Chicago Blackhawks: Their Five Best Offseason Moves
The Chicago Blackhawks knew change was coming. Fans were forewarned, players heard the whispers, and the fairy tale could not last forever. Even with all of the player additions and subtractions, there are always positives. Always look on the bright side of life, right?
Well, things could not be shinier, despite the changes for the Blackhawks, thanks to these five offseason moves.
5. Resigning Nick Boynton
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You can never underestimate veteran leadership in sports.
John Madden was a key cog for the champs because of his championship pedigree, knowledge, and skills on the penalty kill and in the face-off circle. Boynton was brought in last season to be a force in the defensive zone, play some PK minutes, and be the wise man for a group of d-men who had not played in the big time, or played well when given the chance there.
He is not flashy, fast, or a must-have on an NHL roster, but having your Boyntons there to pick his brain and defend his teammates, a fan cannot complain.
He also is signed for a cap-friendly $500,000.
4. Bye Bye Buffy, Buffy, Goodbye
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How could a team trade away such an important player in a championship run? A run that ended a 49-year drought?
Say what? But Dustin Byfuglien scored a handful of game-winners. He showed he could take heat from some of the best enforcers in the game.
Great. But what did he do for you in the regular season?
Not a whole lot. Thirty-four points does not equate a $3 million price tag. Being known for dogging it in games, being lazy in practice, and disappearing for games does not cut it. Anything short of playing at 100 percent intensity in the NHL equates to standing on the court and observing in basketball, pretty much.
Big Buff was like a nice center or power forward who got you 10 points and 10 rebounds a game. Solid for the most part, but can be replaced because a double-double is more common than ever.
Enter Troy Brouwer and Bryan Bickell. Both played at 100 percent intensity, clogged up the net, and moved anyone in their way. Brouwer outproduced Buff, and Bickell would have put up similar numbers as No. 33. Both are also getting paid one-third the price to do the same job.
Overrated is a good word to describe Byfuglien. His postseason play netted a first-round pick and a high-end draft pick, essentially. Brent Sopel and Ben Eager netted Marty Reasoner, another pick, and some cap relief. The Hawks made out well for a guy who did not produce as often as he needed to in the regular season.
All players should play hard every game, not just 16. Byfuglien could not do that, so he was shown the door.
3. Everyone Loves a Sharply Dressed Man
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Remember the importance of veteran leadership? Patrick Sharp is a perfect example.
Sharpie wears an "A" on his sweater for a reason. He produces in key situations, is a great teacher, and has his head on straight. To think the Philadelphia Flyers thought Matt Ellison was worth such a versatile player.
Sharp was so highly thought of that other solid players were traded. You can easily make cases for keeping former Hawks Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, and, to a degree, John Madden. All had similar price tags as Sharp, but were not put on the same level as No. 10.
This decision by Hawks brass will be prevalent in those tight situations and slumps that every team faces during the regular season.
2. Chicago Says No
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Antti Niemi is a perfect case of why sports agents are idiots. Bill Zito, Niemi's agent, got his hands too dirty trying to reach into the money pit for his client.
Because of Zito's decision to push for arbitration, Niemi is unemployed as you read this. The soft-spoken, level-headed backstop won over the hearts of Hawks fans with his dominance in the regular season, and propensity for making the big save. No one can argue that Niemi did not deserve a raise, but since when is a rookie goaltender worth more than 300 percent of his rookie contract? After 40-plus games in the league?
The door was left open for Marty Turco to take the money Chicago offered Niemi ($1.75 million, Turco took less than that), and work behind arguably the best quad of blueliners in the NHL today.
There was a point when that back four may have been no more...
1. Dropping the Hammer: Keeping Niklas Hjalmarsson
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The San Jose Sharks offered Niklas Hjalmarsson an offer sheet that he had earned and could not refuse. Three million dollars is nothing to shake a stick at when you are a 23-year-old. The Chicago Blackhawks had to make the toughest decision of the offseason with this offer sheet: Keep a top three, eventual top two defenseman, or let him go with his large price tag?
Yes, the decision to keep Ham Sandwich hurt the Hawks with future negotiations, but in a year or so, having Hjalmarsson at a three million-plus clip will be a steal. He has a wicked shot, a great eye for the puck, a no-BS attitude on the penalty kill, and a calm demeanor for such a young d-man. It could have been argued that Hammer should have been on the Swedish Olympic team.
Oh yeah, management has even gone as far as saying that they wanted to keep Hjalmarsson over Brent Seabrook if given the choice. That is very high praise for another nobody who is now a somebody thanks to Blackhawk scouting.