NHL Free Agency: Blackhawks Make Big Splash, But Were Moves Wise?

Steve JankowskiAnalyst IJuly 1, 2008

Free agency opened in the NHL Tuesday, and the Chicago Blackhawks wasted no time making a big impact, signing the top goalie and defenseman available— Cristobal Huet and Brian Campbell.

The Huet deal likely means the end of Nikolai Khabibulin's stay in Chicago, but his monster contract could prevent teams from inquiring about the veteran Stanley Cup winner in net.

That deal was overshadowed by the signing of the biggest name defenseman on the market, Brian Campbell.

Chicago gave him an eight-year, $56.8 million contract after having talks with defensemen Wade Redden and Brad Stuart.

Campbell is known as a good skater, and moves the puck well, but he will now have to deal with the expectations that come with a huge, long-term contract.

He did not perform all that well in the playoffs for San Jose, after being traded from Buffalo at the trade deadline last season.

The signings make it likely that the Hawks will not be able to sign Marian Hossa, the top forward on the market.

The Blackhawks needed more help up front than on the blue line, so the fact that the Hawks front office targeted a defenseman over a forward is puzzling.

Signing Hossa would have made all the forwards better, especially Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. 

It also would have taken pressure off of Patrick Sharp, who will receive more attention from opposing defenders next season after his 30+ goal campaign.

If, somehow, GM Dale Tallon is able to sign Hossa too, you could consider the Hawks instant contenders in the Western Conference.

As they stand now, they should make the playoffs, but I can't see them getting past the second round, especially if Hossa lands with another Western Conference team.

The other problem with giving Campbell such a huge contract, is that if he does under-perform, it will be extremely difficult to move that contract via trade.

As for the goaltending situation, bringing in Huet should strengthen a position already considered an organizational strength.

Look for Chicago to move Khabibulin and have Corey Crawford back up Huet at the start of the 2008-09 season.

Crawford showed he is more than capable of playing at the NHL level, shutting out the then-defending Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks. 

He also played well in the AHL playoffs for the Blackhawks affiliate in Rockford.

Chicago should make the playoffs in the competitive Western Conference, but adding some talent up front can help the team advance farther than they would as constructed.

The remainder of free agency and unforeseen trades could change that prediction, one way or another.