Anton Forsberg

Blackhawks Sign Five to Open Free Agency

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Patrick Sharp Returns to the Hawks with eye on a 4th Stanley Cup (Photo by David Kindler)

As I posted yesterday in the Blackhawks free agency primer I noted that the Blackhawks would likely have a quiet opening to free agency come July 1st and in all honesty it was. The ‘Hawks would go on to make five signings, headlined by the return of forward Patrick Sharp but would also include forward Tommy Wingels, forward Lance Bouma, defenseman Jordan Oesterle, and goaltender Jean-Francois Berube.

We will start with the return of Sharp who at age 35 is in the twilight of his career but offers the ‘Hawks with a low risk, high reward option as his cap hit will only be $800,000 and will give coach Joel Quenneville with a forward that if healthy could play in the ‘Hawks top nine forwards. Health has been an issue for Sharp who has battled through some concussion issues as well as coming off of hip surgery that kept him out of the Dallas Stars line up for the final month of the season. As stated before in previous articles if Sharp can recapture that magic from just a season ago he could be a good value for the ‘Hawks.

The other more significant signing for the ‘Hawks was that of Evanston, IL native Tommy Wingels on a one year deal, terms of the deal were not disclosed. Although we do not have the cap number of Wingels you would have to imagine it does not exceed $1 million after two sub-par seasons with the Sharks and Senators. Wingels is another good value for the ‘Hawks and figures to be in the mix for the ‘Hawks bottom six and although did struggle the last two was has scored 15 goals twice in his 7 year NHL career. Analytics place Wingels as a solid fourth line wing that has the versatility to slide over to the center position which GM Stan Bowman values. The flexibility and low price tag make this a solid  addition to the ‘Hawks forward crop.

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Oesterle hoping to help stablize Hawks defensive depth (Photo by Connormah)

The ‘Hawks then went on to add a depth defenseman in Jordan Oesterle who has played in 25 career NHL games over three NHL seasons totaling 5 assists and a plus-minus rating of -4. Oesterle, depending on his performance in camp, figures to be either a top pairing defenseman for Rockford or a 7th/depth defenseman for the the ‘Hawks. Announced the same time as the Oesterle signing was the signing for net-minder Jean-Francois Berube, 25, who has spent two seasons in the New York Islanders system in which he has spend 21 games with the NHL club and posted a 6-4-3 record and 3.11 save percentage. Berube and newly signed Anton Forsberg figure to compete for the ‘Hawks back up goaltender position and as Bowman stated during his noon teleconference it is necessary to have three NHL quality goaltenders in the system.

The final sign of the day, thus far, is that of forward Lance Bouma who his entire career, six season, with the Calgary Flames. Bouma is another one of those depth bottom six players that the ‘Hawks have added on July 1st and this was a signing that confused many a ‘Hawk fan in that this team is already flush with bottom six forwards and how does this addition make the ‘Hawks better today. Bouma who plays a physical style of hockey has never had a propensity to put up points did have one season in which he put up a surprising 34 points for Calgary. He would however plummet to 7 points in each of the next two seasons. Again Bouma figures to be a fourth line player  or depth forward on this ‘Hawks team and if he can recapture what happened in that 2014-2015 season he could be another one of those high risk high reward signings.

It is difficult to judge a team on July 1st still three months away from hitting the ice on opening night but from what the ‘Hawks have done today they are very much the same team leading into it. A team that looks like it could have difficulties scoring and very inexperienced on the blue line, however it has been reported by 670 The Score’s Jay Zawaski that the ‘Hawks are still likely to sign a depth veteran defenseman. If the ‘Hawks are able to get some quality veteran help on the back end this is could be a solid free agency period for the ‘Hawks but as this team sits currently 2017-2018 might be a step back for the Blackhawks.

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Blackhawks Reshape Roster During Busy Draft Weekend

As we neared the 2017 NHL Entry Draft the Chicago Blackhawks appeared poised to rebuild their farm system and potentially make some moves to alleviate some pressure that the salary cap was putting on their team. Many believed that there was a deal in place with the Vegas Golden Knights in which center, Marcus Kruger, would be moved for a draft pick of one of their surplus defensemen; acquired from the expansion draft. However this deal was believed to be put on hold, according to Scott Powers of The Athletic, because of a roster bonus due to Kruger on July 1st. With this detail being brought up after the expansion draft, it appeared as though the draft might be a quiet one for the Blackhawks. However Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman had different plans.

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Niklas Hjalmarsson will be greatly missed on the Chicago blueline (Nicole & Laura Flickr 2013)

In a surprising move the Blackhawks traded 3 time Stanley Cup champion defenseman, Niklas Hjalmarsson, to the Arizona Coyotes for 24 year old defenseman, Connor Murphy, and 22 year old forward, Laurent Dauphin. After first hearing about the move it was initiallythought to be a salary cap dump on the Blackhawks part, but looking at the cap numbers of Murphy and Dauphin the cap savings were minimal. In fact, if both players did make the roster it would actually have the ‘Hawks take on more salary than they were sending out on Hjalmarsson. This move, similar to the one that we will go over in a moment, appears to have an eye on the future; Murphy 6 years younger than Hjalmarsson, signed to a deal will longer term than Hjalmarsson, and at a lower cap hit. Although not the same player as Hjalmarsson, GM Stan Bowman sees Murphy as a player entering his prime and as someone who he is hoping is ready to take that next step in his career. Dauphin who many viewed as a bit of a throw-in with this deal appears to possibly have a shot at making the club in the fall in a bottom six capacity.

We had thought that the day could not get any crazier until Elliot Friedman of HNIC tweeted that it appeared as though the Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets had a deal in place that would send Artemi Panarin to the Jackets for former Blackhawk forward Brandon Saad. This was a deal that caught the entire hockey world by storm as no one was expecting it and it was seen as a bit of a reaction to the departure of Marian Hossa, as well as the uncertainty of being able to afford Panarin at the end of his bridge deal. The loss of Panarin will certainly hurt the Blackhawks top offensive line that included Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, but this move finally gives Jonathan Toews the left wing that they have been looking for since the departure of Saad. This move appears to evenly distribute the power on the top two lines with a likely top line of Saad, Toews and Richard Panik and a projected secondary line of Nick Schmaltz, Anisimov and Kane. The response of this trade was quite divisive in that reaction on Twitter from ‘Hawks fans was resoundingly positive where national reaction was a bit more hesitant on the trade from the Blackhawks’ prospective

 

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Brandon Saad is back after two years with the Blue Jackets (Lisa Gansky)

The hesitance comes from the Blackhawks giving up a top ten scorer for a player, who has an offensive touch to his game, but not the dynamic offensive player that Panarin is. Aside from the main components from this deal the ‘Hawks also sent forward Tyler Motte, plus a 6th round pick for goaltender Anton Forsberg and a 2018 5th round pick. Motte came into the 2016 season with a lot a fanfare after an impressive junior season at the University of Michigan, but injuries and lack of professional experience were his downfall. If he can stay healthy and take a season or two to gain experience in the AHL it could turn into a nice complementary piece for Columbus. For the ‘Hawks this trade also fills a need for goal-tending depth, and with the addition of Forsberg the ‘Hawks feel like they have found their back up net minder for the upcoming season.

Now that the draft has passed and free agent frenzy is upon us, it appears as though the ‘Hawks are trying to reshape their roster for the future as well as icing a team that is harder to play against with speed and strength. Are the Blackhawks a better team now that they were at the end of the season? I would say they are more balanced up front but lack experience on the back end which is a bit concerning. With the moves made you would imagine there are more moves that Stan Bowman envisions to get this team back to the Stanley Cup finals and not the first round exit team that we have seen the last two seasons.