Free agency opened up for the Chicago Blackhawks with the expectation that they were going to make a splash. They had salary cap space for the first time in a while, some glaring needs and were coming off a disappointing season to say the least. It was the perfect time to make a high-impact signing or trade, especially to upgrade that defense.
Except they did the opposite of that. The three free agents they signed were goalie Cam Ward, forward Chris Kunitz and defenseman Brandon Manning. None of those players even come close to some of the marquee options like James van Riemsdyk or John Tavares. The Manning signing isn’t exactly screaming “top-4,” which is something the Blackhawks need desperately.
Most fans seemed to know that free agency wasn’t going to fix the Blackhawks blue line. The best player set to hit the market was John Carlson, but he ended up re-signing with Washington before free agency even began. After that, the talent level dropped. Sure there were players like Ian Cole or Calvin de Haan, but they weren’t considered top-4 options. The Blackhawks were going to have to make a trade.
They had two first-round draft picks this year, thanks to a midseason trade with the Nashville Predators. Analysts and fans alike were speculating that Chicago would trade one of those picks in a package deal. That never happened, and right now trade talks have appeared to stall significantly.
The one player that Chicago is linked to the most is Carolina’s Justin Faulk, but the Hurricanes have reportedly been asking for Brandon Saad. That isn’t going to happen, even though Saad is coming off the worst season of his career. The Blackhawks are not going to sell that low on him anyways.
There have been some other rumors going around. One of the more popular ones has been general manager Stan Bowman attempting to ship out Marian Hossa’s contract. Even though he isn’t going to play hockey again, teams looking to reach the salary floor might be looking at it. Despite a cap hit of $5.275 million, Hossa is only owed a real life salary of $1 million.
The Ottawa Senators appear to be the team most linked to this, considering all the turmoil that is occurring with that organization. Coupled with the growing certainty of their star defenseman Erik Karlsson being shipped out, Ottawa is looking like a team that is going to need players just to reach the cap floor.
Unfortunately, Bowman appears to just be waiting something out. Unless a major trade happens involving Hossa or even Artem Anisimov, it’s looking like this team is done with improvements until training camp. The Blackhawks defense of the future is looking stellar, but their present blue line is a disaster.
They have a lot of unproven talent, a plethora of third-pairing players, and an aging Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Couple that with the ever-so-present question if Corey Crawford can return to his top form, and this team is heading towards another missed postseason. The rest of the Central Division improved, and the Blackhawks are just standing still.
It’s possible that Bowman does have a plan in place. But right now, the Blackhawks are just not doing anything. It’s hard to say the team can do worse than they did last year, but that is where they are heading. The clock is ticking; and the Hawks are running out of time.