DALLAS — The Blackhawks have nine defensemen with NHL experience signed through next season, with at least four more knocking on the door. They have five goalies signed, four with NHL experience and a newcomer, Kevin Lankinen, coming in from Europe. They have 15 forwards with NHL experience, and still could re-sign restricted free agents Anthony Duclair and Tomas Jurco.
But that doesn’t mean general manager Stan Bowman is going to stand pat over the next two weeks. He rarely has.
“Between drafting players, potential trades and free-agent signings — those are the avenues that we’re going to look into to make our team better,” Bowman said Thursday afternoon, about 30 hours before he makes the first top-10 pick of his tenure as GM. “But it’s difficult to predict the magnitude of changes as we go forward. All I can say is it’s our job to try to improve the team in the short term and the long term, as well.”
Last year on the morning of the draft, Bowman made two stunning trades — sending Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona. He said Thursday that he’s “not close” to a deal at the moment, but noted that those two trades came together very quickly last year. With all 31 NHL general managers under the same roof at the draft, deals can be proposed and accepted in a matter of moments.
Bowman was characteristically cryptic during his conference call with reporters — the 25 minutes could easily be boiled down to a simple “We’ll see” — but he didn’t rule anything out. He said that while the Hawks are certain they can get a player they like at No. 8 — most draft observers figure they’ll take forward Oliver Wahlstrom or one of the five elite defensemen on the board — they’ve looked into moving up in the draft. But Bowman said the unusual uncertainty after Rasmus Dahlin (Buffalo) and Andrei Svechnikov (Carolina) inevitably are taken 1-2 has the teams in the 3-7 spots reluctant to move down.
“There’s a number of top players available and we know we’re going to get one of them because there’s more than eight guys that we like,” Bowman said.
As for trade possibilities, a league source said the Hawks have been talking with several teams about possible ways to upgrade the defense, particularly Carolina and Justin Faulk. The Hawks also will have options in free agency, but if you’re holding your breath for a mega-contract for someone like Washington’s John Carlson, Bowman was quick to point out that there’s a “ripple effect” of giving out too much money and too much term. The Hawks are likely looking for shorter-term fixes as their next wave of prospects — including high-end blue-liners such as Gustav Forsling, Henri Jokiharju, Lucas Carlsson and Ian Mitchell — make their way to the NHL.
While Bowman reiterated that he fully expects Corey Crawford, who missed the second half of the season with a head injury, to be ready for training camp, he said he didn’t have any specific update beyond that. Goaltending, however, is an obvious area of need. Given the uncertainty around Crawford and the poor performance by the rest of the goaltenders in the organization in his absence, it seems unthinkable that Anton Forsberg, J-F Berube, Collin Delia or Lankinen would open the season as Crawford’s backup.
“We’re going to try to improve our team,” Bowman said. “That’s our job, to look at our options in the short term and the long term.”
Here are Bowman’s thoughts on some other items:
On if there’s been an organizational mandate not to discuss the specifics of Crawford’s situation: “No, there’s no gag order. We handle Corey’s situation the way we have every other player. We’ve never gone into specifics on injuries. So we’re not treating him any differently than we are anybody else. We’re just being consistent with how we’re handling things. I realize this probably gets more attention because he’s our starting goalie and he won the Stanley Cup, that part I understand. But we’re proceeding like we always have. I understand your question, but this isn’t being treated any differently than players in the past.”
On the salary cap rising to somewhere between $79.5 million, up from $75 million: “Obviously, that’s better than it staying flat.”
On trying to trade Marian Hossa’s contract: “We’re looking at our options on that front. If you’re going to make a trade of that sort, you have to find a willing party. There’s nothing to report on that front””
On if signing defenseman Slava Voynov, who wants to return to the NHL after leaving the country following his October, 2014, arrest for misdemeanor domestic violence charges, is a possibility or a nonstarter for the Hawks: “We can’t talk about players at this point, so I’m not going to speculate on anybody, whether it’s Voynov or any other free agent.”