Chicago Blackhawks’ Day 1 Of Free Agency Proves Underwhelming

Day 1 of NHL free agency arrived Sunday, and the Chicago Blackhawks overwhelmingly underwhelmed

The wait for Day 1 of NHL free agency felt like the days leading up to Christmas.  We all had our Christmas wish lists for Santa and set out cookies and milk for him on Christmas Eve night.  But, instead of getting that Xbox One with the coolest new games, you got an Atari with Pong.  That’s what Chicago Blackhawks fans got on Day 1.  Atari with Pong.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman came to agreements with free agents Cam Ward, Chris Kunitz and Brandon Manning.  Pong.  They’re all great guys (although Connor McDavid might not say that about Manning) but not the right guys for the moment.  The ‘Hawks needed a top-four defender, maybe even two, a center who can win faceoffs and a backup goalie.

Here’s what the Blackhawks got

Defenseman Brandon Manning

The 28-year-old former Flyer comes in at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds and is a stay-at-home defender with a bit of a mean streak.  This leaps out as exactly what the ‘Hawks need.

Not so fast, Kowalski! Manning was rated out of the top-six rotation by the Philadelphia press and bloggers.  Manning’s statistics are very mediocre at best.  Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) posted a graphic that should contain a warning for graphic content:

Manning’s stats indicate he is bad at shutting down zone entries and starting zone exits.  He’s not good with offensive zone entries either.  This was his performance with a pretty good Flyers team.

And these items of interest have been the exact items the ‘Hawks have failed at for the past two seasons.  He may be a physical defenseman whom coach Joel Quenneville desires, but is he a GOOD physical defenseman?

Both Bowman and Quenneville have stated that they believe Manning is just starting to come into his own.  We will have to hope that they’re right on this.  In any case, he is still not the top-four defender the team needs.

Forward Chris Kunitz

This left winger comes in at 6-foot, 195 pounds, and will be age 39 when the season begins.  All he has done is win the Stanley Cup four times along with one Olympic gold medal.  He has scored 263 goals and 346 assists in 14 seasons.

He’s done just about everything any hockey player would want to do, and he will say that he’s not done either.  Here he discusses his role with Eric Lear of BHTV:

The question is, how much can he still do at age 39.  If this were five years ago, we’d be excited about adding a 35-goal scorer to the Blackhawks roster.  He’s scored only 29 points in each of the last two seasons, so age has obviously taken its toll.  Bowman feels Kunitz still has enough left to contribute up and down the lineup.

This has all the potential for a feel-good story (probably not), but Kunitz is not the big faceoff specialist center the ‘Hawks need to bolster their puck possession game.

Goalie Cam Ward

The 34-year-old goalie comes to the Blackhawks after a 13-year stint with the Carolina Hurricanes, the only team he has ever played for.  As a rookie in 2006, he won the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe award.  He won gold representing Canada in the IIHF World Championship and was an All-Star in 2011.

His career stats read 318 wins, 244 losses in 668 NHL games, with a goals-against-average of 2.70 and a save percentage of .909.

Like Kunitz, Ward brings a record of success.  The concern is that he hasn’t been particularly good for the last three years.

The ‘Canes brought in ex-Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling to be their starter, but Darling failed to live up to the billing.  Ward regained his starter’s role by default.  Storm Mensing of Blackhawks Breakdown explains why Ward has been bad and why his addition to the ‘Hawks is a bad combination:

There were many other goalie options out there on Day 1.  There were younger and even better goalies who signed for as much or less than what Ward received from the ‘Hawks.

Take a look at the list from CapFriendly.  Alas, this is a done deal for a single roster spot, so the ‘Hawks will have to go with Ward as their back up to Corey Crawford.

Yes it’s only Day 1

Once again, the three main goals to improve this team are to add one top-four defenseman, a big center who can win faceoffs and a dependable back-up goalie.

The three deals struck on Day 1 have only addressed the goalie issue.  And the goalie issue may not really be solved.  And while this was happening, the Colorado Avalanche acquired defenseman Ian Cole and the St. Louis Blues acquired center Ryan O’Reilly.  A pertinent question was posed by The Daily Herald’s John Dietz:

The underwhelming Day 1 of NHL free agency is now history.  What Bowman does next to fulfill his two remaining goals will be crucial to any success the ‘Hawks can hope to have next season.

After spending $6.5 million on three free agents, he will now have to get more creative to properly bolster his roster with respect to the salary cap.  He certainly made his own job a lot more difficult with these questionable moves.  Let’s hope he is the Stan with a plan, without more Pong.