Jack Skille. If I had to pick one player that might be gone it would be Dustin Byfuglien who still has two more years left on his deal worth three million per season.
Byfuglien had a mediocre regular season, but seemed to find himself during the playoffs as he was a physical presence and possessed the ability to frustrate the opposition's goaltender. With this advancement in Byfuglien's game, you would have to imagine that he will not be going anywhere unless a terrific trade comes along.
Restricted Free Agents (Forwards)
Of the Chicago Blackhawks' restricted free agents, the two who will desire the most money are Calder trophy candidate Kris Versteeg, and playoff stud center Dave Bolland. Versteeg's salary in 2008-2009 was at a bargin basement price of $490,000 and you would have to imagine that he will receive at least triple that salary next season.
Bolland's salary in 2008-2009 was $887,000 and like Versteeg, Bolland will be due for a fairly significant raise to around the $2 million mark. Basically the raises that Bolland and Versteeg receive will equal about half of how much Nikolai Khabibulin made last season.
Now begins the difficult decision for the Chicago Blackhawks' front office—how many fourth line players do we need? The three remaining players listed as restricted free agents—Troy Brouwer, Colin Fraser, and Ben Eager—all of which are considered third and fourth line grinders, with only room for two of the three.
Troy Brouwer enjoyed his first full season with the NHL club and flourished as a gritty player who found time on all four lines. Brouwer is still young and the Blackhawks' coaches are still very high on him developing into a very good power forward.
Ben Eager enjoyed the best offensive season of his career and provided plenty of grit and energy on the Blackhawks' fourth line. Eager is good at what he does, and I believe that Tallon would like to keep him and Adam Burish together reeking havoc on other teams' top lines.
The odd man out on this list seems to be Colin Fraser, who was a surprising addition to the Blackhawks' lineup out of training camp. However, he played his role and provided plenty of energy. It is possible that Fraser could be signed in the offseason but it is likely that he would be in the Blackhawks' farm system next season.
Unrestricted Free Agents (Forwards)
Now we move onto the fun part—the unrestricted free agents. There has been plenty of speculation over whether right wing Martin Havlat will return to Chicago next season, and from all indications from Havlat, he would love to stay.
The Blackhawks must also consider the future as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith are all due for raises this summer or next summer. Because of this, the Blackhawks cannot commit an exorbitant amount of money into one player like last offseason with Brian Campbell.
There has been talk that Havlat is willing to take a pay decrease to about $4-$4.5 million a season, but would ask for a 6-7 year contract. Is it smart to sign a player, who has had injury problems in the past, to a long term contract? Conventional wisdom would say no, but when Havlat is healthy, he makes this 'Hawks team that much better.
I say, if you can sign Havlat to a six year, $24 million contract, then you do it, but if Havlat demands more money than $4.5 million, I would let him walk.
The next player that Dale Tallon will likely try to re-sign is trade deadline acquisition Samuel Pahlsson. Although Pahlsson did not provide a ton of offense at the third line center position, he provided the young Blackhawks with some additional experience and a strong faceoff center.
Pahlsson will likely demand less money this season than he did last season as he made $1.4 million over the last two seasons. If Tallon can sign Pahlsson to a deal worth just a little less than he made in previous seasons, Pahlsson could possibly move down to the fourth line and make that line a very solid defensively.
Free Agent/Trade Targets
This list is interesting, as it could grow or shrink dependent on what happens with Martin Havlat and Samuel Pahlsson. If Havlat is not re-signed, it is possible that the 'Hawks could look at names like Mike Cammalleri, Marian Hossa, Brian Gionta and Ales Kotalik to fill the void left by the talented right winger.
If Pahlsson is not signed, then the Blackhawks could place Colin Fraser back on the fourth line and shop for a third line center like Michael Peca, Radek Bonk, or John Madden.
I have also placed a few "second line" centers on this list in case Blackhawks' management determines that Dave Bolland is a better fit as a third line center as opposed to a second line center. A few names that the Blackhawks could look at are Mike Comire (UFA), Saku Koivu (UFA) and Patrick Marleau (San Jose).
Although it is unlikely that the Blackhawks will make a move for either of the three players listed, their names must be mentioned if they feel they need another offensive center.
If Bolland is the guy that the Blackhawks want centering the second line, then the Blackhawks could still look for a player like John Madden or Michael Peca to provide stability down the middle.
Whatever the case is, the Chicago Blackhawks' offseason should be as exciting, if not more exciting, as the Blackhawks' regular season.
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