After free agency opened up on Sunday, Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman steered clear of making any big moves. Though this is alarming, I’ll explain why it was the right call — and where the team goes from here.
The Chicago Blackhawks signed three players when free agency opened up Sunday morning.
The first is Cam Ward, former Carolina Hurricanes’ 13-year veteran goaltender with playoff experience and more than plenty of time logged as a starter in the NHL. (Click here for a video of his career with the Hurricanes and some pretty flashy saves.) Ward’s deal is one year at $3 million.
Following him was veteran left wing Chris Kunitz, a four-time Stanley Cup champion who will be 39 before opening night. Though Kunitz’s days of 30-goal scoring seasons are over, he still looks more than capable of providing scoring in a bottom-six role with the ‘Hawks this season. Kunitz inked a $1 million dollar deal for one year.
Finally was defenseman Brandon Manning. Manning, 28, is coming off a career-best season with the Philadelphia Flyers. Though his numbers and career prior were not particularly impressive, it’s encouraging to think his best years could be ahead of him. Manning’s contract is the longest of the three, two years at $2.25 million.
These three signings — though Ward is a smart move — are largely disappointing when considering the free agent splash the ‘Hawks could’ve made.
For a deeper analysis on the three of these guys and their potential impact, check the story here.
In order to truly improve a last-place team, you’d generally need more than three low-level signings. If you watched any of the 33-win dumpster fire of a season that was the 2017-18 campaign, you’d know the Blackhawks have quite a few issues to address within their lineup.
Goaltending was a major issue. With Crawford sidelined for a significant portion of the season, the Blackhawks were unable to produce a second goalie willing to take the net consistently and confidently in his absence.
As a result, Bowman signed Ward, a proven No. 1 when needed, to plug that hole.
Da Windy City
Defense was another glaring hole within the roster. Duncan Keith took a step back and had the worst scoring drought of his career (he scored two goals, yet still managed to tally 30 assists). Brent Seabrook struggled in a top-pairing role and looked most effective on the third pairing.
In return, Bowman signed stay-at-home defenseman Manning. Issue is, Manning doesn’t fix the defense — I’m not convinced even another No. 1 defenseman could fix the team’s defensive issues — but it’s a start in attempting to provide a solution.
Additionally, the Blackhawks need help at the center position and would benefit greatly from a consistent scoring top-six winger.
That being said, who wouldn’t?
Bowman didn’t make a splash in free agency, which keeps the ‘Hawks from being Stanley Cup favorites. These three moves will not put the Blackhawks immediately into contention. They are small, short-term fixes with no long-term benefits.
This doesn’t sound too great, but I’ll explain why it’s actually the best thing Bowman could’ve done.