Chicago Blackhawks: Grading Every One of Their Moves This Offseason
What's been a very active offseason for the Chicago Blackhawks is now winding down.
General manager Stan Bowman faced the tough job of addressing a number of concerns facing the Blackhawks, mainly new contracts for Corey Crawford, Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg; the need for more character, grit and toughness and glaring weaknesses at the forward position, as well as on defense.
Over the course of the summer, the Hawks have made several moves to complete the minor makeover they needed after being eliminated in the first round against Vancouver. They've made a few trades, signed five unrestricted free agents and completed deals with several of their own restricted free agents.
With training camp still several weeks away, we have plenty of time to reflect back on Chicago's moves this offseason and judge just how well they've done addressing the needs and concerns they had entering the summer.
In this slideshow, I will evaluate and grade every one of the Blackhawks' offseason moves, both major and minor, and see how their summer has been so far.
So without further ado, here are the grades.
Corey Crawford's 3-Year Extension
The Chicago Blackhawks began their offseason by completing a deal with their most valuable restricted free agent, rookie goalie Corey Crawford, who signed a three-year deal with the Blackhawks worth $8 million ($2.66 million cap hit)
Crawford's impressive performance after seizing the starting job from Marty Turco helped the Blackhawks remain in playoff contention down the stretch. He also netminded one of the most remarkable comebacks in NHL history against Vancouver in the first round.
Last season, Crawford had a record of 33-18-6, posting a .917 save percentage and a 2.30 goals against average, along with four shutouts.
In the playoffs, Crawford had a .927 save percentage and a 2.21 goals against average, as well as a shutout.
An extension for Crawford was always considered essential, and was proclaimed to be priority No. 1 by Stan Bowman immediately following the conclusion of the season. The Blackhawks didn't waste much time and signed him well before talks of free agency or arbitration could even surface.
Crawford's extension secured the Blackhawks an undisputed starting goaltender for the foreseeable future. The cap hit is very affordable, and the term was exactly what most predicted it would be.
Alexander Salak's 2-Year Deal
The Chicago Blackhawks followed up Crawford's deal by signing another goalie, prospect Alexander Salak, to a one-way, two-year deal worth $1.225 million ($612,500 cap hit).
Salak spent the 2010-2011 season with Färjestad of the Swedish Elite League. He played in 32 games and recorded a .926 save percentage and a 1.97 goals against average with seven shutouts. He was among the top goaltenders in the SEL.
This was a good singing because it gave the Blackhawks, whose organization depth in net is quite shallow, another goalie in the system. Salak is a very strong prospect who has a very good chance of developing into an NHL-calibre goalie. And his cap hit is very affordable.
The problem with this deal is its one-way status. This means Salak will receive an NHL salary even if he spends next season in the AHL. If he doesn't make the Blackhawks, the organization will have to swallow his NHL salary, which the owners might not approve of, which may or may not influence on where Salak plays next season.
One-way contracts are generally only handed out to players who will be guaranteed NHL roster spots. So it seems a little irrational to give a one-way contract to an unproven prospect looking to enter the NHL. It would have made more sense to sign him to a two-way contract, so if he doesn't appear ready in training camp, he can be sent to the minors without financial implications.
Troy Brouwer Traded to Washington for 26th Overall Pick
The Chicago Blackhawks made their first trade of the offseason on the first day of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, sending Troy Brouwer to the Washington Capitals in exchange for the 26th overall pick, which the Blackhawks used to draft forward Phillip Danault.
Brouwer's stock dropped after an inconsistent 2010-2011 season, where he only scored 17 goals, five less than the prior season. This was a problem considering Brouwer's expanded role and higher expectations from the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks certainly got maximum value for Brouwer in the form of a first round pick, which they used to draft a player who was high on their wish list.
But what did the Blackhawks give up? Brouwer was among the Blackhawks' most physical forwards. He was a part of the Stanley Cup winning team of 2010 and a well-liked player in the locker room. He was a versatile power forward that could move up and down the lineup.
On paper, it was an excellent move. The Blackhawks maxed out the value of a player that the organization felt couldn't contribute consistently and was likely to be demanding a raise they were unwilling to give. They were able to spend this money elsewhere and drafted a player they believe has a future in the NHL.
In retrospect, the deal definitely made sense and the return was good, but it could come back to haunt the Blackhawks, as Brouwer could turn into one of the league's premiere power forwards, and his missing presence from the lineup could be felt next season.
Brian Campbell Traded to Florida for Rostislav Olesz
The Chicago Blackhawks made headlines on the second day of the draft when they shipped defenseman Brian Campbell and his monster contract to the Florida Panthers in exchange for forward Rostislav Olesz.
Campbell and his puck moving ability were important components of the Blackhawks and helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2010. But his cap hit strangled the Blackhawks financially and gave them virtually zero cap flexibility.
There were a few problems with this move, mainly pertaining to what Chicago was losing in Campbell.
First, the Blackhawks will need to find someone to replace Campbell's minutes. Its likely they will turn to youngster Nick Leddy. If he falters, the Hawks' transition game could take a hit.
Second, Campbell became a valuable leader in the locker room and was the only one sounding the alarm last season when the team was sinking in the standings. With him gone, new leaders will have to emerge in the dressing room.
But with the extra cap space acquired from the trade, the Blackhawks were able to make several good additions to their team this summer, and the financial flexibility obtained will help them continually improve their team.
Right now, this move deserves a decent grade, but it could easily turn into a great trade or a disastrous one, depending on how everything turns out.
Tomas Kopecky Traded for 7th Round Pick, Used to Acquire Steve Montador's Rights
Following the basic logic of getting something for a player before losing him to free agency for nothing, the Chicago Blackhawks traded Tomas Kopecky to the Florida Panthers for a conditional seventh round pick.
Kopecky was never considered part of the plan going forward. He was a player who didn't quite fit anywhere in the lineup. And making matters worse, his career-high 42 points was going to entitle him to a significant raise, one which the 'Hawks were definitely not willing to give to a player that would never permanently play in their top six.
So instead of simply letting him walk in free agency and receive no compensation, the Blackhawks took initiative and traded his rights to the Florida Panthers. Its really just common sense to get something for a player you're going to lose anyways.
Stan Bowman then used the conditional pick to acquire the rights to defenseman Steve Montador. Not willing to risk Montador signing elsewhere on July 1, the Blackhawks were proactive and traded one player, who wasn't coming back anyway, to acquire another player who the Blackhawks really wanted and needed.
The Blackhawks acquired Montador before free agency began and before his price tag could have potentially increased, and they didn't spend any of their own assets to do so.
Excellent maneuvering by the Blackhawks.
Steve Montador's 4-Year Deal
Shortly after acquiring his rights from the Buffalo Sabres, the Chicago Blackhawks signed Steve Montador to a four-year deal worth $11 million ($2.75 million cap hit).
A lot of fans, including myself, concluded that the cap hit was a bit too high for a defenseman like Montador, who has played most of his career as a fifth or sixth defenseman. The cap hit is likely a good indicator that the Blackhawks will want Montador to potentially fill a top four role. If he does and is effective, then the cap hit will cease to be a concern.
The cap hit aside, this was a very good move by the Blackhawks. Montador was exactly the type of defenseman they needed to help balance their blueline and take some minutes off of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Montador's aggressive, physical and solid two-way game will help the defensive depth of Chicago.
Montador's cap hit brings the grade down a bit, but the addition of Montador to the team, particularly the term of four years, which will provide time for the Blackhawks' other defensive prospects to develop, gives this move a fairly high grade.
Jamal Mayers' 1-Year Deal
The Chicago Blackhawks began their July 1 by announcing a one-year deal with veteran enforcer Jamal Mayers worth $550,000.
Mayers brings a lot of what the Blackhawks were missing last season: toughness, physicality, grit and character. He brings some skill and offensive ability, but he will be a role player on the fourth line, deployed to hit and create energy and enforce.
More importantly, Mayers is a veteran that has been around the block, so he's got experience. He's a guy that will work hard, and that's never a bad thing to have on a young team like the Blackhawks.
This is a good, low-risk signing. The Blackhawks acquired a veteran forward who has spent most of his career on the fourth line and knows what the job entails: bang bodies, block shots, kill penalties and create energy. He should also be a valuable presence in what was a quiet locker room last season.
And the fact that he has familiarity with Coach Quenneville is a big bonus.
Sean O'Donnell's 1-Year Deal
The Hawks' second move on July 1st was signing 39-year-old defenseman Sean O'Donnell to a one-year contract worth $850,000.
O'Donnell was signed to give Chicago some depth on the blueline and should serve as the seventh defenseman, able to fill in when injuries hit or when one of the regular defensemen finds themselves in a slump. A typical, stay-at-home defenseman, O'Donnell will provide some much needed toughness and physicality when he's on the ice.
O'Donnell also brings a wealth of experience and character to the locker room. He's been in the league a long time, so he knows the type of mentality it takes to be an NHL defenseman. This is wisdom he could pass on to the Hawks' younger defensemen, specifically Nick Leddy.
O'Donnell shoudn't be expected to play a big role on the team next year. And when he does play, he could slow the 'Hawks down a little bit.
But nonetheless, he should be effective when he's dressed and even more effective in the dressing room. His cap hit is small, and the one-year term helps the Blackhawks retain their financial and roster flexibility. Overall, good signing.
Brett McLean's 1-Year Contract
The Blackhawks' third move on July 1 was signing 32-year-old Brett McLean to a one-year, two-way contract worth $525,000.
With the loss of Jeff Taffe, who took the role of the designated veteran in Rockford last season, Brett McLean was most likely signed to fill that void, as well as provide the Blackhawks with some quality depth if injuries strike hard.
McLean has had some success in the NHL in the past. In 385 career NHL games, Mclean has scored 56 goals and 162 points, so there is a small chance that he could earn himself a fourth line spot on the Blackhawks if he plays well enough in camp.
If he fails to do so, he will make a excellent leader and mentor to the prospects developing on the Icehogs.
This move will not pay huge dividends, but it does benefit the 'Hawks in more ways than one.
Andrew Brunette's 1-Year Deal
The Chicago Blackhawks' best signing on July 1, and arguably one of the best signings this summer, was inking Andrew Brunette to a one-year deal worth $2 million.
Even before the Blackhawks traded Troy Brouwer, their top six forward group was lacking size and toughness. Brunette provides both and more, and will be an excellent addition to the Blackhawks top two lines.
He battles hard on the boards and does most of his scoring around the net, which is something the Blackhawks need more of. This will create more space for the other Blackhawks forwards and create more scoring chances.
But what makes Brunette so appealing is his consistency and durability. Over the past 10 seasons, Brunette has averaged 59 points and only missed eight games due to injury. His veteran presence and experience will also be extremely valuable.
This was one of the best signings of July 1 and possibly all of free agency.
Dan Carcillo's 1-Year Contract
A very controversial move amongst Blackhawks fans, Daniel Carcillo was the Blackhawks' final signing on July 1, agreeing to a one-year deal worth $775,000.
This move could turn out to be either extremely good or terribly bad. Carcillo is exactly the type of player the Hawks need: a skilled, gritty physical forward who can shake things up and agitate opposing players. He can also help protect some of the Blackhawks' top players.
But there are several possible repercussions, such as the risk of Carcillo going too far, taking too many penalties and having a negative affect on the team. Also, it is unknown how well he will be received in the dressing room.
This move receives a mediocre grade because of the uncertainty. Carcillo could be a very shrewd addition to the Blackhawks or he could find himself in the press box. This move will be better assessed well into the season.
Viktor Stalberg's 2-Year Extension
Many Blackhawks fans believed that Viktor Stalberg would be part of a package that would bring the 'Hawks a much needed second line centerman this summer. However the Blackhawks thought differently and signed him to a two-year contract worth $1.75 million ($875,000 cap hit).
Stalberg unquestionably has top six potential and could develop into a 20-goal scorer someday playing on the right line. Its this potential that probably made the organization pursue an extension with him.
Stalberg has incredible speed, which makes whatever line he plays on very dangerous. He has good size at 6'3" 210 lbs and has demonstrated a willingness to play more physical.
Stalberg will probably be shuffled up and down the lineup. Last season, he spent most of his time on the fourth line, which is probably where we can expect him next season as well, which isn't a necessarily bad thing. With a player of Stalberg's skill on the fourth line, the Blackhawks have dangerous four-line team.
And his cap hit is very cheap. Most were expecting a salary closer to $1 million if Stalberg was re-signed. For $875,000, Stalberg won't be expected to dazzle everyone and can be moved around with serious consideration.
Stalberg can still be used as trade bait later next season. His skill, potential and cheap cap hit make him an ideal trade candidate.
Klinkhammer's, Connelly's and Richards' Extensions
The Blackhawks gave extensions to three of their minor league RFA's: forward Rob Klinkhammer and defenseman Brian Connelly, who both received one-year extensions, and goalie Alec Richards, who received a two-year extension.
Klinkhammer had a stellar year, scoring 17 goals and 46 points, while Connelly recorded 11 goals and 52 points and was named an AHL All-Star.
Richards had a mediocre year, finishing with a .899 save percentage and a 2.89 goals against average.
These were very minor moves, but still very important. Klinkhammer and Connelly were arguably two of Rockford's best players last season and give the 'Hawks plenty of options if they have significant injuries, and the Blackhawks severely lack organizational goalie depth, so re-signing Richards should definitely be considered a smart move, even though he's far from the NHL.
These three players probably won't make an impact at the NHL level in any way. While Connelly is a long-shot to make the Blackhawks out of camp, I believe Rob Klinkhammer has a decent chance. Either way, it's smart to maintain organization depth at all positions, especially with more experienced players.
Sami Lepisto's 1-Year Deal
On July 15, the Chicago Blackhawks announced that they had signed defenseman Sami Lepisto to a one-year deal worth $750,000. This shocked many Blackhawks fans, who believed the blueline was set after the signings of unrestricted free agents Steve Montador and Sean O'Donnell and, what many felt was, the impending extension for Chris Campoli.
However the Lepisto signing seemed to be an indicator that Campoli would not be returning.
Lepisto has a similar game to Campoli. He's mobile, with a solid two-way style that fits nicely with the 'Hawks' system.
What's intriguing about Lepisto is his potential upside. He had 87 points in 125 games with the Hershey Bears of the AHL and over the past two NHL seasons, had 27 points in 136 games on two very offensively impotent teams. There's a chance that on an offensive juggernaut like the 'Hawks, Lepisto could put up 20-30 points.
Lepisto should be a great addition on the third pairing, which was a disaster for most of last season. If he can move the puck like the 'Hawks need him to and be reliable in his own end, there's nothing that makes this move a bad one.
His cap hit is only $750,000 for a one-year term, so the Blackhawks have by no means committed a lot to Lepisto. He's most likely a temporary solution until a defensive prospect is ready to step up. Or he may surprise a lot of people and earn himself a future with the Blackhawks.
Declined Arbitration Decision with Chris Campoli
On July 20, Chris Campoli was awarded $2.5 million in arbitration, to which the Chicago Blackhawks immediately declined, making Campoli an unrestriced free agent.
This wasn't a huge surpise, considering a few days earlier the Blackhawks announced the signing of Sami Lepisto, followed by the declaration that Campoli would not be returning.
But the decision not to keep Campoli could have consequences next season.
The loss of Campbell is a huge blow to the 'Hawks transition game. It seemed that Nick Leddy and Campoli would have to step up collectively and fill those minutes. Now with Campoli gone as well, it will solely rest on the shoulders of Leddy, who may not be ready to handle the responsibility just yet.
Campoli could have easily filled in on the second unit if Leddy struggled. Now the Blackhawks will be forced to turn to either Sami Lepisto or someone in Rockford to fill that puck-mover role.
Financially, it was a smart move. The Blackhawks refused to pay top-four money for a defenseman they expected to fill a third pairing role. The money they saved can now be used to add pieces during the season.
Time will tell the exact grade of this move. Walking away from Campoli saved them money, and they were able to find a suitable replacement in Lepisto. But if Leddy fumbles and the Blackhawks up-tempo, puck-moving system finds itself in jeopardy, this move could end up with a foul grade.
Michael Frolik's 3-Year Extension
The Blackhawks signed their final NHL restricted free agent Michael Frolik to a three-year contract worth $7 million ($2.33 million cap hit).
Frolik struggled his third year in the NHL, scoring only 11 goals and 38 points in 80 games split between the Panthers and Blackhawks. In the 28 games he spent with the Blackhawks, he only had three goals and six assists.
It wasn't until the playoffs did Frolik truly show his value. He had two goals and three assists in seven games, including a clutch penalty shot goal in Game 6, and demonstrated his capable two-way play, as he, along with Dave Bolland and Bryan Bickell, formed a dominating checking line.
Frolik was considered a big priority this offseason. Frolik is extremely talented, and he's proven that he can play in a few different roles for the Blackhawks. And as a rule of thumb, you don't give up on 23-year-old, proven 20-goal scorers, who have success in the playoffs.
Many have said the cap hit is too high. But when you consider the fact that the standard rate for most 20-goal scorers is around $2.5-3 million, Frolik is right around market value. And with all the ridiculously overpaid contracts handed out this summer to undeserving players, I will gladly take Frolik at $2.3 million.
Playing on the right line, there's no reason to suspect that Frolik couldn't return to 20-goal form next season. Who knows, maybe he blossoms into a 30-goal scorer or an elite two-way forward. He has so much potential, and that's what makes his $2.3 million cap hit so easy to swallow.
Ray Emery's Tryout Contract
Uncertain of whether or not Alexander Salak was fully prepared to handle an NHL backup goalie job, the Chicago Blackhawks signed Ray Emery to a try-out contract, a move that should be considered sheer genius.
With needs to be addressed at forward and on defense, goaltending was an area that was a bit overshadowed this offseason. But make no mistake; a lot of people were questioning Salak's ability to backup Crawford. Many fans were calling for a veteran to be signed through free agency as insurance.
Instead of fully committing to a veteran goalie, the Blackhawks took the pragmatic approach and signed Emery to a try-out contract, meaning that he'll have to earn a job and provide some competition in camp for Salak.
Emery is a tremendous story. Despite suffering from a potential career-ending hip condition, he returned to the NHL just in time to help the Ducks' push to the playoffs, going 7-2 with a .926 save percentage and a 2.26 goals against average.
If Emery outplays Salak in camp, he will be a very reliable backup goalie behind Crawford and should help mentor him the same way Turco did last season.
If Salak wins the job, it won't cost the Blackhawks a thing, and everything will have gone according to plan.
Patrick Sharp's 5-Year Extension
The Blackhawks' final move so far this offseason was locking up Patrick Sharp to a long-term contract. Sharp signed a five-year extension worth $29.5 million ($5.9 million cap hit). This contract does not take effect until the end of the 2011-2012 season.
This is a good move because it puts to rest any thoughts or rumors about where Sharp will be at the end of next season. Its something that Sharp, the Blackhawks and the fans no longer have to worry about.
The negatives of this move, in my opinion, are the term and the cap hit. I believe the deal should have been structured in a much different way that resulted in a much lower cap hit. But I will go into this in another article.
For now, let's just say this move was good because it officially locks up the Blackhawks "core" for the long term and automatically makes them playoff contenders, if not Stanley Cup contenders, for at least another three years.
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