Defenseman Cody Franson signed a PTO with the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday, something that has been reported as a possibility for a while. Now that we know some of Marian Hossa’s LTIR money will go to Franson, where will the rest go?
Yesterday afternoon, news broke that the Chicago Blackhawks had signed free agent defenseman Cody Franson to a professional tryout contract.
Before this report was confirmed by the Blackhawks, fans quickly began to speculate, and two specific tweets, as follows, caught my eye:
Some ’Hawks fans will love these lines, others will hate them. But the fact of the matter is, we really can’t predict what coach Joel Quenneville is going to do. What we as fans can do, though, is discuss what we think our favorite team needs, and @2ndCityHockey just started an interesting debate.
Based on that lineup above, and considering all of the other possible players who are currently in the system, how should the Blackhawks use Marian Hossa’s impending long-term injured reserve money? Do they need one more young but established defenseman? Do they need a third-line center? A second- or third-line left winger?
First looking at the defense, there are really only three locks (Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Connor Murphy). Although, we can assume that Franson is almost definitely a lock, unless he really looks like he has lost a step, or he makes it into Q’s doghouse.
After that, we can assume two of Jan Rutta, Gustav Forsling, Michal Kempny and Michal Rozsival will take the remaining spots. As the tweet above suggests, the defensive pairings are likely:
Duncan Keith-Connor Murphy
Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook
Gustav Forsling-Cody Franson
The question is, is that good enough? If the ’Hawks were to waive Rozsival and use Hossa’s LTIR money (close to $6 million) to trade for another defenseman, would it be worth it? It’s important to note that between $1 and $2 million of the $6 million will likely be taken by Franson. For the sake of this article, let’s pretend Franson signs for $1 million.
Da Windy City
Jacob Trouba is an intriguing option because he is young (23), big (6-foot-3) and on an affordable deal (two more years at $2.8 million/year). The question here is, what would the ’Hawks be willing to give up, and what would Winnipeg ask for?
If general manager Stan Bowman could land Trouba, he would still have several million dollars of flexibility. The fact that he isn’t just a rental is key because as seen through this summer’s trades, Bowman is looking toward the future.
Tyler Myers, another Winnipeg player, is also worth a look. With two more years at $5.5 million, he is a little more expensive, but he should be able to fit under the cap as long as Hossa is on LTIR and salary of some sort goes the other way.
As with Trouba, not being a rental goes along with the goal of building toward the future. He is a big body at 6’8, which would definitely make the Blackhawks defense harder to play against, and he could add some of the grit they missed last year.
While both of those trades may be deemed as unlikely, fans need to remember that Bowman has made the “unlikely” trade over and over, and that those are two of many options.
Also, if Bowman doesn’t at least call Vegas to do some due diligence, he isn’t doing his job. Vegas has 13 NHL-ready defensemen under contract and will likely be looking to get that number down to eight or nine, tops. Jason Garrison and Brayden McNabb, among others, are names who wouldn’t look too bad on a ’Hawks sweater.
Besides the debate of whether or not the extra money should be given to a defenseman, the other debate that inevitably will arise is whether or not Bowman should be taking playing time away from the kids. Acquiring another defenseman means one of Forsling, Kempny and Rutta will be playing a lot less. It also heavily decreases the chance we see Erik Gustafsson or even Ville Pokka this year.
At some point, if the Hawks’ want to rebuild their core on the fly, they will need to let the kids play, or trade them for someone who can.
Going onto the forwards, while the top six is basically set in stone, the bottom six is anything from that. To make things fun, let’s assume Alex DeBrincat is NHL-ready by February, and the lines a few weeks from the trade deadline look something like:
Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Alex DeBrincat-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp-Nick Schmaltz-Ryan Hartman
Lance Bouma-Tanner Kero-Tommy Wingles
It’s also important to consider who else may be rotating in regularly — Tomas Jurco, Jordin Tootoo, John Hayden, Laurent Dauphin and Vinnie Hinostroza.
The main debate from ’Hawks fans around this time will likely be whether or not Schmaltz can be the 3C in the playoffs. Another debate will be surrounding the 2LW: should it be DeBrincat? If it’s Sharp, should he move to the third line and have the 2LW be filled through trade?
If Bowman evaluates his team and decides he wants to update his forward group, he would have around $5 million to do so, if you include the Franson signing (we will assume $1 million cap hit).
Bowman could decide to pursue a third-line center, moving Schmaltz to 3LW and Sharp to 4LW, making this a very deep team. Some options follow.
Adam Henrique of the Devils would look great in the 3C role. He is relatively young and would bring a good contract with him: two years left at $4 million per season. He is one season removed from a 30-goal campaign, and has hit at least 40 points every year other than a shortened 2012-13 season.
If at the trade deadline, Bowman is looking for a rental to put his team over the top, Eric Staal could be his guy. The ’Hawks have had interest in him in the past and he brings a large 6-4 frame to line up behind Anisimov, who is the same height. His contract expires after this year, so he most likely would be nothing more than a rental, but at a $3.5 million cap hit for this season, he is definitely affordable.
Left wing options
If Stan decides to pursue a middle-line LW, his options are just as plentiful. A few intriguing ones follow.
We have to start here, don’t we? The ’Hawks, along with many other teams, have been rumored to be interested in Matt Duchene for a long time now, and its no secret that he wants out of Colorado. His stats speak for themselves, and he could play either center or left wing, which would make the lineup combinations endless.
He provides speed down the wings, a secondary faceoff option and a heck of a lot of marketing revenue for the team. His contract has $6 million for the next two years, so some salary would have to go back to Colorado. But because of the Hossa LTIR situation, this is technically possible. Do the ’Hawks have the trade assets for Bowman pull off the unthinkable and get No. 9 in red and white?
His teammate, Gabriel Landeskog, has been rumored to be on the block as well, and he would look absolutely stunning as the ’Hawks 2/3LW. While he had an off year last year, he is a consistent 20-goal scorer, and he would bring some power to the left side.
He counts for $5.5 million against the cap for the next two years, but again, because of the Hossa LTIR, he would fit under the cap, with a little bit of maneuvering along with pieces going back to the Avs. Again, do the Hawks’ have the assets to pull this deal off?
Ever since James Neal was selected by Vegas in the expansion draft, he has been rumored to be on the trading block and the ’Hawks have shown interest. Vegas is building for the future and would love picks and prospects in return, while the ’Hawks want to win while the championship window is still open.
He has one year left on his contract with a $5 million cap hit, so he would be a pure rental, a deal Bowman would only make if he thinks it would make the Blackhawks a clear Cup favorite. Neal’s lowest goal total in a season is 22, so he could inevitably help replace some of the scoring lost in the Artemi Panarin trade.
At this point, it’s all speculation towards how Bowman will use the money gained from putting Hossa’s contract on LTIR. Thinking of the endless possibilities, some realistic and some just dreams, is what we do as hockey fans, and that’s in full effect as the offseason is winding down. Let the debates begin, ’Hawks fans!