Chicago Blackhawks’ Free Agency Raises Eyebrows, But Adds Hope
By John Aubert
The Chicago Blackhawks were partially active on July 1, as they signed goaltender Cam Ward, veteran forward Chris Kunitz and stay-at-home defenseman Brandon Manning. Not all were desirable picks, but they’re hoping to make the most of it.
A majority of the Chicago Blackhawks fan base is coming out of Day 1 of NHL free agency with skepticism and worry about the moves the team made. Acquiring players who aren’t standout performers this day and age was going to raise some eyebrows, but it could be a lot worse.
Ward is a tricky goaltender. Inconsistency has been rife in his career the past three or four years in Carolina with the Hurricanes, but a fresh revival in a new city could bring some new hopes and a new edge for the goalie.
Ward went 23-14-4 last year with a 2.73 goals-allowed average and a .906 save percentage. To be honest, those stats are mediocre at best, but you have to take a look at the team in front of him.
As a team below playoff contention, it was hard for him to be on top of his game. Also to note, he was losing his starting position to former Blackhawk Scott Darling.
Ward, depending if Corey Crawford is healthy and back to his old self, will be the team’s backup. With recent struggles, It’s hard to see the goaltending setup not getting back to better shape than last year, when the Blackhawks had a revolving door swinging back and forth between goaltenders.
Now, things seem secure, and we should all be hopeful to have some solidarity in the crease. Maybe now Ward will have something to play for, maybe something worth playing for.
As a left wing, who has won four Stanley Cup titles, Kunitz can bring a lot to the table.
Da Windy City
Despite being 38 years old and having a dwindling statistical performance, there’s reason to believe he can bring some effort to the team’s bottom six and help pick up the youth and guide it in the right direction.
Kunitz didn’t exactly have a career year with the Tampa Bay Lightning last year, as he only had 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) in 82 games. On a team with a lineup full of stars, Kunitz played the same role as he will on the ‘Hawks; on the bottom two lines, uplifting the younger talent.
To be honest, this is where Kunitz belongs. He’ll bring a veteran presence to help the youth, and most-likely put up 10-15 goals in the process, which will help tremendously where the Blackhawks need it. It’s not as bad as you think. He could be the team’s next Patrick Sharp and guide with his veteran presence.
As the most silent acquisition, Manning brings something the ‘Hawks could use this fall. Defensive issues were the team’s biggest weakness besides goaltending issues last year, and defensive depth is what the Hawks’ need most moving forward.
Manning, who had a career-high seven goals and 12 assists in 65 games with the Philadelphia Flyers last season, brings a stay-at-home style of defense which is great for a team like the Blackhawks, for whom goaltending seems a bit fragile.
Yes, he’s a bit mischievous with the puck and has some turnover issues, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with some chemistry with potential line changes and fixes as the time passes.
Manning most likely will play as the last defensive line with Erik Gustafsson or Brent Seabrook. Or, who knows, he could end up playing with Gustav Forsling or Jan Rutta depending on what happens with Coach Q’s vision of the team. No matter what, the Blackhawks now have a little bit of flexibility on the back end to try new options and weigh potential outcomes.
Next: Blackhawks' Day 1 Of Free Agency Underwhelming
No matter what, the Blackhawks seem just a bit better than they were a few months ago. Like none of us expected last season and how that went, the team could surprise us and bring upon a new chapter of Blackhawks hockey. The future seems gray as of now, but we’ll only see the team’s true colors come October.