What’s left for the Chicago Blackhawks after acquiring Brian Campbell?
With the opening day of the NHL’s free agency period now in the past, most teams will go about trying to make smaller signings to round out a potential roster for opening day in October. Count the Chicago Blackhawks among those clubs.
The Blackhawks are pretty tight up against the salary cap, which sits at $73 million for the upcoming season. But that doesn’t mean they have to be done making moves. Low-cost players who can make a big-league impact can be found all over. Think Andrew Desjardins, Brian Campbell and Artemi Panarin (though the last of those three won’t be low-cost for long).
So what else can and should the Blackhawks do short of just letting youngsters come in for training camp to try and fill out the big-league roster? I think they need to go after a low-cost forward.
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Sure, the defense could use someone else, with Trevor van Riemsdyk, Michal Rozsival, Erik Gustafsson and Viktor Svedberg — among others, possibly — filling the sixth blue-line spot. But you get the feeling Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville are satisfied with that group after Campbell’s recent addition.
The forward corps are a little more in doubt. Bowman said shortly after Campbell signed that the team wouldn’t be making any more deals as high-profile as that one. That doesn’t mean no deals are possible. This is Stan Bowman we’re talking about, after all.
When you look at the currently available forwards, Jonathan Toews doesn’t really have set-in-stone linemates for the upcoming season. Andrew Shaw has been dealt (and shouldn’t have been on a line with Toews anyway), Marian Hossa is slowly being transitioned to a third-line bum-slaying role (though he could slot back up if necessary) and Teuvo Teravainen is also gone. Richard Panik is being touted as a top-line guy moving forward, but that’s far from guaranteed.
Going out and finding a top-line wing would obviously not come cheap, but what the Blackhawks can do is go out and find a low-cost forward who is capable of playing on multiple lines, and with multiple linemates.
Right now, the Blackhawks have a second line of Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane, and then a mish-mash of bottom-six guys like Marcus Kruger, Desjardins, Dennis Rasmussen and Brandon Mashinter, not to mention Hossa and Panik. So that’s nine forwards, plus Toews is 10. Youngsters like Tyler Motte, Nick Schmaltz and Mark McNeill (assuming he re-signs) will get cracks at the lineup during training camp.
That doesn’t make for the most promising situation, considering you’d have a lot more question marks than certainties. Plus, if we have to see 82 games of Mashinter, eye-removal surgeries in the Chicagoland area would skyrocket (and the Blackhawks would be shooting themselves in the collective foot).
So we round back to the low-cost forward in free agency. The New York Islanders made a savvy move by signing former Blackhawk P.A. Parenteau to a one-year, $1.25 million deal this weekend. The Blackhawks need to make a similar move.
One name that immediately comes to mind is Brandon Pirri. The Blackhawks cast him off March 2014, and he went on to marginal success in parts of three seasons with Florida and a handful of games with Anaheim.
Pirri, just 25 years old, knows the Blackhawks’ system, and the team could bear to have another true center on the roster. He also served as just a $925,000 cap hit last season, and there’s really no reason he should be getting a whole lot more than that moving forward. He’s right in Chicago’s wheelhouse.
I will also continue to tout the idea of bringing back Tomas Fleischmann, despite the fact he had a handful of “meh” games toward the end of his short run in Chicago last season. He’s 32 years old, but served as a capable and crafty athlete on multiple lines with the Blackhawks. He’s not going to break scoring records, but he’s going to give you solid minutes. At a cap hit of $750,000 last season, Bowman wouldn’t complain.
It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for the Blackhawks to consider bringing back Brad Richards as well. How much the veteran has left in the tank — he tallied 28 points in 68 regular-season games last season and recently turned 36 — is up for debate, but he’s pretty much going where needed at this point at relatively low cost. The Blackhawks could probably get him for less than the $3 million he made in Detroit last season.
Another option could be Minnesota’s Justin Fontaine. I’d tend to think the Wild are negotiating a new deal with him, but he is an unrestricted free agent who has some capability on the bottom six. He’s a smaller guy (5-foot-10, 174 pounds) like the Blackhawks tend to draw toward, and he plays a pretty clean if typically unexciting game. He also had a cap hit of just $1 million each of the last two seasons.
Mike Santorelli would be another option I’d throw out there. Santorelli, a former Nashville Predator, was an August signing of Anaheim last season. He’ll turn 31 during the upcoming season, but he’s plenty capable of taking a few faceoffs, playing the defensive forward role and contributing some points here and there. His cap hit was just $875,000 last season as well.
Again, the Blackhawks shouldn’t necessarily be out looking for a bonafide top-six guy. That would likely be too costly, considering their lack of cap space. But, they can go out and find a reliable, malleable forward (or two, if they’re lucky and Bowman pulls off more magic) to rotate lines and push youngsters up to potentially playing in the top six next season.
When you have to start paying your big guns big bucks, as the Blackhawks have, you also have to get creative with the rest of the roster in order to keep it competitive for a Stanley Cup. Finding a cost-effective forward will go a long way toward that, and it should be Bowman’s next move.