Tonight the Stanley Cup Final begins and the Blackhawks aren’t in it. That means the offseason has officially begun for Stan Bowman, and there will be changes made to the roster before next season kicks off. What those changes will be, we don’t really know just yet.
But I’m going to try to figure them out anyway.
It’s important to remember that this Blackhawks team is still firmly inside its championship window, so while there are going to be some changes, there won’t be anything too drastic. Though that doesn’t mean a mainstay won’t be moved via trade over the summer.
Stan Bowman mentioned on Tuesday that his top priority over the offseason is to sign Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to extensions, as both are currently scheduled to become free agents a year from now. It’s an obvious decision to make, as you are a Stanley Cup contender as long as you have both those players on your roster, but the NHL does have a salary cap. A salary cap that doesn’t give the Blackhawks a ton of wiggle room, so it’s entirely possible that in order to give Toews and Kane their extensions, somebody’s contract might have to be moved.
But before we get to that, we’ll start with the unrestricted free agents on the roster.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Michal Handzus – It’s not a guarantee that Michal Handzus is going to retire, but I’d have to say the odds are pretty good. Either way, what Handzus chooses to do isn’t going to matter, because he won’t be back with the Blackhawks next season.
Peter Regin – Regin came over before the trade deadline, and while he didn’t play a ton, he was actually somewhat useful. Not useful enough to warrant signing to a new contract, though. He’s likely gone too, but there’s a slight chance he’s back.
Sheldon Brookbank – Brookbank was “versatile” in the sense that he could be less than ideal on the fourth line or on the third defensive pairing. I suppose there’s a slight chance Brookbank returns, but I highly doubt it. Gone.
Nikolai Khabibulin – So fucking gone. Was a mistake to sign him and it’d be a bigger mistake to bring him back again. He’s just done.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Jeremy Morin – Morin is a player that advanced stats really liked this year, but the same could not be said of Joel Quenneville. I have to think that the Hawks will want to bring him back, and as long as another team doesn’t make an incredibly stupid contract offer to him, he will be. He’s depth with upside.
Ben Smith – Everybody loves Ben Smith. Problem is I fear other teams will love Ben Smith too. He’s not spectacular, but he does a lot of useful things, and there’s a chance another team could pry him away with a nice offer. The Blackhawks will want him back, though.
Antti Raanta – I don’t think Antti Raanta is very good. I’ve shared these sentiments before. But he should be back next year, because he’s pretty cheap, and the Blackhawks can’t really afford to spend a lot of money on their backup goalie. So he’ll be back.
BACK NEXT SEASON
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane – Duh.
Duncan Keith – Not nearly as good as Eddie Olcyzk and Pat Foley would have you believe, but he’s still one of the best defensemen in the league and he isn’t going anywhere.
Marian Hossa – I had a scary thought last week. What if the Blackhawks had won another Stanley Cup this summer? Would Marian Hossa, who turned 35 this season, consider retirement? Probably not, but the thought alone terrified me.
Brandon Saad – Not only will Brandon Saad be back next season, but there’s a good chance he’ll be getting a new deal along with Kane and Toews this summer. Saad wasn’t an original member of the championship “core,” but he’s an integral part of the future one.
Bryan Bickell – I wish Bickell could have the same kind of production during the regular season that he does the playoffs, but whether he does or not, he’s signed at $4 million a year through 2017. I suppose there’s a slight chance he could be moved via trade, but I wouldn’t expect it to happen.
Andrew Shaw – Andrew Shaw does plenty of good things, Andrew Shaw does plenty of idiotic things. Either way, at $2 million a year for the next two seasons, he’s a valuable player to have. You saw the way that Shaw-Saad-Kane line played, right?
Marcus Kruger – Marcus Kruger has value on a roster without a true second center. Maybe the Hawks address that need this summer, but either way Kruger brings value to the third or fourth line, and he’s an excellent penalty killer. He’ll be back for another season before becoming a restricted free agent.
Brandon Bollig – I can assure you that Brandon Bollig will be back and keeping another player out of the lineup, driving me crazy, next season, and for a few seasons after that. He signed that four-year deal this season, remember.
Joakim Nordstrom – Nordstrom will be cheap and he’ll provide depth for next year’s roster. I can’t see any reason why he won’t be back in some capacity, even if he’s a healthy scratch more often than not.
David Rundblad – The Hawks could have an opening or two on the defense corps next season, and Rundblad — a Stan Bowman project — will get a chance to fill one of the holes.
Niklas Hjalmarsson – I think if the Blackhawks really wanted to move Hammer he’d be their most valuable trade chip this summer. But the Blackhawks don’t want to trade him.
Nick Leddy – Leddy drives Joel Quenneville crazy, but he brings some offensive skills that the Blackhawks lack in their other defensemen not named Duncan Keith. He’s also still young and could continue to improve, so he’s going to be back.
Corey Crawford – He’s owed $30 million through 2020. He’s not going anywhere, nor should he be. Not the perfect goalie by any means, but he’s a lot better than he’s ever given credit for.
Brent Seabrook – Seabrook will turn 30 next season, and he’s coming off a year in which he just wasn’t very good. That’s not to say he was terrible, as he wasn’t, but with the Hawks in need of some cap space to sign Toews, Kane and Saad, getting Seabrook’s $11.6 million over the final two years of his deal ($5.8 million against the cap each season) sure could help. Plus, like I said, he’s not awful. He could possibly bring back that second center this team has needed forever. Just off the top of my head, the Pittsburgh Penguins need defensive help, and they have plenty of centers.
Patrick Sharp – It wouldn’t be a popular move, as Sharp led the Blackhawks with 34 goals last season, but he’s turning 33 this December and he’s not going to be getting any better. So the Hawks may have to part ways with their handsome sniper and his $5.9 million cap hit over the next three seasons. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Sharpie moved over the offseason, as somebody would be willing to take on a 30-goal scorer.
Kris Versteeg – I don’t know that the Blackhawks will be able to trade Versteeg, but I know they’re going to try. Part of me wonders if he just wasn’t fully healthy, but I know he was very ineffective. There are better uses for the $4.4 million he’s owed the next two seasons.
Johnny Oduya – Like Versteeg, I think the Hawks will actively try to move Oduya, but I think they have a better shot at finding a suitor for Johnny than they will Versteeg. He’s far from perfect, but he’s a solid enough second or third line defenseman. It’s just at $3.375 million, the Hawks can find somebody to do the same job a lot cheaper.
Michal Rozsival – I expect Rozsival to be back next year, as he’s not overly expensive at $2.2 million, but the Hawks will at least put him out there and see if anything bites.
POSSIBLE NEW FACES
Tuevo Teravainen – Forward
Phillip Denault – Forward
Stephen Johns – Defenseman
Adam Clendening – Defenseman
So, as you can see, while the forwards will look largely the same — maybe with a Teuvo Teravainen injection — the spot that’s probably going to look a bit different is the blue line. Now, just to be clear, the players I have listed as trade bait aren’t definitely going to be traded. They’re just the guys most likely to be traded if the Blackhawks decide to make some moves.
And while I don’t know for sure who is going to go, I really do believe that, no matter what Bowman says, one of the original core players will be moved. So Sunday night could easily have been the last time you see Brent Seabrook or Patrick Sharp wearing a Hawks sweater.
But that’s the price you have to pay for continued excellence.
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