Chicago Blackhawks: 5 Defenseman Free Agent Options

By Colin Likas
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If you’ve been following the Chicago Blackhawks for more than 24 hours, I’m going to tell you something you probably already know: The team’s defensive unit for the 2015-16 season leaves something to be desired. That’s probably the nice way of putting it, too.

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We’ve got Conn Smythe winner Duncan Keith, as well as Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Those three are heavily reliable, and heavily relied on by Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. That especially shouldn’t change this season.

But after that, things get dicey for Chicago. Trevor Daley is recognized as an offensive defenseman who gets lost in his own zone on many occasions. We’ve said he’s more or less Johnny Oduya‘s replacement, but that doesn’t mean the two are equals in on-ice focus and ability. Then, we have Trevor van Riemsdyk and David Rundblad. Both are young guys who need more experience at the game’s highest level, though both have been highly touted. Still, they’re not exactly in a position where Q should feel comfortable pairing them together in games.

On top of this, there’s no seventh defenseman waiting in the wings, as there often has been in recent years. Guys like Michal Rozsival, Kyle Cumiskey, Sheldon Brookbank and much of the youth in Rockford are all gone. Ville Pokka, who many think will be a solid NHL defenseman down the line, is basically your No. 7 at this point. That’s not promising.

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So what can the Blackhawks do about this? Simple answer: Go out and sign a veteran defenseman who’s willing to take a cheap deal to play with a proven winner.

Of course, it’s not that simple. The Blackhawks are currently over the salary cap (unless Joakim Nordstrom‘s new contract is paying him in Monopoly money), and Marcus Kruger remains unsigned. We’ve spent the entire offseason talking about trade possibilities for the Blackhawks. Not only could a trade be executed to get Kruger in the fold, but one could also occur to simultaneously free up a little cap space for a free-agent defenseman signing.

Let’s take a look at the cap, first, before we come to any potential candidates for such a signing. General Fanager has Nordstrom’s contract listed at a cap hit of $605,000. Considering he was making about that on his previous contract, that seems fair. General Fanager has the Blackhawks at $71,168,000 and change against the cap, but that doesn’t include the salaries of Nordstrom, Corey Tropp and Artemi Panarin. While Tropp may not see a lot of ice time with the Blackhawks, Panarin very likely will, and you have to imagine Nordstrom will as well.

So, we’re looking at 16 forwards, plus an unsigned Kruger, who could all count against the cap to start the 2015-16 season (and that’s not considering any AHL guys who impress in training camp). I’m sticking with my favorite idea for a trade (though I don’t know who would partner with the Blackhawks on this) to free up cap space. Let’s say Bryan Bickell, Ryan Garbutt and Jeremy Morin head out, and let’s say in some insanely perfect world that a team eats all three of their contracts (this would have to be the Arizona Coyotes, New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres or the like). With that, we’re at $65,468,460 against the salary cap, with Nordstrom, Panarin and Tropp still in Rockford.

Now let’s say we sign Kruger for a $2.5 million cap hit per season (probably a conservative estimate). That’s got us at $67,968,460 against the cap. We call up Panarin and Nordstrom to get to 13 forwards, and the amount against the cap jumps to $69,385,960. With all that said and done, we’ve got $2,014,040 to work with for signing one free-agent defenseman. So now we’ll get into some options at that price.

Please note that what I just did above is by no means guaranteed to happen. It’s close to the best case scenario, with the absolute best case probably including both Bickell and Kris Versteeg going mostly or entirely off the books. But for the sake of determining some seventh defenseman options for the Blackhawks — something I think Stan Bowman will look at regardless of how the rest of the roster construction shakes out — I’ve come up with some kind of solution to Chicago’s salary cap woes.

Next: On to the defensemen

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