Setting the Scene
The Blackhawks entered July 1st still mired in relative cap purgatory. Their large trades of core pieces Niklas Hjalmarsson and Artemi Panarin did not provide increased flexibility in the short term, and you can read my thoughts on those deals here. With the news of Marian Hossa’s allergy, Chicago can expect some cap relief via LTIR. However, Hossa cannot be placed on LTIR until the start of the season. This means they are forced to operate with Hossa’s deal included in their cap number. We also have to remember that teams cannot go more than 10% above the cap in the offseason, leaving the Blackhawks in a bit of a lurch come the start of July.
What Was Done
While the Blackhawks did nothing overly splashy in free agency, they made a flurry of smaller moves. They also mixed in a relatively small trade. To recap, Chicago signed Lance Bouma, Patrick Sharp, Tommy Wingels, and J-F Berube to one-year deals totaling a million dollars or less. On top of this, in a pure salary dump move, they shipped Marcus Kruger to Vegas. Kruger was later flipped to Carolina for a pick.
The one move that really stands out to me here is the return of Patrick Sharp. Sharp had some struggles last year, particularly with injuries. However, there’s a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the return of one of the best heads of hair in hockey. For starters, let’s look at the rate which he was firing pucks at the net last year:
It’s a list full of enticing players. Almost every player here has a pretty good chance at twenty goals next year. Sharp himself is just a year removed from being a 20-goal, 55-point player. Personally, I love bringing Sharp back. It’s a perfect low-risk, high-reward move. Best case, he’s a bargain top-six guy who puts up 15, 20 goals. Worst case, he’s a depth option who doesn’t play the whole season, but his cap hit doesn’t provide much of an issue for the team. Also, he’s Patrick freaking Sharp. He’s an absolute legend and I’d love this move even if he was trash. Welcome back to Chi-town pal, let the good times roll.
The other three UFAs are a little less exciting. Bouma and Wingels are prototypical 4th liners on low-cost contracts. I’m not particularly enamored with either player, especially considering they’ll be taking away ice time from young players such as John Hayden and Vinnie Hinostroza. However, I understand rounding out the depth, and these sorts of contracts won’t really hurt the team by any means. I think Wingels can play a little, and Lance Bouma at least represents an upgrade on Jordin Tootoo, so there’s that. J-F Berube should provide solid goaltending depth, and could even provide competition for Anton Forsberg in the backup role.
With that, we’ll start looking forward to training camp and the start of the season. Only three months until October.