Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks’ Free Agent Defensive Options, Part I

By Colin Likas
Apr 3, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) celebrates his goal in front of Boston Bruins defenseman John-Michael Liles (26) during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 3, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) celebrates his goal in front of Boston Bruins defenseman John-Michael Liles (26) during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mar 15, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman John-Michael Liles (26) and San Jose Sharks center Patrick Marleau (12) vie for possession in the 3rd period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports. The Sharks won 3-2.
Mar 15, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman John-Michael Liles (26) and San Jose Sharks center Patrick Marleau (12) vie for possession in the 3rd period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports. The Sharks won 3-2. /

John-Michael Liles, Carolina Hurricanes/Boston Bruins

2015-16 stats: 81 games, 6 goals, 15 assists, minus-10 rating

2015-16 salary/cap hit: $2,750,000/$3,875,000

We start with the second-oldest option on this list. The 35-year-old was a potential trade-deadline option for the Blackhawks this year, but he was snatched up by the Bruins as Bowman decided to focus on fortifying the forwards.

Liles could be at the point in his career where he’ll either take a series of one- or two-year deals until he hangs up the skates, or where he wants one final longer-term contract to finish out his career on. If he’s OK with the former, he could work with the Blackhawks.

Liles isn’t slowing down, though, as he averaged nearly 20 minutes of ice time per game between his two clubs this season. Liles also saw slightly more defensive-zone starts but came away with a 51.78 Corsi-for mark at evens. While he’s a little undersized (5-foot-10, 185 pounds), he’s certainly a reliable option. “Reliable” is not a word you could use to describe much of the Blackhawks blue line in 2015-16.

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May 1, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) and defenseman Jason Demers (4) defend against the St. Louis Blues during the overtime period in game two of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the American Airlines Center. The Blues win 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Jason Demers, Dallas Stars

2015-16 stats: 75 games, 7 goals, 19 assists, plus-17 rating

2015-16 salary/cap hit: $3,650,000/$3,400,000

Demers is probably beyond the Blackhawks’ price range, and Dallas would probably be interested in bringing him back next season. Of all the players on this list (there are 20, counting the future restricted free agents post; buckle up), Demers has the second-best Corsi-for rate (54.19 percent) at even strength, and that’s with defensively-tilted zone starts. Things got a little cockeyed, however, in the postseason (49.88 with offensively-tilted zone starts).

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He isn’t the best skater on this list, but he can move the puck, which is something the Blackhawks struggled to get from their defense this season. Demers is also arguably in his prime right now, with the soon-to-be-28-year-old reaching his career highs in goals and TOI (20:52) in the regular season while also tying his career best in powerplay tallies (3). He did, however, also set a new career high in penalty minutes at 72.

Demers suffered a shoulder injury in the final month of the regular season, and the only time he’s played in all 82 regular-season games was 2014-15 between San Jose and Dallas. But he’s still an improvement over many pieces the Blackhawks used on the blue line this season.

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Mar 14, 2016; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Nikita Nikitin (86) follows the play against the Nashville Predators at Rexall Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports /

Nikita Nikitin, Edmonton Oilers

2015-16 stats: 11 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, minus-5 rating

2015-16 salary/cap hit: $4,500,000/$4,500,000

I genuinely hope Nikitin is not a Bowman target this offseason, but I have to throw his name on this list simply because he almost was a Blackhawk this season, if reports are to be believed.

The Blackhawks were desperately trying to move Bryan Bickell last offseason, with the Oilers trying to do the same with this woefully overpaid, 29-year-old defenseman. And a deal was apparently in place to move these two for one another right before the regular season, but it fell through.

Nikitin, a 2004 St. Louis draft pick, had a 32-point season in Columbus in 2011-12, which led to him being woefully overpaid by the Oilers in 2014. They buried him in the AHL most of this season, and while the big man (6-4, 217) could provide size and some puck-moving ability for the Blackhawks, he just isn’t that good at the NHL level. The Blackhawks have enough iffy blueliners.

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Apr 2, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA;New Jersey Devils defenseman David Schlemko (8) passes the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

David Schlemko, New Jersey Devils

2015-16 stats: 67 games, 6 goals, 13 assists, minus-22 rating

2015-16 salary/cap hit: $625,000/$625,000

Schlemko was finally given a bit of a leash this season, his first with the Devils. Having never played more than 48 regular-season games, Schlemko easily surpassed that this year and posted career highs in goals, assists, game-winning goals (3), powerplay assists (11) and takeaways (16). He also tied his career high in blocked shots (88) and posted his second-highest average TOI (18:39).

So why hasn’t he stuck and gotten consistent playing time with any NHL team prior to this season? It’s probably because he’s been generally average in his career, even in this recent season. His Corsi-for rate despite heavily-tilted offensive-end starts was 49.1 percent, which isn’t impressive. He moves the puck decently but isn’t amazing in the defensive zone. He’s just there.

But at the price he drew this year, he may be a good pick for the Blackhawks. At the same time, they may not want to add someone else they potentially need to shelter away from the United Center.

Next: Four More Unrestricted Free Agent Defensemen

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