Chicago Blackhawks Hope Their System Can Reignite New Veterans

OTTAWA, CANADA - JANUARY 26: Tommy Wingels
OTTAWA, CANADA - JANUARY 26: Tommy Wingels /

The Chicago Blackhawks acquired a slew of low-cost veterans Saturday at the start of the NHL free agency period hoping to find value in declining players

Before Richard Panik was acquired by the Blackhawks in 2016, the 2009 2nd round pick’s career-high in points was 17.  He played two seasons with the Lightning and one season with the Leafs, going back and forth between the American Hockey League and the NHL.  The 6’1 200 pound winger had the size and potential for success, but it was possible he wasn’t given the right platform to succeed.  Fast-forward to 2017, Panik produced the best season of his career tallying 44 points in 82 games.  Panik also earned himself a two-year contract averaging nearly $3 million per season.

Critics will discount his production giving credit to his linemates Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.  And guess what?  They’re absolutely right.

Stan Bowman’s strategy is to find players with high upside and let them benefit from the superstar production of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith.  Guys like Richard Panik who were once traded for a journeyman like Jeremy Morin are suddenly worth three times as much.  How you ask?

The system.

We all pull our hair out constantly when Joel Quenneville cycles players in and out of his lineup, but that’s all part of his plan to find the best fit.  I know it can be frustrating for players who prefer to have chemistry with their linemates, but Quenneville demands versatility to combat stagnation.

The other part of the system is making players understand their role.  Many of us scream at the television when we see 1st round selection Nick Schmaltz on the 4th line playing a checking role or worse, playing in the AHL.  As impractical as it seems, the system demands players to understand all situations of the game to better round out their ability.  And when a player can play smart and responsible hockey in phases outside their comfort zone, they generally get rewarded with a contract or the opportunity to get one elsewhere.

Same System, New Faces

The players the Blackhawks acquired this offseason via free agency have all bottomed out for various reasons.  Whether that be from health problems, lack of opportunity, or simply a need for a change of scenery, GM Stan Bowman has chosen them because he feels they can produce in the Blackhawks system in one way or another.

Production doesn’t necessarily mean points.  Last season, the Blackhawks were missing size, physicality, speed, and an overall willingness to compete in the playoffs.  It looks as though the ‘Hawks were looking for just that in their recent signings.  With the exception of Patrick Sharp, the Blackhawks acquired veterans in their mid to late twenties who can still skate and bring more than just points to the table.

Unlike last year, Blackhawks prospects aren’t just batting against each other for roster spots.  This year the competition will be increased and most likely sending mediocre performers to the minors.  For bubble players like Vinnie Hinostroza, John Hayden, and Tanner Kero, these free agent signings should serve as a wakeup call.  If you’re going to put up one point all season like Andrew Desjardins did, you better be putting every defenseman you see through the glass.  Otherwise, there are plenty of other guys ready for their chance at the NHL.

Chicago Blackhawks

Patrick Sharp

Now, to those who are upset with the return of Patrick Sharp, I have this to say to you.

Find me a better deal.

Sharp has agreed to a cap-friendly deal to be back in Chicago in an organization that he never wanted to leave.  Just a year ago, Sharp scored 55 points with Dallas playing with young stars Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.  I know he has had concussion issues and had hip surgery, but the expectations on the ‘Hawks aren’t for him to score 30 goals anymore.  He’s not a top six player and probably not even a top unit power-play guy anymore.  But he does bring high hockey IQ, leadership, and camaraderie to a team that just lost a ton of that in Marian Hossa and Niklas Hjalmarsson.

Next: Bowman Prefers Quantity Over Quality

I do believe that if there is a top six opportunity because a player is struggling, Sharp will be one of the first guys to get a shot at it.  He’s been there before and knows United Center ice like the back of his hand.

It’s easy for us to compare Sharp to the reacquisitions of Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya, but to me both of those players were worth the gamble.  The Blackhawks didn’t have to give up much for either of those players and they didn’t work out.  So what?  Part of Bowman’s process is to use the spaghetti theory, throwing pieces at the wall to see what sticks.  And at $800k, let’s hope Sharp does just that.

And who knows, we may be surprised with the type of Sharpie we’re getting back.