Blackhawks’ options are limited as free agency opens

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Patrick Sharp had eight goals in 48 games in an injury-riddled 2016-17 season. (AP Photo)

Here’s the bad news: The pool of NHL free agents this summer is one of the most underwhelming in recent memory and is sure to lead to a slew of terrible contracts handed out to mediocre players out of desperation.

Here’s the good news: The Blackhawks can’t afford them anyway.

Free agency opens at 11 a.m. Saturday, and the Hawks aren’t going to make a huge splash by signing, say, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk or winger Alexander Radulov. In fact, the biggest move the Hawks make might be trading center Marcus Kruger to get them below the $75 million salary cap.

But the Hawks still will be looking to plug a hole or two with a sneaky, affordable acquisition in free agency. Here’s a look at some of the Hawks’ possible targets:

Sam Gagner, center

You might remember Gagner as the Oilers center who posted eight points in a rout of the Hawks on Feb. 2, 2012. In fact, he’s the only player to score eight points in a game since 1989.

A year ago, though, Gagner was so desperate for work that he took a one-year contract worth $650,000 from the Blue Jackets. He made the most of it, matching his career high with 18 goals and breaking his career high with 50 points, largely as a power-play specialist.

Gagner would be an ideal fit with the Hawks as a third-line center and a replacement for Artemi Panarin as a right-handed shot on the power play. There’s mutual interest between the Hawks and Gagner, but will his big season drive his price too high? Just two seasons ago, Gagner was making $4.8 million. The Hawks probably can offer $2 million, tops.

Patrick Sharp, left wing

Multiple reports Friday said the three-time Stanley Cup champion is returning the Hawks.

Sharp is 35 years old, is coming off a concussion-marred season in which he scored only eight goals and is rehabbing from hip surgery. Team and league sources have indicated there has been a lot more interest from Sharp’s side than from the Hawks’ side, but he has been willing to take a massive hometown discount, which makes it a very low-risk move for the Hawks.

Sharp can keep Patrick Kane’s left wing warm until Alex DeBrincat, a scoring machine in juniors, or some other young player is ready to take over. He also can be a power-play specialist.

Martin Hanzal, center

The Hawks made a push for Hanzal at the trade deadline but lost out to the Wild. He had 13 points in 20 games for the Wild in the regular season but had one goal and no assists in a five-game loss to the Blues in the first round of the playoffs. Still, he’s a 6-6 center and one of the top faceoff men in the league. He’d be a great fit with the Hawks, but the asking price is likely to be too high.

Nick Bonino, center

Bonino has won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Penguins, which surely will drive up his value on the open market. He’s coming off a three-year contract that paid him $1.9 million a season — the kind of contract the Hawks conceivably could hand out — but he’s due for a sizable raise after scoring 18 goals last season.

Other possibilities

Future Hall of Famers Jaromir Jagr and Joe Thornton are out there, but after getting blitzed by the Predators in the first round of the playoffs, the Hawks are looking to get younger and faster. Evanston native Tommy Wingels is a versatile forward and two-time 15-goal scorer who is coming off two down seasons and might be had relatively cheaply.

It would be nice to fill the left-wing spot on the second line or the center role on the third line, but the Hawks’ biggest need is on defense. There aren’t many options, though.

The Hawks sniffed around Michael Stone at the trade deadline, but he reportedly re-signed Friday with the Flames. Karl Alzner is also on the market. Both are perfectly fine top-four defensemen, but they’re going to get massively overpaid in a free-agency crop this weak, and that’s something the Hawks simply can’t do.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.



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