Training Camp Primer: Recapping & Grading the Blackhawks’ Offseason

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In contrast to the 2010 off-season, the summer of 2011 was a relatively quiet one for the Chicago Blackhawks. Sure, there were still trades that took place and signings galore, but the attachment that fans felt to the players who had so recently won the Stanley Cup made it more difficult to see guys like Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien go to other places.

With more fans tuning in to see what the Blackhawks are up to as they prepare for the regular season, which is only 18 days away, The Sports Bank is here to give you a quick and dirty recap of all the moves that the Blackhawks have made since Alex Burrows swiped the puck from Chris Campoli and scored the series winner that sent Chicago home.

May 19th, 2011: Corey Crawford Signs Three Year Contract

One of the biggest surprises of the entire 2010-11 season was the ironclad grip that Corey Crawford put on the Blackhawks’ crease this season. Marty Turco was brought in to replace Antti Niemi before the season, and Crawford had never shown the ability to rise above a solid AHL option in net, but it ended up being Corey that led the team through a rough season into the playoffs. He looked especially at ease during the post-season, and the team rewarded him with a three year contract that will pay him an average of $2.6 million a season.

While $2.6 million may seem like a good chunk of change to give a goalie with only one good season under his belt, it is actually under what an arbitrator gave Niemi after he helped Chicago win the Cup, and he had about as much success as Corey when push came to shove. Having him locked up for three years is a good thing, and having guys like Alexander Salak and training camp invitee Ray Emery there to back him up in case he falters makes the move even savvier.

Grade: A-

June 24th, 2011: Troy Brouwer Traded to Washington Capitals for First Round Pick

This trade was a surprise, but only slightly so because of the fact that Brouwer’s contract was up at the end of the month. Brouwer fit a great role with the Hawks in terms of providing some degree of protection for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but in the end his contract demands were going to be too much for a General Manager in Stan Bowman who was looking to shed some more payroll, and he got a very solid deal for him.

Grade: B

June 25th, 2011: Brian Campbell Traded to Florida Panthers for Rostislav Olesz

Speaking of surprising trades, Bowman pulled the trigger on another deal at the Draft when he dealt Campbell to Dale Tallon’s Florida Panthers. This trade was one of the more questionable moves made by Bowman, but there were certainly arguments that could be made on both sides. On the plus side, Campbell’s contract was prohibitive in Bowman being able to go out and sign or trade for extra help throughout the season (a problem that really hurt the team when they could have used some extra depth at last year’s trade deadline), and he did manage to get some solid value in Olesz, who will be looking to prove himself this season.

On the negative side of the ledger, Campbell was arguably the best defenseman on the team last season. He was one of the top players in the league in plus/minus, and although his reputation is more of an offensive d-man, he definitely made great strides in his defensive game last year. He was very responsible for the most part, and he lessened the burden on Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, who were both playing big minutes due to a lack of effective defensive depth last year.

Grade: C

June 27th, 2011: Tomas Kopecky Traded to Florida Panthers for 2012 or 2013 Seventh Round Pick

Kopecky had a great start to last season, but his production quickly tapered off and he ended up with numbers near his usual production. He clearly wasn’t part of Bowman’s vision for the future, and the contract he was signed to by Tallon is more proof that he didn’t make financial sense for this team.

Grade: A

June 29th, 2011: Traded a Seventh Round Pick in 2012 or 2013 in Exchange for Steve Montador

With only two days remaining before the start of free agency, Bowman pulled the trigger on a deal to replace Campbell when he brought Steve Montador over from the Buffalo Sabres. He obviously will not be expected to put up similar offensive numbers to Brian (he set a career high in points last year with 26), but he is defensively responsible, and that’s exactly what the Hawks were looking for.

A day after the trade, the Hawks signed Montador to a 4-year deal worth an average of $2.75 million. This is obviously a huge cut from the $7 million plus that Campbell was pulling in, and this deal gives the Hawks a great veteran presence in a locker room full of youngsters at an affordable price. It also set the table for the signings that were set to take place in a matter of days…..

Grade: B+

July 1st, 2011: Blackhawks Sign Andrew Brunette, Daniel Carcillo, Jamal Mayers, Brett McLean, and Sean O’Donnell to One-Year Contracts

None of the names on this list may jump out at fans as a real difference maker for this squad, but the reality of the matter is that certain names in this group are absolutely in place to play critical roles for this team.

Brunette is a tremendous addition to the team’s second or third line, as he is a decent offensive player with some smart defensive instincts, which made him indispensable to the Minnesota Wild. If he can score 20-25 goals for this team (not a stretch considering he managed to score 25 goals with a defensive minded Wild team), then he’ll be worth every penny of the $2 million Bowman gave him.

O’Donnell is another great addition in this group. He may be turning 40 years old in October, but the reason Bowman brought him in was two-fold: he needed a guy who could be responsible on the third defensive pairing a la a Brent Sopel, and he also wanted O’Donnell in to tutor the team’s younger defensive players as they come through the system. With guys like Dylan Olsen and Shawn Lalonde coming up the pipe in the near future, it’s important to have elder statesmen around to help guide their games in the right direction.

As for the Carcillo signing, it caught a lot of fans by surprise. Obviously Carbomb, as he is known to folks on Twitter and other mediums, is a guy who was largely hated in the Windy City because of his shenanigans against the Hawks in the 2010 Cup Finals when he was with the Flyers, but he could serve a valuable purpose for this team. One of the squad’s biggest problems last season was that they weren’t able to match up to other team’s physicality, and Carcillo will obviously serve a similar role to the one that Adam Burish did a few years ago. To compare him to a baseball player, Carcillo is exactly like AJ Pierzynski: his stats may not be the best, but he’s the guy who you love to have on your team, and the guy you hate to play against.

Overall July 1st Grade: B+

Patrick Sharp in pre-game warmupsJuly 10th, 2011: Blackhawks Sign Viktor Stalberg to a Two-Year Contract

Stalberg came into last season with some huge expectations, but he largely failed to live up to them. This contract is a cheap one with a cap hit of $875,000, so it is obviously a good risk for the Hawks to take. He has blinding speed and has the potential to be a potent weapon on offense, and if he can blossom into the type of player that Bowman thinks he can be, then this will be a bargain.

Grade: A-

July 15th, 2011: Blackhawks Sign Michael Frolik to a Three-Year Contract, and Sami Lepisto to a One-Year Contract

The Hawks acquired Frolik last season from Florida, and he ended up doing a decent job as a lower line center for the squad. He managed a total of 38 points in the 2010-11 season, and if he can lock down either the third or fourth line for Chicago this season, his $2.3 million contract will be worthwhile.

As for Lepisto, he was strictly a depth signing, and if he can crack one of the three defensive pairings, it could be an intriguing development for this team. He has 31 career points in 150 games, so don’t expect much from him in the way of scoring, but he is a defensively smart player who can play a physical game as well.

Grade: B

August 3rd, 2011: Patrick Sharp Agrees to a Five Year Extension

With some of the crazy signings we have seen this off-season, the re-signing of Patrick Sharp was probably one of the more sensible ones. The 2011 All-Star had one year left on an extension he had signed three years ago, but Bowman firmly showed his commitment to the versatile forward with this deal worth a shade under $6 million a season. His team-first approach and fan-friendly attitude have made him a favorite player both in the locker room and in the blogosphere, and after surviving the big purge of 2010, his value to the team has never been more clear.

Grade: A-

Overall Thoughts:

The 2011 off-season was a defining moment for the Bowman regime in Chicago. Yes, he oversaw the huge turnover of players after 2010, but that was more about cleaning up the cap damage left by Tallon’s time in the big chair, but this off-season gave Bowman a great opportunity to set his vision for the future. What he ended up doing was largely what he had done through his early career as GM: build a team around a core of stars like Toews, Kane, and Keith, and surround them with a slew of talented role players. He rebuilt the depth that helped this team win a championship with the additions that he made this off-season, and he also gave the team some serious cap relief, giving the Hawks a comfortable $5.5 million in space to make additions over the course of the campaign.Overall, it was a solid summer for the Hawks, and while it isn’t known how exactly all of the new pieces will settle into their roles, one thing is for certain: there are plenty of options to fix it up if things don’t work.

Grade: A-

 

 

 

 

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