Now that the Blackhawks have come up just short of defending their Stanley Cup championship in this year’s playoffs, we can look ahead at what might take place on West Madison Street as the summer progresses. Last year, we were all talking about a Stanley Cup victory and how the team would remain mostly intact heading into the 2013-14 season. Unfortunately, this summer has a much different tune to it, even though you can’t really view this season as a failure.
The Hawks finished up this season with 107 points, which in the past had usually guaranteed you one of the top three spots in the conference heading into the playoffs. However, with many teams improving around the league and the parity growing, 107 points was good for third place in the Central Division this year. Third place in your own division doesn’t sound so good, but 107 points is nothing to cry about.
In the playoffs, the Hawks knocked off a Stanley Cup-favorite in the St. Louis Blues in the first round, and they eliminated the Wild for the second year in a row in the second round. Defeating the Blues was big, and beating the Wild to advance to the Conference Final for the fourth time in six years was even bigger. Then came the Kings, who beat the Hawks in overtime of Game 7 to put an end to hockey in Chicago, for now. Think about it, the Blackhawks were one lucky bounce, one shot away from winning the Western Conference again. That isn’t anything to get too upset over.
While the feeling around Chicago regarding the Blackhawks has turned into “Stanley Cup or bust” each year, that doesn’t mean the Hawks need to rebuild every time they don’t win the Cup. With that said, let’s look at what may happen this summer.
It is unlikely that you will see the following players wearing Blackhawks jerseys again next year: Michal Handzus, Sheldon Brookbank, Nikolai Khabibulin, and Peter Regin. They are all unrestricted free agents that the Blackhawks will most likely opt to not re-sign. Jeremy Morin, Antti Raanta, and Ben Smith are all restricted free agents that I believe the Blackhawks will try to lock up before they become available to other teams. If one of those three were to be let go, I’d put my money on it being Raanta, although that is very unlikely to happen.
Some other guys you might not see with the Blackhawks include Joakim Nordstrom, Johnny Oduya, Michal Rozsival, Nick Leddy, and Kris Versteeg. Nordstrom may be sent back down to Rockford next season, and the other four guys will likely be brought up in trade talks this summer. It is highly unlikely that the Hawks would trade away two of their defensemen, let alone three, so if one of them goes, I’m putting my money on Oduya as he is entering the last year of his contract and is due over $3 million next year. After him, Rozsival would be the most likely to go for similar reasons. Nick Leddy would bring back the most to the Hawks if he were dealt, but I don’t see them giving up on him. He is too talented to trade away at just 23 years old. As for Kris Versteeg, I wouldn’t trade him yet. I’d see how he performs during the first couple months of next season before trying to make a deal.
The Blackhawks will also be looking to add players to the roster. Most notably a second line center. My best guess here is that the second line center position is Teuvo Teravainen’s to lose. The Blackhawks may look to sign a center this off season who could play on the second line if need be, but I believe they want Teravainen to be that guy come opening night. I don’t see him not making the NHL roster, unless he has an absolutely terrible training camp and preseason.
I would imagine the Hawks will be looking to sign a depth defenseman or two. They probably won’t bring back Brookbank, and there is a 50/50 chance they trade Oduya or Rozsival in the next month or so. They acquired David Rundblad this past spring, who is a puck moving defenseman, and he might fill any void left on the d-pairings heading into next year. That leaves room for the Hawks to sign one or two depth defensemen who can rotate in and out of the lineup.
If they don’t sign any defensemen this summer, look for guys like Adam Clendening and Klas Dahlbeck to make the jump from Rockford to the NHL to begin the season.
Something else to keep an eye on is the contract situations with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (both have one year left on their contract). Stan Bowman is now allowed to begin negotiating extensions with each player, and he has made it very clear that re-signing both Toews and Kane is priority number one this offseason. I would imagine that if they do both sign extensions, they will receive identical, or close to identical contracts again. It would be nice if they took discounts to allow Bowman to re-sign and sign other players, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Toews and Kane each ask for Evgeni Malkin-type money ($9.5 million per year).
A lot could potentially happen with the Blackhawks this summer. There is also the chance that not a lot happens either. They are still one of the best teams in hockey and will no doubt be a Stanley Cup contender again next season. Whether or not they make a serious push for the Cup, however, could depend on what Stan Bowman decides to do in the next couple months.