For the second year in a row the Chicago Blackhawks were bounced from the playoffs in the first round. This year was a little more painful considering they got swept as a 1-seed and played on their heels for every game of the series. On the bright side, the Hawks will have plenty of time to recover for the 2017-2018 season unlike the 4 teams who are still fighting for that cup (suckers).

I actually thought this was one of the best Hawks teams in recent memory, I was clearly proven wrong, although there are some things to be excited about. This season was considered by many to be a “rebuilding” year for the lack of a better term. The goal for this past season was to develop some of the young guys and hope for the best, then come back strong for 2017-18 season. The Hawks exceeded expectations in the regular season, which earned them the top spot in the West, then the wheels fell off and they embarrassed themselves when it really mattered. The roster is in decent shape but there is some work to be done. This off-season the Blackhawks will be going up against their biggest rival yet again, the NHL salary cap.

Early Moves

  • Blackhawks Trade Scott Darling to Hurricanes for 3rd round pick
  • Blackhawks sign David Kampf from the Czech Republic
  • Blackhawks Extend Richard Panik for 2 years, $5.6 million (2.8 AAV)

There was no way Scott Darling was going to resign with the Blackhawks with Corey Crawford blocking his way. Darling was arguably the best backup goaltender in the league last year, winning 18 games in 32 appearances (27 starts) and posting a 2.38 GAA and a .924 Sv%. There was no question Scott was going to get a starting role somewhere, so the Blackhawks were smart to trade away his negotiating rights to the Canes for some value. Personally, I wouldn’t have liked the Blackhawks to explore the possibility of trading Crawford and his $6 million annual salary in favor of resigning Darling to a team friendly deal. Darling will be making a little over $4 million in Carolina, but I do not think it’s a stretch to say the Blackhawks could’ve signed the Chicagoland native to a deal for around $3.5 million a year. Trading Crow would be a tough pill to swallow because he has been magnificent as a Blackhawk, but a move like this would’ve helped the Blackhawks cap situation immensely.

I do not know much about David Kampf, from everything I have read he is a promising young forward who will probably need a year to marinate in Rockford to get accustomed to an NHL style rink and style of play. This is a move for down the road and I don’t expect him to crack the lineup this upcoming year. The only other thing I know about Kampf is that he is from Jirkov, CZE. I have never been to Jirkov, but phonetically speaking we can assume it is a very gritty place, where they play a vigorous style of hockey. Players from Jirkov likely take a pounding night in and night out, but I’m sure they come out of each game feeling like a new man. I’ll take a player groomed in that kind of environment any day of the week.

I’m torn on the decision to extend Richard Panik. I love Richard Panik, he’s shown flashes of skill that can make Gretzky’s jaw drop and isn’t afraid to throw around his body and get under the skin of opposing players. The Hawks need more guys who can do that. Is Panik a “game-changer”? No, but he is a plus player with plus size which is something the Hawks roster craves. The negative associated with this extension all comes down to money. The Hawks have little cap flexibility as it is, and tossing almost $3 million at this guy is not going to help that situation at all.

State of the Union

The projected cap for this upcoming season is $76 million. As it stands right now the Blackhawks are already hovering right around that number before the off-season begins. It will be interesting to see what Stan Bowman and crew plan on doing to try and shed some real estate off that cap hit. Stan has been a little careless with his pocket book as of late as I alluded to earlier with Richard Panik. The extension the Blackhawks gave Brent Seabrook in 2015 is going to prove to be a costly one for the roster moving forward. Seabrook has been a key member of the franchise for years, even the dark ones. He deserved to be compensated for that, but in the salary cap era, handing out a contract of that magnitude is simply careless. The Blackhawks gave an aging Seabrook, who has shown signs of slowing down for a few years now, an 8 year deal for $6.875 million annually. That contract is already proving to be a disaster and it still has a ways to go. I would note that Seabrook is still a good defenseman, providing a big body and a hammer of a slap shot from the point, his wheels however, are diminishing. Because of contracts like these the Blackhawks may  need to trade away a high profile player to free up some space, or rely on young, unproven players yet again. The Hawks will have the most need on Defense; Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya are set to be unrestricted free agents and Michal Kempny is set to be a restricted free agent. They should be able to sign Kempny on the cheap because he didn’t prove to be much of a factor last year, but Campbell and Oduya are likely gone.  You also can’t forget that Trevor van Riemsdyk is likely going to be Las Vegas’ expansion draft pick, unless they decide to take Marcus Kruger and his $3 million contract, which would be much better for the Hawks cap situation. Kempny will likely fill one of the vacancies on the starting D, the other(s) are more of a question. The Blackhawks have traded some of their best D prospects during recent trade deadlines, but they have a few guys who may be NHL ready. I think Gustav Forsling showed great promise last year in his limited time with the Hawks, and Ville Pokka should be ready to make the climb as well. I think the Blackhawks have enough depth at forward to make due, it will just be interesting to see what they do on defense.

I will get into more roster speculation in a later blog, but right now the Blackhawks have some questions to answer. 1. How are they going to shed cap space, can they trade a bloated contract? 2. Are their top defensive prospects ready to contribute?  3. Were the Hawks just in the wrong place at the wrong time in this year’s playoffs or does the roster need a big-time makeover? Soon enough we will see some of these questions get answered, but right now let’s try to enjoy the remainder of playoff hockey as best we can.