Like much of NHL, Blackhawks in a holding pattern on eve of free agency

SHARE Like much of NHL, Blackhawks in a holding pattern on eve of free agency
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Calvin de Haan of the New York Islanders (right) is checked by Flames forward Brandon Bollig in a game on Oct. 26, 2015. (Getty Images)

It was never all that realistic that the Blackhawks could solve all their problems in one magical week of the offseason — that they could find a top-pairing defenseman, a top-six left wing, a starting-caliber goaltender, and a taker for Marian Hossa’s contract in the usually wild window between the draft and the opening of free agency on Sunday.

John Tavares was never going to happen, despite Stan Bowman’s playful feinting at the draft. Neither was Paul Stastny, who will be the top consolation prize in the Tavares sweepstakes. James van Riemsdyk is reportedly signing a five-year contract with Philadelphia, so the best top-six left wing is off the board. Cam Ward, whom the Hawks will sign to a one-year deal (worth $2.5 million, according to Sportsnet) on Sunday, was hardly the most exciting goaltender on the market, though he’ll bring much-needed experience and stability to the uncertainty of Corey Crawford’s situation.

No, aside from Ward, the Hawks enter free agency in nearly the exact same position they entered the offseason —with holes to fill, and no guarantee they can fill them. Silly season turned into stalling season, as Tavares essentially brought the NHL to a grinding halt this week as he agonized over whether to leave the Islanders for either the Sharks, the Maple Leafs, or a handful of other teams.

Tavares’ eventual decision should finally grease the wheels and create the kind of free-agent feeding frenzy the league usually sees on July 1. The good news is the salary cap is up $4.5 million to $79.5 million. The bad news is, the prices keep going up, too. Drew Doughty got a monster eight-year, $88-million contract extension from the Kings. Logan Couture got an eight-year, $64-million deal from the Sharks. Veteran Mike Green reportedly agreed to a two-year, $10.75-million deal to stay in Detroit. Niklas Hjalmarsson signed a two-year, $10-million extension to stay in Arizona. And Michal Kempny, who couldn’t crack Joel Quenneville’s lineup all season and was pondering a retreat to Europe before becoming a Stanley Cup champion with the Capitals, got a four-year, $10-million contract to stay in Washington.

So will free-agent defenseman Calvin de Haan end up too expensive for the Hawks? He’s not a perfect fit as a left-handed shot (the Hawks desperately need a righty who can handle top-pairing minutes alongside Duncan Keith) and he’s coming off shoulder surgery, but he’s one of the most attractive blue-liners on the market. The Hawks also have had discussions about left-hander Ian Cole, who is a physical, reliable stay-at-home defenseman —something the Hawks have been lacking. But like de Haan, several teams are believed to be interested in Cole, which typically drives up the asking price.

Will the Hawks try to unload Artem Anisimov (who had to submit a list of 10 teams to which he’d be willing to be traded) to free up some cap space? Will they move Connor Murphy for the same reason? Perhaps both?

Anisimov’s agent told the Sun-Times, “I do not believe Stan wants to trade Artem, but he might do so if it is in the long-term interest of the Hawks.” A team source said basically the same thing, that they’re certainly willing to move Anisimov, but not actively trying to do so.

Carolina’s right-handed defenseman Justin Faulk is still the best-case scenario for the Hawks on the blue line, and the two sides have discussed a possible trade in recent weeks. But a source told the Sun-Times that the Hurricanes have been asking for Brandon Saad in return, and the Hawks are reluctant to give up on Saad so soon after reacquiring him last spring. Can the Hawks find the right package of players, picks and/or prospects to pry Faulk away?

It all remains to be seen. But with Tavares’ decision looming, and the lid being taken off free agency on Sunday, we should know very soon.

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