Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks’ Defensive Free Agents, Part II

By Colin Likas
Feb 20, 2016; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Detroit Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser (65) skates on the ice in the second period against the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre. The Senators defeated the Red Wings 3-2 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 20, 2016; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Detroit Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser (65) skates on the ice in the second period against the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre. The Senators defeated the Red Wings 3-2 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports /
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April 17, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen (45) blocks Nashville Predators center Filip Forsberg (9) from playing the puck during the first period in game two of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks

2015-16 stats: 78 games, 10 goals, 32 assists, plus-12 rating

2015-16 salary/cap hit: $1,275,000/$1,262,500

Vatanen has really found his game with the Ducks the last two seasons. After posting 37 points in 67 regular-season outings in 2014-15, Vatanen returned this season with one more point in four more regular-season affairs. Nineteen of his points came on the man-advantage, as Vatanen is a capable puck mover and powerplay quarterback, something the Blackhawks could use on the back end.

Vatanen is a smaller defenseman, checking in at 5-foot-10, 183 pounds. But he can skate himself out of trouble, similar to Nick Leddy (we miss you). He has shown a little carelessness with the puck as well, though, as he posted a minus-20 differential in takeaways to giveaways in the regular season, as well as a minus-5 mark in the postseason.

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This guy can eat minutes, averaging just shy of 21:30 ice time per regular-season game in the last two years. That number bumped up to just more than 23 minutes in the ongoing postseason. His possession stats haven’t taken a dive with this ice time, either, as his Corsi-for mark is just above 50 at evens.

The nearly-25-year-old just does his job, and he’d be a rock-solid piece to place on the blue line. Unfortunately, he’s probably due for a raise in the offseason, something the Ducks can more readily give Vatanen than a team like the Blackhawks can.

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April 17, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm (47) moves the puck against Nashville Predators during the first period in game two of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks

2015-16 stats: 80 games, 10 goals, 21 assists, plus-10 rating

2015-16 salary/cap hit: $832,500/$894,167

So, if Vatanen might cost too much for the Blackhawks to pry away from Anaheim, let’s try a cheaper, younger option. Lindholm is not as much of an offensive dynamo as Vatanen, as Lindholm gets almost even zone starts (Vatanen’s are heavily tilted to the offensive side). But it’s not for a lack of ability, as Lindholm potted goals at even-strength (5), on the man-advantage (4) and while shorthanded (1) this season.

Opposite of Vatanen, Lindholm is a big boy at 6-3, 205. He can skate well enough considering his size, but he’s really good at getting in the shooting lanes (122 blocks this season) and using his body (80 hits). Similar to Vatanen, though, Lindholm has trouble hanging on to the puck. He posted 65 giveaways in the regular season versus just 18 takeaways, and he gave the puck to the opposition 11 more times in seven playoff games.

Still, Lindholm’s possession stats are very strong, checking in at 57.24 Corsi-for percentage at evens. The 22-year-old could have a bright future in the NHL, but there are probably some things he still needs to work on (better utilizing his offensive talents, hanging on to the puck).

If the Ducks are going to blow everything up after dumping coach Bruce Boudreau, there’s a chance Lindholm sneaks through the cracks. The Blackhawks wouldn’t have to give him a massive raise from his most-recent paycheck, either. Lindholm would be a great guy, in my opinion, to develop under the likes of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson (and probably Michal Rozsival, because you know he’s coming back).

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Mar 12, 2016; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Arizona Coyotes defenseman Michael Stone (26) and Edmonton Oilers center Mark Letestu (55) fight for position during the second period at Rexall Place. Arizona Coyotes won 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /

Michael Stone, Arizona Coyotes

2015-16 stats: 75 games, 6 goals, 30 assists, minus-10 rating

2015-16 salary/cap hit: $1,450,000/$1,150,000

This one has more to do with the cost than with the possibility of actually acquiring said player. The Coyotes have ample cap space and will probably make Stone one of their first targets for a new deal in the offseason. With Oliver Ekman-Larsson appropriately gets most of the rub on the blue line, Stone is no pushover.

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He’s another big dude (6-3, 210), but he really uses his body for all it’s worth. His 137 hits and 143 blocked shots attest to that. Stone has rapidly made himself one of Arizona’s most reliable defensemen in terms of eating minutes as well, jumping from an average TOI of 18:12 in 2013-14 to 22:29 this season.

Stone has found key use on the powerplay, notching 14 assists there. His shooting percentage was a meager 3.7 on 161 bids, which means his offensive stats could be even better. The one knock against Stone is his possession stats, which don’t look too pretty (47.23 Corsi-for at evens) despite nearly-even zone starts.

This would be a great guy to develop on a blue line with any sort of veteran presence, but the Coyotes likely wouldn’t let Stone go without a major fight. And they have the ability to match a lot of offer sheets at this point.

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Apr 9, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug (47) gets ready for a face-off during the first period against the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

Torey Krug, Boston Bruins

2015-16 stats: 81 games, 4 goals, 40 assists, plus-9 rating

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

Krug is a strange case, and I say that because it should be obvious the Bruins hang on to him. However, this isn’t a front office that’s well known for recent strong talent evaluation (see the trading of Seguin, Tyler), so there’s always an outside chance Krug gets off the hook as the Bruins’ way of overreacting to their late-season meltdown.

He’s also a strange case because the Blackhawks probably can’t afford him, since he’s due at least a minor raise this offseason. So why is he on this list? Well, don’t doubt that Stan Bowman wouldn’t do something insane if the right opportunity came along.

Krug offers a little bit of everything, getting in front of pucks (94 blocks) despite being a smaller blueliner (5-9, 186). He can move the puck and quarterback a powerplay, as evidenced by his boatload of helpers (18 of the 40 assists came on the powerplay). He shoots a crazy amount, clocking 244 attempts this season (that’s more than anyone on the Blackhawks not named Patrick Kane). He can eat minutes (21:37 ATOI), and he can posses the puck (51.21 Corsi-for at evens).

But, again, the Blackhawks landing Krug would take a ton of maneuvering and an absolute failure on Boston’s part to re-sign a guy it obviously should. Of course, Jonathan Toews managed to fall into Chicago’s lap back in the 2006 draft, so there’s a precedent for the Blackhawks getting lucky with acquiring strong players.

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Mar 5, 2016; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (55) skates with the puck behind the net during the first period against the Minnesota Wild at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports /

Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres

2015-16 stats: 82 games, 9 goals, 32 assists, minus-21 rating

2015-16 salary/cap hit: $832,500/$925,000

Ristolainen was a guy whose name I threw out last offseason as a potential Blackhawks’ free agent signing, but he was eventually re-inked by Buffalo. With that team’s goaltending and defensive situations in shambles most of the season, Ristolainen was counted on in a lot of areas.

Considering he’s 21 years old, I would say 202 shots on goal, 21 powerplay points, 139 hits, 137 blocked shots and an average TOI of 25:17 (!) is a fair return on investment. Of course, there are downsides, otherwise Ristolainen would be on a longer-term deal.

He actually skates well for his big frame (6-4, 207), but his possession stats stunk this season. He was offered more offensive-zone starts, but managed a weak 45.29 Corsi-for mark at evens. He also gave away the puck at a worse than 2:1 ratio.

The Blackhawks haven’t used a ton of guys Ristolainen’s size on the blue line since Joel Quenneville got around, with the likes of Viktor Svedberg and John Scott being exceptions. Still, if the price is right, Ristolainen could be a useful piece.

Next: Five More RFA Defensemen

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