Stan Bowman certainly made good on his promise to be active on the opening day of free agency. The Blackhawks signed five veteran players to one-year contracts.
Jamal Mayers, Andrew Brunette, Sean O'Donnell, Brett McLean and Daniel Carcillo were the players Stan Bowman identified as what he was looking for to fill the Blackhawks' depth chart. These players bring a great combination of toughness, experience and character, though not much skill (with the exception of Brunette).
As expected, Bowman didn't target the most talented, sought after, expensive free agents, but instead chose to go after less desirable, cheaper role players.
Jamal Mayers was the Blackhawks' first signing. He wasn't at the top of my list to be one of the 'Hawks' fourth-line additions, but he should fill the role nicely.
Mayers is big, tough, physical enforcer who can create energy from the fourth line. At 6'2" 214lbs, he adds some size that the Blackhawks lacked at the forward position last season. Mayers will also be useful in case opposing players try to take liberties with the 'Hawks' top players.
The Blackhawks can't expect much offensively from him however, and at age 36, one has to question how much gas is left in the tank. Mayers will most likely be in and out of the lineup depending on who the 'Hawks' opponent is and what their injury situation is like.
In the end, this is a very 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, enforce and create energy.
Sean O'Donnell was the Blackhawks' second signing. With the future of Campoli still uncertain, I believe this signing was mostly insurance. If the Blackhawks aren't able to ink Campoli, they have a solid No. 6 defenseman already signed.
This signing also indicates to me that the whole notion of John Scott being the sixth defenseman and receiving more ice-time, was a gigantic farce in order for the management to save face. Thank God.
Now assuming Campoli is signed, O'Donnell gives the Blackhawks some cheap but reliable defensive depth, as well as another veteran presence in the dressing room. He's a typical, stay-at-home defenseman with toughness and physicality.
O'Donnell is coming off a decent year with the Flyers, where he had 18 points and was a plus-8. He's another big body at 6'3" 234 lbs, which adds more size to what was a fairly small blue line last season.
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.
This is a very good signing—not just because it gives the 'Hawks some depth on defense, but it adds some character to what was a young and unfocused locker room last year and gives them a veteran voice to hear and learn from.
The 'Hawks' third signing of Brett McLean was nothing more than adding some depth. McLean is a seasoned veteran who put up some impressive numbers a few years back. He should help groom the kids in Rockford and give the 'Hawks depth in case of injury. Another smart, low-risk signing. Not going to complain.
The best signing of the day for the Blackhawks was Andrew Brunette, who is the type of forward the Blackhawks were looking for after trading Troy Brouwer at the draft. Brunette is a veteran grinder who plays physical and is capable of producing offense. He was tied for third in scoring on Minnesota last year with 18 goals and 28 assists.
Brunette excels at forechecking, board battles and scoring around the net. He uses his size to make plays and can provide the 'Hawks with some toughness in their top six.
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.
In my opinion, this was one of the best signings of July 1st. Brunette fills a crucial role for the 'Hawks, can be expected to contribute 50 or more points and brings a wealth of intangibles. And he only cost $2 million. Well done, Bowman.
Bowman's next move however, I'm not fully on board with.
The Blackhawks ended July 1st with one final signing; a familiar face from the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals, the notorious Daniel "Carbomb" Carcillo.
I understand that Carcillo is the type pf player the 'Hawks need: a somewhat skilled, gritty, physical agitator who mixes things up and really gets under the skin of opposing players. He does have some offensive ability. He had 12 goals and 22 points in the 2009-2010 season, but only four goals and six points last year.
The problem with Carcillo is that he's a loose cannon with a fiery, uncontrollable temper, capable of setting up a permanent residence in the penalty box and leaving his team shorthanded for an entire game. This worries me, because I have a feeling he will be getting quite a bit of ice-time.
If Carcillo can keep himself in check while playing his very effective style, then the Blackhawks will have one of the best agitators in the game on their side. And I wouldn't mind having a hound to set on guys who take a run at Toews or Kane.
So, let's do a status update on the Blackhawks. How do they look after the first couple days of free agency?
First, the Blackhawks are much tougher. They added a lot of size and grit to a roster that was severely lacking in those departments last season. With the additions of enforcer Jamal Mayers, agitator Daniel Carcillo and big, tough defensemen Steve Montador and Sean O'Donnell, don't expect the Blackhawks to get pushed around a lot next season.
Second, the Blackhawks are much deeper, particularly on defense. Last season the third pairing was an absolute disaster for most of the season. With the additions of Montador and O'Donnell, and the impending re-signing of Campoli, the Blackhawks have secured a solid third pairing and a reliable seventh defenseman. Defense won't be an issue next season like it was last season.
Also, with the additions of Mayers, Carcillo and McLean, along with a number of options from Rockford, the Blackhawks shouldn't have problems filling holes in their forward lineup should injuries occur, and will be able to make adjustments according to their opponents.
Third, the Blackhawks have more character and experience in the dressing room. Last season, the Blackhawks lacked veterans in the dressing room to continually give advice, keep guys focused and be leaders. With the additions of Montador, Brunette, O'Donnell and Mayers, the Blackhawks have four veterans who can do those things and compliment the relatively young core quite nicely.
Finally, the Blackhawks are an overall better team than they were just a week ago. They have acquired depth, effective role players and filled in some of the gaping roster holes with smart, low-risk signings.
Bowman has also done very well at maintaining good salary cap flexibility should an opportunity to pick up a desired player present itself. The Blackhawks have $7 million in remaining cap space. They still have to come up with contracts for Frolik, Campoli and possibly Stalberg, but the main thing is the Blackhawks are in a good cap situation and have options.
Bowman has also implemented a sense of internal competition by overstocking the roster. This will ensure that the best, most effective players will make the team out of training camp, opposed to the Blackhawks being stuck with X amount of players and being forced to play them regardless of their performance. Roster spots must be earned. Bowman has also made sure that there's room for young players on the team should they earn a spot. I'm very impressed with how he's managing the team thus far.
Overall, Stan Bowman did not hit a home run on July 1st. Instead, he went for the RBI single: solid, low-risk signings that should have positive results. And sometimes, that's the smarter thing to do. He got the pieces he wanted and has kept the flexibility to get other pieces as well. He's filled holes to give his prospects more time to develop, but is allowing them an opportunity to prove themselves. But most importantly, he's made the Blackhawks a strong contender once again.
I think a lot of Stan Bowman critics don't have much to say right now.