Blackhawks have money to spend but little roster flexibility this offseason
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A last-place team typically doesn’t stand pat in the offseason. But there was very little typical about this Blackhawks season, their first losing campaign in the Jonathan Toews/Patrick Kane era.
Marian Hossa’s departure, Corey Crawford’s injury and some lousy puck luck — well, that’s what the Hawks hope it was, at least — for Toews, Brandon Saad and Duncan Keith all factored into the Hawks’ demise.
‘‘If we all collectively have better years in all aspects . . . I believe we’re very capable of [rebounding],’’ coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘We’ve seen many games this year where we look like we could be a really good team. [It’s] just that consistency, putting that in place.’’
In other words, everything that could go wrong went wrong this season. And if everything that could go right goes right next season, all will be well.
Here’s a look at who will be back, who won’t be and where the Hawks might spend some of their considerable salary-cap space:
Under contract: Toews, Kane, Saad, Artem Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz, Alex DeBrincat, David Kampf, Dylan Sikura, Victor Ejdsell, Tanner Kero, Matthew Highmore.
Restricted free agents: Vinnie Hinostroza, John Hayden, Anthony Duclair, Tomas Jurco.
Unrestricted free agents: Patrick Sharp, Andreas Martinsen, Lance Bouma.
The skinny: The Hawks certainly will re-sign Hinostroza and Hayden and probably Duclair. Martinsen acquitted himself well and might provide some veteran depth and physicality in Rockford.
Jurco wants to return and was solid down the stretch, but the Hawks have enough younger forwards in their system that should be playing ahead of him. With Sharp retiring, it’s possible the Hawks will try to bring back versatile veteran Tommy Wingels for a bottom-six role. Anisimov’s no-movement clause becomes a partial no-trade July 1, and it’s possible the Hawks will trade him and pursue another forward in free agency.
Under contract: Keith, Brent Seabrook, Connor Murphy, Jan Rutta, Erik Gustafsson, Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Blake Hillman.
RFA: Adam Clendening.
UFAs: Cody Franson, Viktor Svedberg.
The skinny: General manager Stan Bowman gave hefty contracts to Gustafsson and Rutta, so the Hawks have eight viable defensemen under contract next season. Then there’s 2017 first-round pick Henri Jokiharju, who will get every
opportunity in camp to prove he can hang in the NHL at 19 years old (the Hawks badly need him to be ready). The Hawks will have the seventh-best odds (6.5 percent) of winning the draft lottery and likely will target a defenseman there, too.
Still, the Hawks must try to sign a top-four defenseman in free agency. Capitals standout John Carlson might be too expensive for them — they don’t want to give out a seven-year mega-deal — but there are some solid veteran options such as Calvin De Haan, Luca Sbisa and Ian Cole. Offer sheets hardly ever happen in the NHL, but Jets restricted Jacob Trouba is a high-end 24-year-old who reportedly wants to play in the United States. You’ve got the money. Why not take a swing?
Under contract: Crawford, Anton Forsberg, J-F Berube, Collin Delia.
UFA: Jeff Glass.
The skinny: Spend, spend, spend. Quenneville and Bowman have said they fully expect Crawford to be ready to play in the fall, but the Hawks need a far better backup plan than they had this season. Neither Forsberg, Glass nor Berube was good enough to keep the Hawks afloat in Crawford’s absence during the second half of the season.
And with Crawford’s injury history, Bowman needs to find a solid backup who’s capable of being a No. 1. Pickings are pretty slim, however. The Sabres’ Robin Lehner and the Flyers’ Petr Mrazek are both restricted free agents, and Kari Lehtonen, Jaroslav Halak and Cam Ward are coming off subpar years. It doesn’t matter. Any of them would be an upgrade at this point. Bowman might still think Forsberg — acquired in the Artemi Panarin trade last spring — is still the long-term answer. But he can’t simply be handed the job in the fall. Not if the Hawks truly think they can turn this thing around in a hurry.