Over the last two seasons, center Mattias Janmark thrived defensively in the Stars’ conservative system but secretly longed to rediscover the offensive production he -enjoyed earlier in his career.
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, produced plenty of offense from their forward corps but struggled mightily defensively, allowing the most scoring chances in the NHL.
Together, Janmark and the Hawks seem like a perfect match.
At least that’s what the two parties thought in the lead-up to Janmark’s decision to sign a one-year contract with a $2.25 million cap hit Monday.
“I’ve been a defensive player that takes care of the defensive end first,” Janmark said. “But I’m -really hoping to get some confidence back in the offensive zone and get that game going a little bit more -because that’s how I want to play.
“Hopefully, [I’ll] get to play with some good players that help me out offensively and I can help them out defensively, too.”
The Hawks also signed Lucas Wallmark, a similarly defense-first bottom-six center, to a one-year contract with a $950,000 cap hit.
While not particularly high-profile, the signings fill an area of need and don’t block the immediate NHL route for any of the team’s top prospects. In that sense, they’re a lot wiser than the Brandon Saad-for-Nikita Zadorov trade that made headlines Saturday.
Janmark, a 27-year-old forward, had six goals and 15 assists in 62 regular-season games for the Stars this past season, his fourth in the NHL.
In his first two seasons, he was significantly more productive. He tallied 15 goals and 14 assists in 73 games during his 2015-16 rookie season, then — after missing 2016-17 with a knee injury — recorded 19 goals and 15 assists in 81 games in 2017-18.
He attributed his repurposing as more of a defensive specialist in the years since then to the Stars’ coaching changes — from ultra-aggressive Lindy Ruff to moderate Ken Hitchcock to defense-first Jim Montgomery and Rick Bowness — and his own poor start to the 2018-19 season.
“Since then, I’ve regained a little bit more trust and I’ve created a lot of opportunities for myself but haven’t really been able to finish them off like I did before,” he said. “Throughout that time, I’ve become a much more reliable player and a better player. But as far as the offense goes, I didn’t play too much power play or anything since the new coaching staff came in, so I’m just looking to contribute a little bit more there.
“The way Chicago plays suits me a little bit more, so hopefully I can get my offensive game going, but I shouldn’t have to do anything with my defensive game at all.”
Janmark is right about not needing to fix his defensive game.
This past season, he ranked third on the Stars in scoring chances allowed per minute and fourth in scoring-chance ratio (54.4%). He’s especially effective at limiting opponent shot attempts in the lower slot, the most dangerous area.
The Swede also brings valuable postseason experience from the Stars’ Stanley Cup Final run, during which he totaled eight points in 26 games.
Wallmark tallied 25 points in 67 games with the Hurricanes and Panthers this past season, his second as a full-time NHL forward.
The 25-year-old center was also a positive player in terms of scoring-chance ratio (50.4%) and has proved successful, albeit against low-quality competition, at reducing opponent shot attempts in the lower slot.
Best of all, the Hawks’ lack of NHL-ready forward prospects — as opposed to their glut of NHL-ready defensive prospects — means Janmark and Wallmark’s one-year contracts won’t clog the depth chart during the team’s supposed rebuild. Neither Philipp Kurashev nor Brandon Hagel would fill a similar role to Janmark.
The Hawks now have roughly $5.2 million in cap space, with restricted free agent Dylan Strome left to sign.