On Friday, the Blackhawks sent forwards Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for a pair of young defensemen and a future draft pick. The move was made purely to free up enough cap space to re-sign Marcus Kruger before training camp begins on September 18th. Literally moments after it was announced that the Hawks had made this trade, it was also announced that they had in fact given Kruger a new one-year contract worth about $1.5 million, which is a huge bargain for the Blackhawks. As it stands right now, the Hawks sit roughly $900,000 below the league salary cap.
Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday that the Hawks pulled off that late-night trade with the Florida Panthers to bring Steeger back to Chicago? Now he’s already on his was to a new team after winning another Cup with the Hawks. While it somewhat hurts to see him go (simply because of his personality and off-ice likability), it is a move that had to be made. The Hawks needed to dump some salary to make sure that they would not lose a guy like Marcus Kruger. My belief is that Nordstrom was thrown into the deal to eliminate a bit more salary from the budget, but to also get Carolina to take Kris Versteeg who struggled mightily most of last season.
As for Kruger’s new contract, I’m seeing this as a classic “bridge” deal. What that means is that they signed him for an amount that would benefit the team this year given their cap constraints, and will likely sign him to a much more deserving and accurate contract next offseason. Kruger is without a doubt worth more than $1.5 million for one year and probably could have easily gotten a much larger contract had he decided to look elsewhere. That he took this deal to stay with the Hawks says a lot about his desire to stay in Chicago and help the team win on and off the ice. If you didn’t like the guy before for whatever reason, it’s hard not to now.
I believe that the Hawks are likely still doing what they can to try and move Bryan Bickell, which would free up another $4 million from their salary cap, however I think trading him is unlikely. As was the case with Versteeg, any team is going to want something or someone along with Bickell. Trading him straight up for anything will be difficult for Bowman to pull off simply because of Bickell’s contract, and I doubt he wants to lose even more assets from the NHL and/or AHL roster via a trade. At the same time, it would make a ton of sense for Bowman to sign or acquire a veteran d-man to avoid having to rely solely upon the likes of David Rundblad and Trevor van Riemsdyk on the Hawks’ third defensive pairing. If he can do so and spend less than $900,000 in the process, great. Otherwise Bowman will have to find a way to shed more salary from the NHL roster, which brings us back to Bickell in what becomes a repetitive sequence.
In fact, today it was reported that the Hawks will be bringing 37-year old defenseman Jan Hejda to training camp on a “tryout” basis. His four-year, $13 million contract with the Avalanche expired at the end of last season, so he is looking for a new home. And in all honesty, he’s not a bad option to at least consider. He’s been a rather reliable defensive defenseman throughout his career, and he definitely brings that veteran presence that the bottom pair needs. If he impresses the Hawks in training camp, we may see them extend a contract offer. For now though, he’s just here on a tryout, contract-less basis.
Training camp starts at Notre Dame in less than a week, and then the season is just around the corner. Hard to believe…