Depth Players Chicago Blackhawks Should Chase in Free Agency
Chicago Blackhawks fans may still be thinking about the floater that Alec Martinez directed at Corey Crawford's net on June 1 that somehow ended the Western Conference Final, but general manager Stan Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville are past it.
Instead, they are already working toward the 2014-15 season, and one of the first moves came when they let 37-year-old veteran Michal Handzus know that he would not be back with them next year.
The Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Lazerus reported on Monday that the team is moving on without the determined but slow-footed center in the future.
Despite the high level of talent on the roster, the Blackhawks are not about to stand pat. They will make moves to improve their depth. If they can find a solid No. 2 center who can play behind Jonathan Toews, they will. They will address other positions as well.
They can improve their team by looking to add some of this summer's available depth players.
C Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche
This may be where the conversation starts for the Blackhawks when it comes to the No. 2 center.
The reality is that the conversation probably ends just a few minutes later. Stastny, 28, is in the prime of his career. He is a fast skater, skilled with the puck and a player who can make game-changing plays.
The issue with Stastny will almost certainly be money. While he is a "depth" player compared to Chicago's No. 1 center Jonathan Toews, he is one of the league's stars. Stastny earned $6.6 million last year, and he could certainly make more than that on his next contract.
The Blackhawks want to tie up Toews and Patrick Kane for the future, so signing Stastny is not likely.
However, if he has designs on winning the Stanley Cup, he may want to take less money to play with a legitimate contender like the Blackhawks.
If that long shot doesn't occur, the Blackhawks will have to go in another direction.
C Brian Boyle, New York Rangers
There are a number of centers who will be free agents in July, and Brian Boyle could be the kind of player who gets the Blackhawks' attention.
Boyle has size, skating ability and can win faceoffs (52.9 percent) in crucial situations. While he had just six goals and 12 assists in the regular season, Boyle was used largely for his defensive skills and grit.
The 6'7", 244-pound Boyle was much more of a factor in the playoffs, as he scored three goals and five assists in 25 postseason games.
Boyle has the kind of game that should allow him to be a better offensive player than he has showed in recent years. He scored 21 goals in the 2010-11 season, and there's no reason he couldn't get back to that level by starting off fresh with a new team.
Additionally, Boyle has the kind of toughness that the Blackhawks are looking for. He can take a hit and still keep on going, and he can also deliver a hard check that can change the pace of a game.
Boyle earned $1.8 million last year. While he will want a slight bump, he is not the kind of player who is going to break the bank and cause problems with the salary cap.
LW Milan Michalek, Ottawa Senators
One of the reasons the Los Angeles Kings were able to defeat the Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals was their ability to finish plays and put the puck in the back of the net.
This appeared to be a stength of the Blackhawks going into the series, but it didn't play out that way. The Blackhawks had a number of opportunities that they couldn't bury past Jonathan Quick, and that was a big problem.
The Blackhawks may want to look for a proven scorer who can put the puck in the net. Milan Michalek of the Ottawa Senators may fit the bill for Bowman and Quenneville.
He scored 17 goals and 22 assists last year, but scored a career-high 35 goals in 2011-12 and has potted 20 or more goals five times in his career.
Michalek ($6 million salary in 2013-14) may prove to be out of the Blackhawks' price range, and he has not always been the best defensive player, but he is a capable scorer who could make the team more dangerous.
G Ray Emery, Philadelphia Flyers
The Blackhawks' backup goaltending may need to be addressed in the offseason.
After losing Ray Emery to the Philadelphia Flyers in the offseason last year, they brought in Nikolai Khabibulin to serve as Corey Crawford's backup. Khabibulin's season ended early due to injury, and he did not perform up to par before his season was cut short.
The Blackhawks promoted Antti Raanta to the No. 2 goaltender position. While he performed adequately last year, he was not as reliable as he could have been. Raanta had a 2.71 goals-against average and .897 save percentage.
He is a restricted free agent this year.
Raanta made $925,000 last year and would probably like an increase. While he enjoyed playing for the Blackhawks, he may have options. Raanta played in his native Finland prior to coming to North America, and he could decide to go back.
If Raanta and the team can't come to an agreement, Emery could return to the Blackhawks as a free agent. Emery could not secure the starting position with the Flyers last year, and serving as a backup in Chicago might be more appealing than holding down the same position in Philadlephia.
Emery earned $1.65 million last season, and he would probably cost about the same this year. The Blackhawks could make a run at him.
D Matt Niskanen, Pittsburgh Penguins
The Blackhawks have to make a decision about their defense. On the surface, they are in great shape with a top four that includes Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson.
However, that group did not always play to its talent level in the postseason. Opposing forwards appeared to have too much freedom in Chicago's defensive zone, which put Crawford at risk too many times.
While all the Blackhawks were guilty of lax play from time to time, Seabrook's issues appeared to be the most egregious. The Blackhawks could be interested in upgrading in this area, and Pittsburgh's Matt Niskanen could be at the top of the list.
Niskanen is a solid puck-mover who scored 10 goals and 36 assists to go along with a plus in 2013-14 and had a plus-33 rating. The 27-year-old earned $2.5 million last year and will be looking for an increase.
While he may cost more than the Blackhawks want to spend, Niskanen could provide a long-term upgrade to the team's overall defense.
Salary information courtesy of CapGeek.com.
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