Blackhawks’ offseason plan reaches fork: Upgrade forwards or close up shop?
As July progresses, Stan Bowman can either execute a final big roster shakeup or unplug the phone lines. There’s no middle road.
The Blackhawks entered the offseason with one position group badly in need of a makeover, one position group improvable but not alarmingly so, and one position group seemingly set.
General manager Stan Bowman quickly addressed the dire area — the defense — with two trades in June, bringing in Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan to increase depth and competition within the group.
He rather shockingly transformed the goaltenders — the one area that seemed predetermined, at least at the NHL level — by signing 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner on Monday.
And now only the forward group remains virtually untouched, save for some depth additions. Moving forward, Bowman faces two scenarios — one bold, one quiet — in his offseason plan.
The most likely course is that the Hawks re-sign lone remaining restricted free agent, Brendan Perlini, close up shop for the summer and spend the rest of July and August out on the lake.
The team’s roster situation is already extremely crowded: if training camp began tomorrow, there are legitimately 18 forwards and nine defensemen who could walk into Fifth Third Arena expecting to earn spots.
And the salary cap scarcely will allow the Hawks to fit in Perlini’s new contract at $2 million or so, much less make more acquisitions.
There’s also the unlikely but nonetheless viable possibility that Bowman wakes up Wednesday, drinks the 3,000-calorie energy drink he was clearly consuming in June and executes a major retooling of the forward corps.
Ryan Dzingel is the only upper-tier unrestricted free-agent forward left on the market, but he’s a very intriguing one.
He’s is a local product, hailing from Wheaton. He’s 27, the youngest that a UFA can be, and scored 56 points last year. And many of the other teams in contention for a player like him made notable moves Monday that filled their holes.
Dzingel could be the missing piece in a Hawks’ top six that, as things stand now, might have to slot Dominik Kubalik, Andrew Shaw or Drake Caggiula alongside Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
But in order to fit him — he’s projected for a $4.3 million cap hit — the Hawks will need to move someone out via trade. In fact, even if Dzingel signs elsewhere but the front office just wants some in-season wiggle room, they might move someone.
Artem Anisimov is the logical candidate, but it’s not easy to find a suitor for a 31-year-old with declining production, poor underlying numbers and two years left at $4.55 million. Even though he is a center, the Hawks would need to include a sweetener, which has burned them in the past.
Bowman theoretically could ship out a defenseman instead, but Connor Murphy at $3.8 million is the only logical candidate and he’s one of just two right-handed blueliners on the roster.
But from the sound of Bowman on Monday, he accurately described the roster as “pretty full” and referred to the remaining to-do list as mere “housekeeping things.”
Still, after the shock of the Lehner deal, there’s always a chance for more unexpected drama. The Hawks are clearly trying to contend in 2019-20, and their window for summer improvement isn’t completely shut yet.