Chicago, IL — Now that the dust and fall out has settled from the Blackhawks early playoff exit for the second year in a row, I will step into Stan Bowman’s shoes. I will give my opinion of how the Hawks can get back to the Stanley Cup Finals. The opinions I offer will be with one objective in mind, to make the team I adore the best team that they can be. I want this team to have every opportunity to have a legitimate chance to bring back another cup to Chicago and for the boys to get another ring. The Hawks core is in their prime so now is the time to make the necessary moves to push this team over the top.
While I don’t think that anyone will argue the strength of this team is in it’s skilled forwards, there is still some weaknesses that need to be addressed at these positions. There is no question the Hawks are small physically and lack size. They could also use a little more sandpaper as Q puts it and a little more snarl. I will look at the much discussed 2nd line center position, UFA’s & RFA’s, other forwards like Stalberg, Frolik, Bickell & Olesz up and coming Hawks prospects & what my lines would look like from first to fourth and chemistry and balance of these lines.
First I’d like to outline that with the unknown CBA that will expire this summer it is hard to gauge how much cap space the Blackhawks will have. I’m going to make the assumption it will remain the same as it currently is which is 64.3 million. The Hawks had close to 7million available with the Campbell trade.
They will have available if that cap stays the same $6.8 to spend without any trades. This amount alone will not be enough to bolster the Hawks needs both on the front lines and d lines. Trades and cap space will have to be opened up which means some players will leave the Hawks and some new ones will be privileged to wear the Indianhead jersey. Equally important is roster spots.
I will tackle the easier part first. The Hawks have a number of UFA’s at the forward position. Remember Stan Bowman mostly gave last years signings 1 year deals which will work out well for this year. Among those forwards was Brunette, Mayers & Morrison. Their salaries alone come close to 4 million dollars which the Hawks could desperately use.
I don’t see any of these returning and as GM I would unfortunately be concurring with this decision. Brunette could possibly be retiring which is probably best or at the very least Bruno should consider going to a team with less team speed in their game. Mayers & Morrison simply did not produce enough to justify keeping. Mayers did add some muscle and grit and was willing to drop his gloves for the team but Bollig can probably fill this role too and he is younger with more offensive potential. If we add their salaries of $4mil to our $6.8 gives us close to 11 million cap space to spend on forwards and defensemen.
There are two RFA contracts coming up in 2012 Brandon Bollig (LW) and Ben Smith (RW). Again I will start with the easier one of the two. Brandon Bollig’s contract currently is $545,000 which is just about what Jamal Mayers’ contract was so this one is easy. I would re-sign Bollig with a bump in salary for a couple of reasons. I think he is great insurance in case Daniel Carcillo(LW) goes amok again. Don’t get me wrong I think Carcillo is ahead of Bollig, he has more experience than Bollig in the NHL plus Carcillo does have skill. I’m just not sure if Carcillo can reign himself in. I would keep Bollig just in case and to fill Mayers (RW) spot as well not in terms of position since they are opposite wingers but for grit and size.
The other RFA is Ben Smith. Ah Smitty, the hero of the 2011 playoffs against the Canucks. Who can ever forget his OT goal that gave the Hawks a chance at game 7 in Vancouver? Ben Smith has been injured for much of 2011 which makes him very hard to assess. He was injured in the pre-season with the Hawks when he suffered a concussion. He played most of the year with Rockford but then in March he suffered a hip tear and hernia. He had surgery but will be out 16 weeks or until July. His current contract will impact the Hawks cap to the tune of $812K if he is resigned at the same amount & brought up to play with the Hawks. Offensively he has not been lighting it up either but this could be due to injuries.
The problem here is also there may not be enough roster spots on the Hawks for him. He is a hard working, hardnosed kid but can upstage the feisty Andrew Shaw (RW)? He is small in stature can he upstage the more physically imposing Jimmy Hayes (RW) especially now that the Hawks need to get bigger and more physical? This is when being a GM sucks. I like Ben Smith I’m just not sure if he can ever crack the Blackhawks lineup and when he does he will most likely be a bottom six player. At only 23 yrs of age he could be used as trade fodder. Ah what to do, what to do. Do you resign him and bring him to camp to fight for a RW position against Shaw, Stalberg & Hayes? That’s some pretty tough competition.
I would entertain offers from other clubs but I still think there is a spot for Smith with the Hawks. I would give him a long hard look. I love his work ethic and the kid is fearless maybe to his own detriment. Like Shaw this kid has a lot of heart and grit to his game. I would bring him in to compete for the bottom lines RW position but would keep his salary the same. Why you ask? Because he led the Icehogs with power play goals which we all know what that means to the Hawks and he can be used as a fore-checking forward as well. Man this one was tough.
This brings me to the 800 lb gorilla in the room. Should Patrick Kane be the Hawks 2nd line center? If not then who should the Hawks bring in and at what cost? Now you know I am not a fan of Patrick Kane being the Hawks’ 2nd line center for several reasons. I am however, unlike some Hawks fans a huge Patrick Kane fan and believer. It’s not that I don’t think Kane has the skill to master face-offs or improve his defensive game. In fact I think there is little Kane can’t do with a puck and hockey stick. I’m just not sure that taking his focus away from stick handling mastery and picture perfect passing is the best use of his talents. Would you make Picasso paint in Renaissance style? No I didn’t think so. I hope Stan does not stifle his creativity.
This year I saw improvement in Kanes’ defensive game and I would like to see that continue but center is a very demanding position. I just don’t think Kane is or ever will be physically big enough to move people out of the slot area in the Blackhawks zone which is something that will be required of him at center. If the Hawks go this route they better have more than Seabrook and Keith back on defense. They will need at least 4 defensemen that are top 2 defensive pairings. This team’s weakness was too many goals against which can also be addressed if they choose the right 2nd line center that is adept at backchecking and with good face-off skills since the Hawks are a puck position team.
This is the road I would travel down with FA and some teams will be hitting their cap ceilings. Teams currently in the playoffs will be overhauling their teams if they fall short of the Stanley Cup so why not go shopping there? Teams like San Jose, Pittsburgh, Nashville, and Anaheim might all be looking to change their team’s roster for various reasons. This brings us to who should the Blackhawks be looking to acquire.
In my opinion the 2nd line Center should be a good two-way player and a very good face-off man. That being said there are a couple of experienced natural center man that could fit the bill. I mean after all is this not why we traded away Brian Campbell? Supposedly his salary was to free up cap space which it did but we did not address needs and now we must or suffer another early playoff exit in my opinion. In part II I will look at who the Hawks can get and who will fit the best. Along with other forwards, prospects & line combinations.
all cap information was taken from CapGeek.com