Complete Guide to the Chicago Blackhawks' 2014 Offseason
So close, yet so far away.
The Chicago Blackhawks had every chance to get back to the Stanley Cup Final to defend their championship. They took a 2-0 lead against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final and despite relinquishing that edge, were leading 4-3 late in the third period before having the game sent to overtime.
That's where Alec Martinez's long shot deflected past Corey Crawford and ended the Blackhawks season.
It's not the end of an era in Chicago, but there will be changes for the Blackhawks.
Here's a look back on a season that some will feel ended too soon and a look ahead to the bright future next season offers.
Top performers: There were no shortage of big-time seasons for big-time players. Patrick Sharp led the team in goals (34) and points (78) while Marian Hossa delivered a 30-goal season as well. Patrick Kane had 69 points in 69 games while captain Jonathan Toews had 28 goals. Defenseman Duncan Keith had 61 points and could be in line for a Norris Trophy.
Biggest disappointments: There really weren't all that many, but Kris Versteeg posting 10 goals in 63 games after he was acquired from the Florida Panthers early in the season constitutes a letdown for general manager Stan Bowman. Bryan Bickell, signed to a four-year, $16 million deal last summer, scored just 11 goals in 59 games.
Final assessment: This remains one of the deepest, most talent-rich teams in the NHL, and that's not going to change any time soon. Their biggest problem was they ran into a slightly deeper, equally talented team in the West final and Corey Crawford was about as useful as a tanning bed to a carpenter. The Blackhawks could use some help on the fourth line, but they are still one of the best teams in the league.
Biggest Storylines to Follow
Contract extensions for Toews and Kane: Both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane enter the 2014-15 season with one year remaining on contracts that carry a $6.3 million cap hit. It's the type of situation the Blackhawks won't want to let linger throughout next season, so they may look to get deals done this summer. But what are players of this caliber worth with a rising salary cap? To see each of them get a new contract worth more than $8 million per year would not be surprising.
Adding a backup goaltender: Watching Corey Crawford cough up rebounds and allow soft goals throughout the West final revealed the obvious—he's only as good as the team in front of him. With a six-year, $36 million contract set to begin next year, the only recourse the Blackhawks have is to sign a capable backup to ease the workload and pressure on Crawford. He finished 22nd in save percentage in the regular season and his .912 in the postseason was below average. The Blackhawks need more if they are to be a true Cup threat.
Notable Players Hitting Free Agency
None, really: Michal Handzus, the 37-year-old center who scored the OT winner in Game 5 versus the Kings, will almost surely be allowed to walk via free agency. The only other unrestricted free agents for the Blackhawks are Nikolai Khabibulin, Peter Regin and Sheldon Brookbank. Of those three, Brookbank has the best chance of returning, as he has served well in his role as a sixth or seventh defenseman.
Others: F Jeremy Morin, F Ben Smith and G Antti Raanta are all restricted free agents.
Top Free-Agent Targets
Martin Brodeur, G: This is simply rampant speculation after watching Corey Crawford flounder in the playoffs, but why not Brodeur as an insurance policy? Sure, Brodeur had the worst season of his career in 2013-14, but perhaps his numbers would be vastly improved playing behind a superior Blackhawks team. No one is saying Brodeur should make 60 starts, but if he made 25-30 and was there in the playoffs in case Crawford went sideways again, it couldn't hurt.
Devan Dubnyk, G: If a 42-year-old with experience isn't up the Blackhawks' alley, maybe a younger goaltender with upside is a better fit. Dubnyk's career went off the rails this season, as he went from the Edmonton Oilers to the Nashville Predators to the Montreal Canadiens, all while posting an .891 save percentage. Before that, he was .916, .914 and .920 in three straight years with the Oilers. Maybe the Blackhawks can sign him cheaply.
Best Options in the NHL Draft
With a late first-round pick, the Blackhawks aren't likely to land a game-changing player with their selection.
Here are three forwards GM Stan Bowman could be eyeing at the draft at the end of this month.
Ryan MacInnis, C: If the name is familiar, that's because he's the son of Hall of Fame defenseman Al MacInnis. The 6'4", 185-pounder has a ways to go before he's NHL-ready, as he posted 16 goals and 37 points in 66 games during his rookie season with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL.
John Quenneville, C: Once again, NHL bloodlines are at play here, as John is the cousin of Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and nephew of Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk. At 6'1", 187 pounds, John had 25 goals and 58 points in 61 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL.
Nick Schmaltz, C: He appears to lack any relations to current or former NHL players, but Schmaltz has been a solid player in the USHL. He had 18 goals and 63 points in 58 games for the Green Bay Gamblers last season.
Players Who Should Be Put on the Trading Block
Marian Hossa: Maybe this is a stretch, but let this one breathe for a minute. He's 35 years old and has a contract that runs through the 2020-21 season. According to CapGeek, he lacks a no-trade or no-movement clause. His cap hit is $5.275 million, which isn't much now, but as he declines in the coming years, will be a burden. Hossa had 30 goals in the regular season but just two in the postseason.
There's not much that needs to be tweaked with the Blackhawks, but if they can find someone to take Hossa for equal value in return, why not?
Top Trade Targets
Joe Thornton: With the San Jose Sharks possibly considering a major move this summer in the wake of losing a 3-0 series lead to the Los Angeles Kings, why not knock on GM Doug Wilson's door and see what he wants for Thornton? The Blackhawks are in desperate need of a true center behind Jonathan Toews, and this would be a welcome setting for Thornton should he accept a deal.
Patrick Marleau: Just take the previous paragraph, change Joe Thornton to Patrick Marleau, rewrite the part about needing a center and change that to winger. Marleau doesn't fit a glaring need on the Blackhawks or anything close to it, but if the Sharks are transforming the roster, maybe he could be had at the right price.
Jason Spezza: According to Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos, the Ottowa Senators are looking to ship Jason Spezza to the Western Conference. He has just one year and a $7 million cap hit left on his contract, so perhaps he could be a temporary fix to Chicago's problem down the middle.
Prospects Most Likely to Debut in 2014-15
Teuvo Teravainen: The 19-year-old Finnish sensation played in three games with the Blackhawks this season, but wasn't deemed ready enough to be a regular in the NHL. He had nine goals and 44 points for Jokerit in the Finnish league this season before coming to North America. He's very likely to take Michal Handzus' job as a regular center next season.
Matt Carey: The left wing only dressed for two games this season, but he did score one goal. The 22-year-old signed with the Blackhawks out of St. Lawrence University in March and should see more time next season.
Trevor van Riemsdyk: The brother of Toronto Maple Leafs forward and U.S. Olympian James van Riemsdyk, he was signed as a free agent out of the University of New Hampshire. A defenseman, he could play the role of sixth or seventh defenseman at some point next season in Chicago.
Projected 2014-15 Depth Chart
This is a Blackhawks team that won the Stanley Cup in 2013 and was one goal away from getting back to the Final in 2014. There very likely won't be any drastic changes entering next season.
• Brandon Saad—Jonathan Toews—Marian Hossa
• Patrick Sharp—Marcus Kruger—Patrick Kane
• Bryan Bickell—Teuvo Teravainen—Ben Smith
• Jeremy Morin—Andrew Shaw—Kris Versteeg
Spares: Brandon Bollig, Joakim Nordstrom
• Duncan Keith—Brent Seabrook
• Niklas Hjalmarsson—Johnny Oduya
• Nick Leddy—Michal Rozsival
Spare: Sheldon Brookbank
• Corey Crawford
• Free-agent goaltender