Nearly a decade after its inception, the reality of a hard salary cap once again rears its ugly head to make Chicago Blackhawks fans come crashing back down from our collective Stanley Cup Championship high. It was a nice couple of weeks while it lasted.
We all knew in our hearts that we would have to say goodbye to several players, even as we struggled to accept this fact of life. And we all had at least some faint idea as to which guys would most likely continue their careers with a different team, just as we were quite certain which guys would remain in Chicago to help defend the title next year.
Or so we thought.
Da Windy City
Antti Raanta to the New York Rangers? Okay, maybe that wasn’t a big surprise, given Scott Darling’s two-year extension and backup role during the playoffs. Still, I was very disappointed when I heard the news, as I was pretty fond of Raanta and had hoped he would be around for a while. But as the new backup to Henrik Lundqvist (their previous backup, Cam Talbot, was traded away), he’ll have a better chance of seeing much more NHL action in the upcoming season than he did in the last.
David Rundblad gets a 2-year extension with the Hawks? Yes, we know that a couple of other defensemen are now unrestricted free agents, namely Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival. Neither has been re-signed to date: Oduya is holding out, testing the waters; Rozsival is perhaps just waiting to see how things go after his ankle is fully healed. But in neither case are the Hawks in a hurry — the money just isn’t there. Thus the cheap option in No. 5, but as they say, you get what you pay for.
Brandon Saad GONE?!?! This threw everyone — and I mean everyone — for a loop. It was the ultimate sucker punch. So much has already been written about this. So many fingers pointed: at Stan Bowman, for not keeping his word to do whatever it took to re-sign Saad; at Saad himself, for not keeping his word and taking less money in order to stay with perennial Cup contenders; at other players like Bryan Bickell and Corey Crawford who, following the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals, signed some rather lucrative deals. No amount of blame will change the reality that Saad is now a Blue Jacket. The deal is done.
Of course, we half-expected that some of our “rentals” wouldn’t be back. And so it came to pass: Brad Richards hopped on over to Detroit (gross) and got some more dough in the process; Antoine Vermette returned to his former team, the Coyotes, who face an uncertain future at least with respect to their venue next season. But then Andrew Desjardins decided he liked Chicago and liked winning even more, so he took the cut that people hoped Saad would take in order to stay.
Jun 15, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger (16) skates with the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third period in game six of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
As Bowman knows all too well, there is still plenty of work to do. Marcus Kruger has yet to ink a new deal, although there are signs that the Hawks will be able to close on him. One or both of Patrick Sharp and Bickell are expected to find themselves playing elsewhere next year, but a couple of factors compound the difficulty of striking a deal. Sharp had a not-so-great season and an OK postseason while eating up almost $6 million of cap space; Bickell has had a couple of unproductive seasons in a row, while taking up a sizable $4 million chunk. Sharp has a no-movement clause; Bickell has a limited no-trade clause.
In an ideal world (for Chicago Blackhawks fans, anyway), we would just hit the rewind button and play the past season all over again, minus the injuries (especially to Patrick Kane and Rozsival). But this isn’t the ideal world, as the Blackhawks know all too well after coming off the last two Stanley Cup victories. They are also painfully aware of the importance of looking past sentiment to make the necessary albeit unpopular personnel decisions that try to make the best of a bad situation.
Fans would be better off picking up the pieces and moving on, focusing on the positive in terms of whom we retained and whom we gained, instead of only mourning whom we have lost. This isn’t the 2010 championship team. Or the 2013 team. And it is now no longer the 2015 team. But with the core intact, the Chicago Blackhawks have proven that they have the essential building blocks to make deep playoff runs for years to come. That’s something we have that other teams can only dream of.
And that’s what makes me beyond excited — and impatient — for the next season to begin. October can’t come soon enough.
More from Blackhawk Up
- Blackhawks: Three Noticeable Improvements in Comeback Win vs Blues
- Blackhawks: Key Takeaways from 3-2 win over the Blues
- Blackhawks: Grading Connor Murphy and a position comparison
- Blackhawks: Shuffling the lines to try and spark offense at 5 on 5
- These Lineup Changes could Solve the Blackhawks’ Scoring Problem