The NHL free agency period is now more than two weeks old, and Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has already had to make many roster moves in order to navigate the near-stagnant NHL salary cap. Even after trading wingers Brandon Saad -- due to his high contract demands -- and Patrick Sharp, the Blackhawks are still extemely tight against the salary cap. Bowman's work in finalizing the roster for next year is not yet done. But besides who is actually going to be playing in the four feathered sweater next year, there is still another roster decision that needs to be made before the season start.
In trading Sharp, Bowman not only moved an expensive veteran winger, but he unfortunately lost one of his team's longest tenured leaders both on and off the ice. Sharp had worn the alternate's captain "A" on his chest since the beginning of the 2008-09 season, including each of the team's three Stanley Cup wins in the last six years. So while Sharp's production may be missed in the future, the impact on the locker room is almost certain.
However, even with Sharp, Duncan Keith, and Jonathan Toews carrying the honors of lettered leaders, there is certainly no lack of leadership in the Blackhawks locker room, or on the ice. Because that is the case, the decision of who is bestowed the honor of alternate captain may not be easy.
Head coach Joel Quenneville said at this weekend's fan convention that he was still unsure of who would be the new alternate captain, although he had someone in mind. That opens the door up for our speculation. Here are some of the most likely players.
Now six seasons into his monster contract signed prior to the 2009-10 season, Marian Hossa remains one of the most effective and important players in the Chicago lineup. His two-way game is practically unmatched by any other Blackhawk not named Jonathan Toews, and you rarely catch him not giving 100% in any situation on the ice. Additionally, at 35 years old, his veteran status and position as a locker room leader is well documented. As a player who has been one of the greats on his team for many years now, perhaps he deserves to finally be recognized for that by being given named an alternate. He's almost certainly atop the sentimentality list.
As one of the foundational members of the Blackhawks defensive corps, Hjammer has cemented himself as a key cog and instrumental on-ice leader for this team. He is one of the best -- if not the outright best -- "defensive defensemen" in the NHL, playing some of the toughest defensive assignments in the league and excelling at nearly every turn. He's more dark horse than anything in this situation, and I don't really expect him to be named the alternate captain, but the coaching staff may at least consider him.
Patrick Kane has undoubtedly established himself as one of the NHL's best and most talented players, and one of the best players in Blackhawks history. His number 88 is almost certainly a lock to be hung in the rafters when he retires, and he has the potential to set team production records before that time. Moreover, he has matured immensely in his eight-year career, becoming a true leader on and off the ice for the Blackhawks. Kane has also worn the "A" in the preseason many times, for whatever that may be worth.
It's no secret that the two most important players on this Blackhawks team are Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and they are certainly paid as such. Toews has donned the captain's "C" since the 2008-09 season, and it may be time that Kane joins him as a lettered leader.
Here's the name you've likely been looking for. To be quite honest with you, this piece very well could've started and ended with Seabrook. He's almost certainly the top candidate for the "A," and the player than Quenneville has in mind. He has established himself as a leader time-and-time again, at times even having to step into the face of the other leaders on the team, such as during the 2013 playoffs when he famously stepped into the penalty box to calm Toews down after he had just taken consecutive penaties.
The only possible knock that there may be on Seabs' candidacy for alternate captain is his contract situation. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and while there are very likely negotiations going on to extend his contract, if those negotiations aren't going as well as the team hoped, they may name someone other than Seabrook the alternate. If that were to happen, I don't think that would be a vindictive move on the part of the team as much as an effort to keep stability in the leadership group. Still, I don't really see a situation in which Seabrook doesn't wear an "A" for at least a good portion of next season.
One other possible option that there could be is that the team decides to use a platoon system for the second alternate captain. This strategy has been employed by many NHL teams in the past, including the Detroit Red Wings. In fact, the Edmonton Oilers had a rotation of five alternate captains during the 2013-14 season, although their situation is much different from the Blackhawks.
When Detroit did it, they rotated based on whether the game was home or away. Perhaps if the 'Hawks were to platoon the "A," they could take that approach, with Seabrook wearing it at home and Kane or Hossa wearing it on the road, for example. While in theory they could even go to four alternates and rotate, I highly doubt they would take the full-time "A" away from Duncan Keith.
Any of these players would be good selections as an alternate captain. This decision really could just come down to which player(s) are the best at communicating with the officials, a right reserved only for the captain and/or alternate captains of a team. Regardless of who wears the alternate captain's "A" next season, the Blackhawks will definitely not be hurting for leadership on or off the ice.