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Ryan Carpenter’s stability with Blackhawks can be traced to 2019 contract decision

The three-year contract Carpenter signed with the Hawks has given him rare longevity for a depth forward.

Ryan Carpenter is well into his third season with the Blackhawks.
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

EDMONTON, Alberta — In numerous interviews through the years, Blackhawks forward Ryan Carpenter hasn’t hesitated to refer to himself as what he is: a depth player.

But in today’s NHL, “depth player” often means “replaceable player.” Many depth players evolve into journeymen, passed around through low-profile transactions to fill one hole on one roster for one month, then another hole on another roster for another month.

That hasn’t been the case for Carpenter, though. Now well into his third season with the Hawks, he has enjoyed a rare degree of stability for a fourth-line forward.

“Every year you’re fighting for a spot, and there’s a ton of competition,” he said Friday. “And every day you’re trying to prove yourself and find ways to get better.”

Carpenter’s stability traces back to a wise decision he made in July 2019, when he entered unrestricted free agency after bouncing around in the Sharks’ and Golden Knights’ organizations.

He had several two-year offers from other NHL teams on the table that summer. But his wife, Alexis, told him she had a “gut feeling” the right decision was to sign with the Hawks. And when the team agreed to tack on a third year to its offer, he was persuaded, too.

“A year and half before I got that contract, I was on waivers,” Carpenter said. “It humbles you. You know you’re not that far from being out of the league when you’re a depth guy. Anytime you can get a little stability — [although] you’re never guaranteed anything, even with a contract — it gives you a chance to prove yourself.”

The contract Carpenter ultimately signed — three years worth $1 million per year — was atypical.

Term and salary tend to correlate in the modern-day NHL. Short but expensive contracts are uncommon. Only four players since 2014, for example, have signed one-year contracts with cap hits of more than $5 million with new teams (excluding re-signings). Taylor Hall’s one-year, $8 million deal with the Sabres in 2020 headlines that list.

Long but cheap contracts are only slightly more common. Since 2014, only 16 players — including Carpenter — have signed contracts of three or more years with a cap hit of less than $2 million with new teams.

For ensuring stability, however, he might have been on to something. Upon review, all 15 others lasted at least two years with the team they signed with or remain under that contract with that team now.

“It’s nice just to have some consistency,” Carpenter said. “It’s probably nicer for [Alexis], too, with the kids. She gets used to where the grocery store is and making friends and having other kids to play with.”

The Carpenters settled into a downtown condominium on the waterfront in 2019 and have been able to stay there. Their oldest son, Beau, is in preschool, and they’ve added two more kids, Brock and Bella, in the last two years.

On the ice, Carpenter — who will turn 31 in January — has continued to provide a steady defensive and penalty-killing presence for the Hawks. Despite his one point in 13 games this season (entering play Saturday), he’s averaging a career-high 14:27 of ice time and becoming a somewhat well-known voice of the team.

He also has outlasted the general manager who signed him (Stan Bowman) and the coach who integrated him into the team (Jeremy Colliton). Given their departures — and with his contract finally ending in 2022, leaving him a pending UFA — he’s not in position to be certain about the future anymore.

But if he has a chance to maintain his stability, he’s not going to say no.

“Stan’s gone and Jeremy’s gone, and who knows what’ll happen,” Carpenter said rhetorically. “That just seems so far away. But I’ve really enjoyed my time here and the guys here, and I feel comfortable here. . . . I’d love to stay here.”