Blackhawks sign veteran wing Chris Kunitz, goalie Cam Ward as free agency opens
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The Blackhawks didn’t make a big splash as free agency opened Sunday morning, adding a trio of veterans to the roster. But the additions of goaltender Cam Ward, left wing Chris Kunitz and defenseman Brandon Manning could be just the start, as the trade market is expected to open up as most of the top free agents come off the board.
The Hawks signed the 34-year-old Ward to a one-year deal worth $3 million as an insurance policy for Corey Crawford, who missed the final 47 games of the 2017-18 season with a head injury. Both general manager Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville said at the draft last week that they expect Crawford to be ready to go in time for training camp in September, but Ward gives them an experienced contingency plan just in case.
Kunitz will be 39 by the time the season starts and will step into the elder statesman role that Patrick Sharp filled last season — a former 30-goal scorer who can play a top-six role in a pinch, but who likely will be used as depth scoring in the bottom six. Kunitz is a four-time Stanley Cup champion (one with the Ducks, three with the Penguins) and former 30-goal-scorer. He was one of Sidney Crosby’s favorite linemates, and even played with him for Team Canada at the Olympics in Sochi. Kunitz is coming off a modest 13-goal, 16-assist campaign with the Tampa Bay Lightning, though he did play in all 82 games. He had no goals and one assist in 17 playoff games. Kunitz signed a one-year deal.
The 28-year-old Manning is a left-handed defenseman who had seven goals and 12 assists in 65 games with the Flyers last season. He is signed for two seasons at a reported $2.25-million cap hit. The Hawks now have 10 defensemen with NHL experience under contract for next season, and that doesn’t include 2017 first-round pick Henri Jokiharju, who is expected to contend for a roster spot in training camp.
With top free agents such as James van Riemsdyk (five years, $7 million per year), Paul Stastny (three years, $6.5-million per year), Tyler Bozak (three years, $5 million per year) and David Perron (four years, $4 million per year) getting massive contracts, it’s not surprising the Hawks weren’t major players. While they have cap space for the first time in years, they have to think long-term, too. Nick Schmaltz, Dylan Sikura, Gustav Forsling and Victor Ejdsell are among the players who will be due contract extensions by next summer, and Alex DeBrincat and Vinnie Hinostroza will be due big raises the year after that.
The Hawks remain interested in trading for help on the blue line, with Carolina’s Justin Faulk the primary target. They’re also believed to be in the mix of teams trying to sign unrestricted free agent Calvin de Haan, the top defenseman left on the market. But de Haan has plenty of suitors.
Meanwhile, Artem Anisimov has submitted a list of 10 teams to which he’d be willing to be traded, as his no-movement clause became a modified no-trade clause on Sunday. The Hawks aren’t actively shopping him, but are open to moving him if that money can be better spent elsewhere. Though, given the contracts being handed out on Sunday around the league, Anisimov’s 4.55-million cap hit for the next three seasons doesn’t seem so bad all of a sudden. He has scored at least 20 goals in all three of his seasons with the Hawks.
The Hawks also signed first-round pick Adam Boqvist, a 17-year-old defenseman, to a three-year entry-level contract.