NEWARK, N.J. – When the Chicago Blackhawks traded Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik to their respective new teams Toronto and Winnipeg, it cleared up a good deal of cap space, some of which went to Bryan Bickell’s new deal.
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But general manager Stan Bowman said it had less to do with freeing up money and more to do with freeing up spaces for would-be Blackhawks in waiting.
Several Blackhawks in the system are on the verge of making the big club. Some have already had their “auditions,” such as Jeremy Morin, Ben Smith and Jimmy Hayes. And Bowman said several of those players have earned the chance at a roster spot this coming season.
“It’s not easy trading players who have been a big part of the team’s success. But you have to look forward,” Bowman said. “You have to open spots for some of these players who have been pushing. Whether it’s Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Pirri, Jeremy Morin or Ben Smith, those guys deserve to be in the NHL. But they’ve been blocked out for a long time. We have a lot of young guys pushing to get into the lineup.”
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Now it looks like those guys will get their chance. This, Bowman said, is what the Blackhawks want to keep doing: drafting well, developing those prospects – be it those they drafted or acquired – and get the right pieces through free agency without relying heavily on it. And that’s the plan moving forward. The Blackhawks have been high on Pirri for some time. The 22-year-old center won the John B. Sollenberger Trophy as the American Hockey League’s leading scorer for 2012-13, recording 75 points. Bowman said Pirri could fit in the top six. The others could fit in somewhere, too.
“You have to give them a chance to play,” Bowman said. “They’ve paid their dues and they deserve a chance to play at the NHL level. That’s how the puzzle is supposed to work. If you draft well and develop well, they become good NHL players and you don’t have to go into the free agency market.”
[MORE: Blackhawks send Dave Bolland to Toronto]
The opportunity will be there for the up-and-coming Blackhawks. Still, replacing the two traded players won’t be easy. Bolland and Frolik were good character guys, both in demeanor and in the type of game they played. Neither one was incredibly flashy; neither one had to be. Bolland was grit, guts, a whole lot of checking and the right amount of angst – with a little offense thrown in for good measure. He was also part of that core group that brought two Stanley Cups to Chicago, and the familiarity he had with other core members can’t be ignored.
Frolik, we’re guessing, would’ve loved to equal those two consecutive 21-goal seasons he had while with the Florida Panthers, but he didn’t. Instead, he took on the role that coach Joel Quenneville chose for him: penalty killer. He was great in that role, helping improve the team’s numbers in that category. He also supplied great defense as part of the Blackhawks’ fourth line.
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The Blackhawks parted with two players who left their mark on the team and still have plenty of hockey-playing years left. Bowman will also now focus on keeping two more youngsters – restricted free agents Nick Leddy and Marcus Kruger - about whom he said “we’re certainly going to sign.”
The next group of young 20-somethings gets their chance. We’ll soon see if the cycle that has made the Blackhawks so successful keeps turning the right way.
“We have guys who are knocking on the door to get into the NHL. They’ve been in our system for two years, and they’d probably be playing on many other teams already,” Bowman said. “We’ve let them take their time to develop. That’s good for us.”