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Chicago Blackhawks Sign Cam Ward, Chris Kunitz, Brandon Manning

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RALEIGH, NC - APRIL 7: Cam Ward #30 of the Carolina Hurricanes slates out of the crease during a timeout of a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 7, 2018 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - APRIL 7: Cam Ward #30 of the Carolina Hurricanes slates out of the crease during a timeout of a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 7, 2018 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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The Chicago Blackhawks signed veterans Cam Ward, Chris Kunitz and Brandon Manning on Sunday as free agency opened up

The Chicago Blackhawks opened up the 2018 free agency period by signing three different veterans: goaltender Cam Ward, forward Chris Kunitz and defenseman Brandon Manning.

While they are not in the running for many of the big names currently on (and soon to be off) the market, they added three different pieces who bring value to their team next season. I’ve detailed the signings and potential impact of each of them.

Chris Kunitz

Noise surrounding the Blackhawks and Kunitz surfaced hours before free agency opened, courtesy The Athletic’s Michael Russo.

The deal became official this morning as Kunitz, 39 before the start of this coming regular season, inked a one-year deal.

Kunitz will take over the veteran role played most recently by Patrick Sharp last season. He’s won the Stanley Cup four different times, once with the Anaheim Ducks and three times with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Kunitz has been in Pittsburgh since the 2009-10 season and will add a quality leadership presence in to the ‘Hawks’ locker room. Kunitz will add needed scoring to a likely bottom-six role next season.

Brandon Manning

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In addition, the Blackhawks added 28-year-old Manning to their roster on a two-year deal. Manning is a left-handed defenseman who’s spent his six-year career with the Philadelphia Flyers.

He had the best season of his career last year, which resulted in his second trip to the playofs with the Flyers. In 65 games, Manning had a career-best seven goals and 12 assists.

According to Hockey Reference, Manning has averaged 17:23 minutes of ice team in his career. He looks to add depth to a Blackhawks defense, which was well below par last season. He could fit well on the second defensive pairing with Brent Seabrook, or, depending on the remainder of free agency, join the competition for the two third-pairing spots.

Manning’s deal is two years for $2.25 million.

Cam Ward

The Chicago Blackhawks signing Ward was an anticipated event initially reported by Jay Zawaski.

Today, they made things official by inking the 13-year veteran and Conn Smythe-winning goaltender to a one-year deal.

The ‘Hawks have been without goalie Corey Crawford since Dec. 23 of the 2017-18 season and struggled mightily in his absence. The No. 2 position, initially handed to Anton Forsberg, was perhaps the biggest question mark for the Blackhawks last season. Five different goalies tried to win the backup job during Crawford’s injury. None of them were good enough to do so,

Ward seems to be the guy to finally change that. His on-ice performance isn’t an exponential upgrade in comparison to the performances the ‘Hawks saw last year in goal. However, he brings experience and consistently with him that the other No. 2 goaltenders lacked.

Chicago Blackhawks’ backup situation

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  • There’s a significant portion of the Blackhawks fan population that is less than happy with the Ward signing. That being said, I’m going to take my time to tell you why it is not only smart, but still a significant upgrade to the situation in net last season.

    To start, let’s review how the guys Ward will be replacing played last season in Crawford’s absence. The Blackhawks had six different goalies make an appearance last season. One of them was a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender with the ability to change the momentum, or outcome, of a game with a single save. His name is Corey Crawford.

    Another was an accountant who came on in an emergency role and stopped 7 out of 7 shots in 14 minutes of play. His name is etched in history. He is Blackhawks legend Scott Foster.

    The other four are another story.

    These guys, Anton Forsberg, Jeff Glass, Jean-Francois Berube and Collin Delia, started a total of 55 games for Chicago last season. They won a whopping 17 of them. It’s worth mentioning that Berube was recently traded to create a goaltender roster spot for the Ward signing (story).

    Cam Ward versus past backups

    Obviously, winning 17 games in 55 starts is a pretty miserable statistic for the group of Blackhawks backups. In comparison, in 42 starts last year, Ward went 23-14-4. That being said, goalies are more than simply their record. To truly compare Ward with the backups the ‘Hawks played, I combined their statistics to measure up against Ward’s numbers.

    Forsberg, Glass, Berube and Delia started 55 games. In those, they posted a combined .897 save percentage with a 3.51 goals against average. In addition, only 41.3 percent of their starts were deemed “quality starts,” these stats according to Hockey Reference (and my calculator).

    On the other hand, Ward put up a .906 SV% with a 2.73 GAA. Twenty-one of his 42 starts were quality starts. His quality save percentage of 50 is just 3 percentage points below the league average. While these numbers aren’t outstanding, Ward isn’t an outstanding goaltender.

    He is, however, experienced and reliable; two qualities the Blackhawks badly need in a backup. The hope is that Ward will provide stability in a net which badly needs it as Crawford’s health remains up in the air heading into next season.

    Cam Ward is the replacement number two for the time being. That being said, Mark Lazerus reported:

    Next: What Future Could Look Like Without Crawford

    While it will take some time to see whether or not this pans out, Ward’s numbers are certainly encouraging and he comes cheaper than other free agent goalies on the market.

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