When the Blackhawks raise their sixth Stanley Cup to the United Center rafters in October, a very different-looking team will be skating beneath it.
Johnny Oduya became the sixth player who played in the decisive Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final to part ways with the Hawks, his agent, Don Meehan, saying on Tuesday that the veteran defenseman had ruled out a return to Chicago. Oduya had been playing the waiting game, biding his time as an unrestricted free agent in hopes that the cap-strapped Hawks somehow would be able to clear enough salary to be able to re-sign him. But it always was a long shot, and Oduya’s fate was sealed when the Hawks acquired Trevor Daley — like Oduya, a left-side defenseman — from Dallas in the Patrick Sharp trade last Friday.
Dallas and Buffalo are believed to be the frontrunners for Oduya, who expects to make a decision this week.
Oduya follows Sharp, Brandon Saad (traded to Columbus), Brad Richards (signed with Red Wings), Antoine Vermette (signed with Coyotes) and Kimmo Timonen (retired) as the players who played their last game as Hawks in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on June 15. Also gone from the 2014-15 team is goaltender Antti Raanta (traded to the Rangers), along with unrestricted free agents Daniel Carcillo, Michal Rozsival and Kyle Cumiskey, each of whom have yet to sign elsewhere.
Among the new faces coming into the lineup are forwards Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Artemi Panarin, Ryan Garbutt and Viktor Tikhonov; and defenseman Trevor Daley.
The Hawks still are working to sign restricted free agent Marcus Kruger, but they need to shed more salary to fit his expected $2-2.5-million cap hit. A source said the Hawks have been trying to unload Bryan Bickell’s $4-million cap hit, but haven’t had any takers.
Oduya was acquired by the Hawks in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets in February of 2012. In three-plus seasons with the Hawks, Oduya won two Stanley Cups and became a fixture in the top four, a steady, veteran presence who complemented fellow Swede Niklas Hjalmarsson perfectly. This past season, he had two goals and eight assists in 76 games, adding five assists in the postseason. He missed just 11 games in the past three seasons.
Oduya knew all season that it was likely his last with the Hawks. He hoped to go out with a bang, and did.
“Everybody knows the reality of the NHL, where every year is different,” he said earlier in the season. “And any time you have a good team and you have a chance to do something, that’s an opportunity you don’t want to let slip. … What happens in the future is in the future. Sometimes, you don’t get to decide that stuff. So all you can do is play your best, and have fun.”