Free Agency period looms large for Chicago Blackhawks (UPDATE 7/5)

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Chicago Blackhawks ice girls

(7/5): As of 1:00 p.m., Ray Emery has moved on from Chicago, signing with the Philadelphia Flyers for 1 year, $1.65 million. Blackhawks could give him that money, but not the chance to start like Philly could. Blackhawks have brought back Michal Handzus on a one year, $1 million deal that includes a no move clause. It looks like Chicago is set up the middle with Toews, Handzus, Marcus Kruger (if/when he is signed), and Brandon Pirri. There may be another lower level signing at the center position if Pirri struggles, but find it hard to believe anyone stands a chance or taking minutes away from those four.

Michal Rozsival has re-signed with Chicago for two years, according to James Mirtle and others. Rozsival showed flashes of his youth as a puck-carrying defenseman with Pittsburgh. Two years should be manageable, especially if the cap hit is not too serious. This does mean that younf D-men like Ryan Stanton and Adam Clendening will have to wait at least another year before they get a chance to play. Niklas Hjalmarsson and Sheldon Brookbank will be free agents after next season.

Viktor Stalberg is a Nashville Predator for four years at $12 million. The Preds also signed Matt Cullen. Both will add scoring to a team depraved of offense. Chicago fans will still get to see a lot of Stalberg in the near future. Stalberg is going to be overpaid to put up maybe 50 points a season.

Tyler Bozak and David Clarkson are Toronto Maple Leafs. Bozak gets 5 years for $21 million. Clarkson will get 7 years (!!!), and $36.75 million total. The money has yet to be confirmed. Any way you look at the Clarkson deal, it is beyond awful. Leafs GM Dave Nonis is doing his best to burn the franchise to the ground with signings like this.

I mentioned Chicago giving center Boyd Gordon a look. He signed with Edmonton for three years. The Oilers also signed defenseman Andrew Ference (Boston), LaBarbera (Phoenix), and Gordon (Phoenix). The Phoenix (eventually Arizona) Coyotes signed Mike Ribiero to a four year, $5.5 million deal. Looked great in D.C. because he played with all-world talent like Alexander Ovechkin. The Yotes have far less talent, so good luck there, Ribiero.

Nathan Horton is a Columbus Blue Jacket. Appears to be a seven year deal, $5.3 million a year…woof. Ryan Clowe is going to New Jersey for five years. Remember when term of contract was an issue during CBA talks?

UPDATE 7/3: The calm before the free agency storm has produced some rumblings and grumblings. The Blackhawks re-signed Bryan Bickell during the NHL Entry Draft Sunday, and are in talks to re-sign Nick Leddy, Marcus Kruger, and (surprise) Ray Emery. Following the trades of Dave Bolland, Michal Frolik, and signing Bickell, Chicago has $9.545 million in cap space heading into free agency July 5.

Chicago has some holes to fill on the roster. There is a good chance management looks to sign a center to play 3rd/4th line minutes. If Kruger is brought back, he should get the first crack at the 3rd line. A few centers to watch over the holiday weekend are Matt Cullen (54.7), Boyd Gordon (57.3), Kyle Wellwood (55.1), and David Steckel (54.5). The number in parenthesis is their face-off win percentage. Michal Handzus has express interest in re-signing with the Blackhawks, as well.

I mentioned in the original article that Chicago should look at bringing back Michal Rozsival. His $2 million contract may be a bit too rich for the organization, but if that is his top price, I can see him making a return to the west side. Other affordable lower level defenseman to watch include Marc-Andre Bergeron, Steve Eminger, and Derek Meech. No idea if any are on Chicago’s radar, but those would be a few to consider if Rozsy is not an option on the free agent market.

The Ray Emery negotiations are a welcomed surprise. He could easily get a gig as a starter for a team looking for a #1, but sometimes being comfortable with where you are changes everything. It is clear coaching and management takes care of the players. James Neveau wrote a good piece on the situation.

Look for more on NHL free agency over the weekend. I will be up early following TSN’s coverage. If you have any questions about Chicago, and any other team heading into free agency, feel free to follow me and ask a question on Twitter @jeffrotull44

UPDATE: The Chicago Blackhawks have used both compliance buyouts today. Steve Montador and Rostislav Olesz have been put on waivers with the intent to buy them out, according to multiple reports. With the buyouts in place, Dave Bolland is the next player to watch. He is on the trade market, according to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, so expect his hefty salary to be moved. Chicago’s presser today included GM Stan Bowman, who made it clear that the team is keeping RFA Nick Leddy no matter what. -JH

The Chicago Blackhawks are in the midst of celebrating a second championship in four seasons, but that does not mean the celebration will go throughout the summer. Free agency starts July 5 and Chicago has a lot of restricted and unrestricted free agents on the major and minor league rosters. For those unfamiliar with the difference between a RFA and UFA, a restricted free agent can sign an offer sheet with any team, but be matched by the team he most recently played with. Unrestricted free agents can sign anywhere without any issues.

Here is the list of free agents of note for the Blackhawks:

Nick Leddy (RFA)

Marcus Kruger (RFA)

Michal Handzus (UFA)

Viktor Stalberg (UFA)

Bryan Bickell (UFA)

Michal Rozsival (USF)

Jamal Mayers (UFA)

Ray Emery (UFA)

Drew LeBlanc (RFA)

Kyle Beach (RFA)

Ryan Stanton (RFA)

Shawn Lalonde (RFA)

Henrik Karlsson (RFA)

Carter Hutton (RFA)

Yeah….

All of these players need to be signed or let go with roughly $2 million in cap space. The salary cap itself is dropping $6 million for next season due to the new CBA.

There is a good chance Handzus and Mayers retire after reaching the pinnacle of their careers with a Cup win. Stalberg and Emery will not be brought back because someone will pay them much more than Chicago can offer.

The four players I see being pursued by the Hawks are Leddy, Kruger, Bickell, and Rozsival. Bickell could very price himself out of Chicago after a nine goal playoff performance. His postseason is reminiscent of Dustin Byfuglien’s during the 2010 Stanley Cup run, and Chicago got a good forward in Jeremy Morin and filler. Byfuglien now is eating his way through Winnipeg.

From LeBlanc down will be guys who will get a chance to fill roster spots on the big club at a cheaper price. Stanton or Lalonde could replace Rozsival, but so could youngster Adam Clendending.

Leddy and Kruger have the best chances of sticking. Kruger is a great two-way center who is on the first penalty kill unit, and Leddy is a 22-year old puck moving defenseman with elite speed for the position.

Chicago also has two amnesty buyouts that they can use. The buyouts protect teams from having to pay lofty salaries on contracts that they probably regret. The buyout stretches out the amount owed over a period of time.

The Blackhawks have four players who fit the bill for a buyout: Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland, Steve Montador, and Rostislav Olesz. Montador is finally healthy after bouts with concussions, and Olesz has been buried in the AHL to keep his salary off the NHL books.

Hossa is a fan favorite and one of the most respected players in the game, but his injuries have piled up and his cap hit is enormous. Chicago currently owes him $5.275 million until 2021! A buyout of him would save the team that and the extra $2 million-plus over the next three seasons. Hossa has two rings in Chicago, and may see the writing on the wall. Playing with a disc issue that caused him to lose feeling in his right foot may also be a dead giveaway.

Bolland makes $3.375 million to center the fourth line. His play has tapered off but could draw interest from a team needing to add salary and acquire a young center. A decent playoff showing may save the Hawks an amnesty.

Keep celebrating, but know that a change is gonna come (Sam Cooke FTW) sooner than later.

Follow me on Twitter @jeffrotull44 for more sports and entertainment ramblings. If you play fantasy sports, check out The Fantasy Fix, where my weekly column ‘Peaks and Valleys’ covers your add/drop/watch needs during baseball and hockey season.

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Comments

  1. This article was pretty lame. Buyout Hossa (who has huge trade value) or Boland (Who had enough to warrant two drat picks) or buyout Montador/Olesz (who have no trade value).

    I’d suggest you actually follow hockey, and read up on the players more for the next year or two before making suggestions as to what the Hawks should do next year.

  2. jeffrey-hicks says:

    Trading a 34-year old with a cap hit of $5.275 annually is so easy to do…

    And who makes you judge and jury on what is good and bad?

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