After seeing the 2013-2014 season come to a disappointing end in game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Kings, the Blackhawks have to make some moves in order to fill open roster spots and strengthen the weaknesses in which the Kings exploited in the series. Now some may ask "Why specifically the Kings?" even though the Western Conference is loaded with talented teams already along with young teams like the Minnesota Wild and the Colorado Avalanche who are already talented and look to turn themselves into Stanley Cup contenders, at the time the only competition the Blackhawks truly face are the Kings. The Kings like the Hawks are loaded with talent, however play a completely different game than the Hawks. The Blackhawks who have a ton of very talented skaters, tend to use their speed to their advantage while trying to avoid a physical play at all times. While the Kings who have a group of talented players who have big bodies tend to use their physical play to their advantage. The Hawks were last in the league in total hits during the regular season trailing the Wild who were second to last by 37 hits. Now where do the Kings factor into the equation in total hits during the regular season? Los Angeles ranked first in the entire league with 2,609 hits matched only by the Columbus Blue Jackets at that number. So where do the Blackhawks go from here?
The Blackhawks are expected to start with the contracts of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Both are entering their final year in their contracts and have expressed interest in signing long term deals. Recent rumors have both players signing on for deals possibly worth more that $8 million. After that, the Hawks will be looking to fill any roster spots that need to be filled due to free agency. With recent news saying that the Hawks will not re-sign Michal Handzus, there is an open center position. This comes with a lot of demand from fans for the Hawks to sign a second line center in which they dearly need. However, don't expect the Hawks to sign a center of second line talent, in fact don't look for the Hawks to sign a center at all. Look for the Hawks to stick with the top 2 lines returning from the previous season with Toews, Hossa, and Sharp being on the first line and Shaw, Saad, and Kane to be on the second line. This could lead to the emergence of Teuvo Teravainen as the third line center if they don't peg Marcus Kruger in that spot. The Hawks will not go into free agency trying to hand out another big contract to a center when they will look to try and get Teravainen more time in the pros in order to try and fully develop his game into being a star like the Hawks expect him to be. You can also expect the Hawks to let go of the remaining unrestricted free agents as none of them seemed to find a role on the team this season and again signing them will take away spots from guys in the system who the Hawks are looking to develop. The remaining unrestricted free agents are: Peter Regin, Nikolai Khabibulan, and Sheldon Brookbank. Look to see stud defenseman Adam Clendenning or Trevor van Riemsdyk to make the jump to the NHL in order to replace Brookbank and for Matt Carey to replace Regin. Next we look to the Restricted Free Agents, being: Antti Raanta, Jeremy Morin, and Ben Smith. They are very high on both Smith and Morin so expect both to be back with Morin making the jump to be a full time NHL player and for Smith to be a third line winger. The big question out of the restricted free agents comes from rookie goaltender Antti Raanta. Once Raanta became Corey Crawford's full time backup, there were flashes of greatness from Raanta, however he did end the season very poorly. If the Hawks decide to part ways with the young goaltender look for them to look to veteran free agents to fill his spot. One option here would be Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur, who will be 42 entering the season and coming to the end of the line in his career. There are a couple of upsides to signing Brodeur. First, Corey Crawford would be able to learn from Brodeur and if Crawford isn't an elite goalie already, I can only imagine what he would become during and after a year with having Brodeur as his backup. Another advantage to signing Brodeur would be adding locker room experience that we are losing in the loss of Handzus, as Brodeur has seen what it takes to win Stanley Cups, and how to be successful in the league, which could help the younger players who are looking to break into the rotation and make a name for themselves in Chicago. Now if the Hawks decide that they don't want Brodeur to be a short term backup for one and at a stretch two seasons, an interesting option could be Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk did have a setback year in Nashville as his save percentage sat at a low .891. However, prior to this year while being the starter for a young Edmonton team posted save percentages of .916, .914, and .920 in the three seasons before. Dubnyk could become a solid goaltender and the Hawks could get him for a cheap price due to his bad year in Nashville. Next up are possible replacements on defense. A already covered look for both Adam Clendenning and Trevor van Riemsdyk to both be up in the NHL this coming year. However also, look to see enforcer Theo Peckham or David Rundblad to make an appearance in the rotation at some point during the year. The 26 year old Peckham provides an enforcer in which the Blackhawks dearly missed especially during the Western Conference Finals in which a majority of the goals scored by the Kings were due to a presence in front of the net by the Kings. Rundblad who the Hawks acquired in a trade with the Phoenix Coyotes around the trade deadline is an excellent offensive defensemen who could use some development on his defensive skills, and who better to do that than arguably the best two way defensemen in the game right now, Duncan Keith?
Even though we will be seeing the usual faces at the top of the rotations how will the lines shake up for the beginning of the next season? I expect the top two lines from the end of the season to stick together, with the first line shaping up to be Sharp, Toews, and Hossa, and the second line will be Saad, Shaw, and Kane. I expect the Hawks to then give a full time roster spot to Joakim Nordstrom who will start at left wing for the third line, and he will be joined with Marcus Kruger, and Ben Smith who will be resigned this off season. The fourth line will be a mix of some young talent and some veterans with Bryan Bickell, Teuvo Teravainen, and Jeremy Morin, who will finally be able to crack the rotation and be given an opportunity to prove that he is the player that everyone has hoped he would turn out to be. Expect to see some younger players being brought up throughout the season like: Matt Carey, Ryan Hartman, and Kevin Hayes if the Hawks are able to sign him before they lose their rights to him. Next on Defense, I expect the top two pairings to stay the same with the first pairing being Duncan Keith with Brent Seabrook, and the second pairing being Niklas Hjallmarsson. I would hope the third pairing features Nick Leddy with Theo Peckham, however I expect Quennville to stick with Leddy and Roszival. Expect to see young defensemen Trevor van Riemsdyk and Adam Clendenning to make apperances with the Hawks if not being involved in the rotation. When it comes to the goaltender situation, I think the optimal result would be for Crawford to be the starter with Brodeur as his backup and Raanta as the starter in the AHL, however I believe that the Hawks will resign Raanta and not sign any other goaltenders this offseason leaving Raanta in as the backup for Crawford.
When it comes to the upcoming draft, I would expect to see the Hawks go away from their usual pick of a forward in the first round, and I would expect to see them pick a defensemen. A couple of names that I have heard float around are Julius Honka, a defensemen from the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL, and I have also heard Jack Glover a defensemen from the United States National Development Team of the USHL. Selecting a defensemen would make the most sense to me as the Hawks don't really have any needs on offense as they have so much talent that guys are forced to be in the AHL just to get playing time. I also see selecting a goalie a viable option in the first round as the future of the backup goalie is very foggy and being able to develop a goalie of the future could be a smart decision.