Christmas is usually in December, but it came on July 5th for NHL fans, with the free agent market officially opening for the off-season. Many players swapped jerseys, and even more found a new home by way of free agency signings. The Chicago Blackhawks weren’t left out of the big day, making a few moves of their own.
- Who’s Staying
The Player: Michal Handzus
The Move: Resigned to a one-year contract
The Reaction: Good move. Handzus was debating retirement after the Blackhawks won the Stanley cup earlier in the month, but he believes he can go for one more year. The Blackhawks avoid having a situation at the center position, and keep a player who is good in the faceoff circle, works hard, and has the experience that comes with a lengthy NHL career.
The Player: Michal Rozsival
The Move: Resigned to a two-year contract
The Reaction: Good move. Roszival won’t be a shutdown defenseman anytime in the next two seasons, but he is very calm with the puck and will be a good fit as a sixth or seventh defenseman. He was impressive during the playoffs, with timely point shots and good postitioning in the offensive zone. He will be used to shore up the blue-line until the young guns of Ryan Stanton and company are ready to take over. As long as he and Handzus keep their games in check, (maybe 50-60 next season, lots of time for the Rockford players to get their shot) they will be very effective for the Blackhawks.
The Player: Nikolai Khabibulin
The Move: Signed the free agent to a one-year contract
The Reaction: Undecided. Many Blackhawks analysts were shocked to hear that Khabibulin was being talked to by the organization, and proceeded to fall off their chairs when he was picked up for the 2013-14 season. This will be the 40-year old’s second stint with the club, after he played in Chicago from 2005-2009. Although the overall reaction wasn’t a good one from Blackhawks fans, they have to keep the faith: many of these people were also complaining when they picked up Handzus for the second time around this spring, and he thrived in his second trip to the Windy City. Only time will tell if Khabibulin can excell in a back-up role behind Corey Crawford. Khabibulin’s signing means that young goalies within the Blackahawks organization such as Anntti Raanta and Henrik Karlsson will most likely not get their chance with the big club until at least 2014.
- Who’s Going
The Player: Ray Emery
The Move: Signed a one-year, $1.75 Million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers
The Reaction: It wasn’t about the money for Emery, it was about getting the opportunity to play as a starter. This was a good move for both sides, as the Flyers got quality goaltending on the cheap, and Emery won’t be stuck in a logjam in the crease.
The Player: Viktor Stalberg
The Move: Signed a four-year, $12 Million contract with the Nashville Predators
The Reaction: The Blackhawks won’t get rid of Stalberg entirely, as they will see him at least six times a season for the next four years. Nashville overpayed for the winger, and they will soon find out that he does not perform to the level that his contract is worth.
The Player: Carter Hutton
The Move: Signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Nashville Predators.
The Reaction: Amonst all the wants and needs of other NHL teams, the Predators were quietly searching for a back-up to Pekka Rinne. They may have found one in Hutton, the man who was most likely to back up Corey Crawford before the signing of Khabibulin. The Predators will give Hutton a chance to play in the big league, and if he does well, he could be seeing a multi-year extension in his future.
Summary: You couldn’t have expected anything better from Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and his crew. They have a lot of faith in their young prospects to fill the void next season, and by re-signing a couple veterans, they allow the kids to thrive with the guidance and experience of two long careers behind them. Khabibulin will have new life after coming back to the Windy City, and he should do just fine under Crawford. Bowman kept silent as usual, and it ended up pretty good for the Blackhawks.
All in all, after all the trades, signings, and rumors, the real winners on Free Agency day were the fans. They get to anticipate their favourite team’s return, and the debate starts now as to who is the better team going into the year. Just remember: It’s not about how the team looks on paper, it’s how they look on the ice. Just ask Ray Shero.
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