Ah, it’s free agency time. On Tuesday morning, the fun begins: free agents go for their paydays and once one domino falls, many usually follow.
Plenty of teams are trying to improve their rosters, including the Chicago Blackhawks. Some don’t have a lot of salary-cap wiggle room, including the Chicago Blackhawks. They’re right up against that $69 million cap ceiling, which was established right before the NHL Entry Draft on Friday. So if the Blackhawks are going to do something, they’ll have to be creative in doing so.
But that’s part of the fun, isn’t it, trying to figure out what a team may or may not do? General manager Stan Bowman has long kept his thoughts and pending ideas close to the vest, and this free-agency period is no different.
So with that in mind, we give you a variation of what’s become an in-season favorite: here are Five Questions facing the Blackhawks entering the fun known as the free-agent frenzy.
1. Do the Blackhawks need to bulk up at center? Yes, waving the white flag here: the Blackhawks need more up the middle. The Blackhawks did pretty damn well working the second-line-center carousel these past few years but now, they need more there. Right now, it’s Jonathan Toews, Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen and Marcus Kruger up the middle; that’s fine, but what if Teravainen struggles? What if the Brandon Saad-Shaw-Patrick Kane tandem falters and we all know line changes are likely at all times. Other teams have bolstered their center spots. No, Bowman doesn’t like to make a move just because another team does but this isn’t about matching others. It’s about addressing a need the Blackhawks have.
2. Will the Blackhawks get a center? That’s the next logical question. There are a few good ones out there, but they either come with a hefty salary cap in place (Jason Spezza) or are likely to command one (Paul Stastny, who Renaud Lavoie reported Monday night did not reach a deal with the Colorado Avalanche). The Blackhawks will also have plenty of other suitors fighting to get these two as well as others. It’s going to take some work and clearing some cap space to even think about grabbing a strong center, which brings us to…
3. Will the Blackhawks part with anyone else off the roster? Probably. The Blackhawks traded Brandon Bollig and his $1.25 million-per-year cap hit to get under the salary cap, but they’re barely under that cap with 21 players on the roster. Bowman said he’s not parting with Saad and Teuvo Teravainen. Others may not be so safe. Is this the end of the road for one of the Blackhawks or maybe two Blackhawks? It’s likely.
4. Is there a danger of getting in a bidding war? Oh, heck yes there is, and the Blackhawks have to be careful not to get into it. There are a few really good free agents out there and they’re going to command – and in most cases, get – a boatload of cash. Bolstering a roster is one thing but the Blackhawks can’t be selling a bunch of goods and breaking up this team much to do so. Let’s remember: this team was this close to getting back to the Stanley Cup Final for the second consecutive year. Proceed with caution.
5. Will Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane sign extensions with the Blackhawks? Yes, yes and oh, by the way, yes. As written yesterday, Bowman’s not saying he’s expecting the two to be signed on or close to July 1 unless it’s going to happen. So relax, boys and girls: this is the one question that’s easy to answer.