Much of the talk in the Chicago news may be about NBA free agency and the Bulls’ odds of landing Lebron, but the Hawks have plenty of work to do themselves as free agency is set to get under way in a few hours.
The task at hand for Stan Bowman and Co.- find ways to shed salary to get under the salary cap while maintaining the “core” that will have the Hawks contending for titles for years to come.
Last week’s trade with Atlanta was just the first of many moves the Hawks will make this off-season; here is what else they have to do to accomplish the aforementioned task.
Antti Niemi, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Andrew Ladd, and Jordan Hendry are all restricted free agents. Niemi came of age this post-season, as his stellar play catapulted the Hawks to their first Cup in 49 years and solved the problem in net that has plagued the Hawks in recent years-if he is re-signed, that is.
Hjalmarsson was a huge part of Chicago’s success all year long. He plays with no regard at all for his body, as witnessed by his lay it all on the ice mentality on the penalty kill. Underappreciated as he may be, he’s one of the league’s top up and coming defenseman and losing him would be a huge blow.
Ladd may not be the flashiest or highest scoring forward on the team, but his value cannot be measured based solely off stats, he is a big part of the team’s great chemistry and his experience is also very valuable. Hendry saw plenty of ice time late in the season and during the post-season, and could provide solid depth on the blue line for Coach Joel Quenneville.
Cristobal Huet has been a bust from day one here in Chicago, he did not deserve the four year-22 million dollar deal he received, and went on to make his unworthiness quite clear. At times he seemed disinterested, as if he didn’t want to stop the puck. Dumping his massive salary would free up a lot of cap space and give Bowman more flexibility to address other issues.
There are many options for what to do with “the man from France”, the most likely being that he and his cap hit are sent to Rockford. As long as he is no longer a Hawk, and his salary doesn’t count against us; it’s fine by me.
Assuming they re-sign Hjalmarsson, the Hawks will have four defensemen on the roster- Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, and Hjalmarsson. Kim Johnsson and Nick Boynton are both likely to be playing elsewhere next year, although Boynton at a cheap price is a serviceable player. Jordan Hendry’s status is up in the air, but he is affordable and would provide solid depth.
Bowman is going to have to go out and bring in a fresh face or two at the back end. Brett Lebda is one guy I would love to see wearing the Indian-head sweater next season. He is only 28, would come relatively cheap, and fit in well on the blue-line for the Hawks. The Buffalo Grove native could be this year’s version of Tomas Kopecky, a guy plucked off Detroit’s scrap heap that excels in Chicago.
Trading away Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Eager left gaping holes in Chicago's physicality. Adam Burish is as physical a forward as we have left, and it is looking more and more likely that he will not be a Hawk next year.
Forwards that will get on the body and protect the likes of Kane & Toews are a necessity. Arron Asham, Jody Shelley, and Brad Winchester all fit the bill as large, physical free agents that will come at a relatively cheap price.