The Hawks are locked in first in the Western conference, and with a few more points, the entire league. The team has been praised for nearly every aspect of their game, and all that was possible due to the economically sound moves that Stan Bowman has made in the past few seasons. Bowman didn’t make any major moves; everything was minor and for the most part has worked out very well. Even with the salary conscience efforts, this off season will be an extremely difficult one for the Hawks brass. With multiple contracts ending and the cap going down to an estimated 64 million, the Hawks will need to make some decisions, and the players need to make that difficult for them. Some of these players are going to be playing for future spots, some for contracts, and some for personal reasons. So here’s a quick look at whom these playoffs could benefit or impact the most.
5) Tryouts/Youngsters/Spare Parts
The forth line will be the most interchangeable throughout the playoffs, so we can expect to see some interesting combinations. With the possibility of some of our depth being lost, whoever fills in has a chance to really raise their odds of making the team next year. The opportunities aren’t restricted to the fourth line only, like we saw with Morin, he or Smith could be put on the top lines if injuries become an issue. The Hawks’ farm system is impressively deep, and we have a youngster for any possible situation. We saw it against Vancouver two years ago; the young guys want to win, and they want to be in the NHL. Maybe Ben Smith will come in and be the hero again and stay healthy long enough to make the team next year.
4) Corey Crawford
Crow has shown that he is capable of being the starter, and his stats are undeniably proving that fact, but he will need to slay his demons. He’s not playing for a contract, but he will be playing to clear his name of the soft goals against the coyotes last year. Crow seems to occasionally be his own worst enemy and getting out of a mental slump can be tough for him. If he can get through the first round without any soft goals, I think we could see the Crawford that wowed Chicago in the Vancouver series return in full force. If he can’t pull it together in the playoffs, Crow could potentially be a trade option. You can’t forget the fact that Bowman was kicking the tires on Jonathan Bernier last summer after Crow’s playoff misadventures.
3) Marcus Kruger
Kruger is playing for a contract, and he has been a very interesting player development wise. While his offense hasn’t improved much, his defensive play has grown exponentially. He was penciled in to be our second line center of the near future, but his smaller size and lack of physical development seemed to have postponed that promotion. The Hawks management has been keen on him since they brought him in, and while I don’t think he is in danger of not getting an extension, you never know with the cap coming down. He has worked ridiculously hard all season, and has brought a much appreciated energy to whatever line he is on. He has also helped stabilize the PK and has brought a dedicated and energetic defensive effort, with a willingness to go to the dirty areas. As with Bolland, he still needs work on his faceoffs, and a little more muscle weight would help elevate his game. This year’s playoffs can be extremely important for him going forward. He can make a big statement for himself as a legitimate second line player.
Both players are UFA’s after this season, and it’s pretty much accepted that we can’t keep both. While I feel Stalberg has consistently gotten better in the last few seasons, he also will be looking for a larger raise than Bickell. Bickell’s development has jumped from the last 2 years, but my problem with him is that he was almost nonexistent for two seasons straight before becoming what we all expected him to be. Offensively they both have nine goals and 13 assists. What are the odds that the two players who are fighting for a possible extension in the same year are sitting with the exact same offensive numbers?! Defensively, Bickell is dominating Stalberg in hits and has a slight edge in takeaways, but Stalberg’s speed brings a lot of offensive potential. In the end, it’s possible that we can’t keep either one, or whatever style of play we need more will dictate the outcome. Either way, both players need to keep playing consistently if they want to make it difficult for the Hawks to make that decision.
1) Dave Bolland
I love Bolland. In fact, pretty much everyone loves playoff Bolland. Bolland has always been fairly clutch, whether it’s a huge take away at a key moment or a timely sneaky goal, he’s shown he’s an asset. The biggest issue is that we need Bolland to be better than a team worst -5, especially when he’s making 3.375 million. He needs to be more than a liability. Bolland has struggled with a few injuries, and it’s possible he’s had a nagging problem all year, but with the amount of guys waiting in Rockford, it seems irresponsible to eat up a roster spot with subpar performances. If he’s having a bad year, then he has some incredibly bad timing, because right now his contract combined with a lowered cap could kill him. Luckily for him, the Hawks do know what he is capable of and what he has done in the past which shows why he is a valuable member of the team. He will absolutely need to have a great playoff run to keep himself from being a trade rumor come summer.