Summer, summer, summer timmmme. Obviously the 2016 season didn’t end the way the Blackhawks wanted. We’ve been over that. We could go on and on about bad bounces, and missed opportunities, but it’s over. There’s a reason why nobody repeats as Stanley Cup Champion. It’s especially hard when you draft and develop all of these great young players, but you have to give them away to stupid teams for 20cents on the dollar because you play in a socialist salary cap system. No excuses though. It’s time to focus on 2016-17. Let the players rest up, recharge, and let Stan Bowman use that big brain of his to replenish the roster.
It’s hard to really map out a roster or strategy for the Blackhawks at this point without knowing exactly what the Salary Cap limit will be. Some say it may stay flat at $71.4M(big problem) or it could go as high as $74M(start planning the parade). So instead of speculation on roster spots/contracts, this blog is more of a “what to watch for” summer preview.
Another summer plagued by Bickell’s albatross of a $4M cap hit. Hindsight is always 20/20, but this is obviously a contract Stan wishes he could have back. That $4M of dead weight probably cost the Blackhawks Brandon Saad. It DEFINITELY cost them Oduya. Now it has the potential to cost them Andrew Shaw. Stan Bowman has basically three options right now.
1) Try to trade Bickell. Maybe throw in some type of sweetener in the form of a draft/prospect and retain some of the cap hit in order to move the money off of their books. Hopefully some team will need a bloated contract to reach the Cap floor. Finding a taker will be difficult, and the Blackhawks are a little short on draft picks and prospects at the moment.
2) Buyout. If the Blackhawks buy-out Bickell it will cost them only a $1M cap hit for this season, but an additional $1.5M next season. Next summer the Blackhawks will need to find money for both Teravainen and Panarin. The thought of Bickell’s contract bleeding into next year makes me want to puke. The Blackhawks can’t run the risk of letting Bickell cost them Panarin the way he cost them Saad. It’s probably more prudent to just…
3) Bury him in the minors again. There is no perfect solution at this point. If the Blackhawks keep him in Rockford they’d still be on the hook for slightly over $3M. Just as they were last year. The positive side to this is that the Hawks retain assets, the long nightmare of his contract will be over after the 2016-17 season, and we get one more year of the Bicks Pits calendar.
After the Blackhawks were forced to trade Brandon Saad I will never assume an RFA will be re-signed. Shaw is obviously an important part of the team both on and off the ice. He gives the team some sand that they wouldn’t be able to easily replace. There’s been rumors of a bridge deal or a hometown discount, but in order to keep Shaw the Blackhawks would have to tender him at $2.5M. Maybe he takes a one year deal at $2.5M. Or maybe the Blackhawks trade his negotiating rights in an attempt to recoup some draft picks they had to deal away while making deadline trades the past two years. It’s really impossible to guess at this time. I would like him back, but maybe the Blackhawks just decided they preferred to keep Kruger and can live without Shaw. Even if Shaw does sign a one year deal to make himself a UFA next summer, I can’t imagine a scenario where Shaw is a Blackhawk beyond that because they need to pay Panarin and Teravainen. My gut says he’s gone.
Teuvo, Teuvo, Teuvo. What are we going to do with you? I don’t know why, but Teravainen is a sacred cow among the Blackhawks hockey twitter egg community. Nothing is ever his fault. His struggles aren’t because of anything he’s doing or not doing. According to hockey twitter he struggled in 2015-16 because Joel Quenneville didn’t use him properly. And whenever he Teravainen got benched, people came for Q’s head. Doesn’t make any sense to me. In fact I wouldn’t be totally shocked if he was moved this summer. Now, I still believe in Teravainen. I don’t think his struggles had anything to do with how he was deployed, but instead I’m willing to chalk it up to a sophomore slump by a young and slender player in his first full NHL season. He didn’t produce the way you would expect a guy with his talent to, but that doesn’t make him a bust or anything.
Teravainen is versatile, and that’s a positive. The Blackhawks had him playing on the left side with Toews and Hossa, he played wing on the 4th line, center in the bottom 6, he had PK responsibility, and PP. I used to have visions of Teravainen as a top 6 center, but I don’t see it anymore. I don’t think the Blackhawks see him as a center anymore either. Turbo was most effective in the playoffs as a wing. He’s most dangerous when he is attacking up the ice with the puck on his stick. I would like to see the Blackhawks put him on a wing next season. They have Toews, Anisimov, and Kruger locked up for the near future, and prospects like Hinstroza, Rasmussen, and Schmaltz who all look like they’re capable of playing a bottom 6 center role.
Prospects Ready To Make The Jump
The key to keeping the Dynasty flourishing is having good, young, players on entry level contracts. The Blackhawks have done a great job of surrounding their core guys with young players. Now it’s time for the next wave of guys to come in and contribute.
Ryan Hartman–Top candidate to be Andrew Shaw’s replacement. Ideal bottom 6 winger. Skates well, has some ability to finish around the net, plays with a mean streak, and brings a physical presence.
The Blackhawks made an effort at the deadline to get a little nastier by bringing in Dale Weise and Andrew Ladd. Both of those guys are likely to leave as unrestricted free agents. Hopefully Hartman is ready to come in and give the Blackhawks some solid forechecking and an edge in the bottom 6. Also, this can’t be measured with analytics, but the Blackhawks missed having Patrick Sharp’s hair in the lineup. It was obvious. Ryan Hartman can fill that role as well
Also, I think there’s big tshirt/nickname potential. Ryan Hitman Hartman. Something like that, I don’t know
Hartman is probably the easiest to project. You know what to expect from him and he will likely be able to deliver if given the opportunity. The rest of the prospect pool has a lot of question marks. The Blackhawks extended Kyle Baun to a 2-year deal during the season. He made the Blackhawks out of camp, but got sent down after only two games and had a hard time getting going in Rockford due to injuries. He could be in the mix for a bottom 6 spot. Rasmussen will likely get a lot of NHL games next year.
I really like Vinny Hinostroza. I like him more than I expected to actually. He was a good player at Notre Dame and had nice flashes at the WJC, but I didn’t know how his game would translate to the Blackhawks. Now, I think he can play wing or center in the bottom 6 and maybe contribute up on the top line in a pinch. Good quickness, smart, high skill, and he competes. He led Rockford in scoring last year. That hasn’t translated to a varsity spot as Pirri and Morin would tell you, but Hinostroza has the right stuff. Just a matter of finding the right fight. The Blackhawks also signed Tyler Motte. He was a big time point producer in college last year for Michigan. He reminds me a bit of Chris Kunitz. Undersized forward, but his hockey smarts are off the charts with good enough speed and skill. I would be surprised if he made the jump to the NHL fulltime next year, but he will probably get a few call ups. The Blackhawks best and arguably most important prospect remains unsigned. Nick Schmaltz has star potential. Can play wing or center. He just led North Dakota to a National Championship. You’d think he would be ready to take the next step and try pro hockey, but he remains unsigned. Going straight from college to the NHL is tough, but if anyone can do it, it’s Schmaltz. Speed, vision, skill, smarts. He’s a responsible, two-way forward who will likely be even better when surrounded by elite finishers in the Blackhawks system. If you read quotes from Stan Bowman about Schmaltz it sounds like he will be returning to North Dakota next year. So disappointing because I believe he could have been a contributor at the NHL level by Christmas. Nick, if you’re reading this, we’ll do whatever it takes to get you to sign. You need a place to stay?…I have an extra bedroom and a really sweet black lab named Reilly. He sleeps all day, so you won’t notice him much, but he’s good to have around.
On the backend, the Stars really screwed the Blackhawks by taking Stephen Johns in the Sharp trade. He needed to be in the mix so guys like Svedberg, Gustaffson, and Pokka could get more seasoning in the AHL. I think it’s obvious that all three guys will be given a shot to make the team next fall. Gustafsson is a great skater and has nice offensive instincts, but as we saw in the playoffs he needs work in his own end and his decision making with and without the puck needs to be better. I think Svedberg is near his ceiling. Perhaps he can improve to the point where the Hawks feel comfortable with him as their 6th Dman, but ideally if he’s on the roster he won’t be playing every night. Pokka has the highest ceiling. A guy who used to play with him once called him a Finnish Brent Seabrook. Thick body, decent skater, played in all situations this year for Rockford. Hopefully he’s ready to take the next step because there is obviously still a gaping hole in the 3rd pair. Gustav Forsling also signed an entry level deal recently. Nice looking prospect, but to expect the Hawks to rush a 19 year-old defenseman is foolish. His ETA is probably 2018-19
Fixing The 3rd Pair
Brian Campbell is a spry soon-to-be 37 years old. He’s durable, he can still really skate, and move the puck. He played 82 games and averaged 22 minutes of ice. It’s time for him to come home to Chicago. He never wanted to leave in the first place and it reportedly took a lot of cajoling to get him to waive his no trade clause back in 2011. Now he’s a UFA again. Maybe he is ready to come back to Chicago to finish his career. Obviously it would mean Campbell would need to take less than market value, but his wife is from Chicago and they have a young family. Happy wife, happy life. He can play 20 minutes a night and be on a real contender. He might just do it. It feels right. I’m gonna tweet him once a week until he signs. Everyone has to do their part.
There are reports that the Blackhawks are close to signing Czech defenseman Michal Kempny who starred in the KHL last season. Stan Bowman described him as mobile and well-rounded(I’m trying to get a scouting report on Kempny from a stoolie at the Worlds). That’s what the Blackhawks always seem to look for in Dmen. To play for the Hawks you have to be able to skate and make a good first pass out of the zone. Maybe Kempny can step into that 3rd pair and be brought along by Campbell. If your D corps is Keith, Hjalmarsson, Seabrook, TVR, Campbell, and a combo of Kempny, Gustaffson, and Pokka then Hawks biggest weakness of 2016 would be a strength.
There are a ton of question marks heading into the draft, but there are two very important things to remember. 1) There isn’t a GM or owner in the NHL who wouldn’t trade rosters with the Blackhawks. The reason the Blackhawks have “cap issues” is because they have GREAT players. Those guys have earned their contracts and I would rather have great players in the fold than try to find them somewhere. And 2) The Blackhawks are in great hands