Tell me if you've heard this one before: the Chicago Blackhawks are going to have to make some changes this summer. After another season right up against the salary cap, Chicago will yet again be forced to re-shuffle the deck for 2016-17 as several players are set to hit free agency and others are set for raises.
The net result will be changes across the roster, not unlike what we saw last season with the mass exodus after the team's Stanley Cup victory. This year's departures probably won't be as substantial -- the team won't lose three players of the caliber of Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya -- but starting with restricted free agent Andrew Shaw, there could be some real losses.
Shaw's not the only player that'll be a free agent soon, however, and one of the big challenges for GM Stan Bowman this offseason will be figuring out who to keep from that group. Trying to retain Shaw seems likely based on comments made at the team's final press conference of the season, but depending on various factors, the situation could play out similarly to Saad a year ago.
Here's a look at every Blackhawks free agent for 2016, and whether the team should try to keep each one of them. Note that this isn't as simple as "Did we like this player?" because of the cap implications and other variables. Sometimes it makes more sense to allocate resources elsewhere than overpay a player even if he's useful. Alas, your 2016 free agents:
Restricted free agents
Andrew Shaw | 2015-16 cap hit: $2 million
Here's the thing with Shaw: the Blackhawks aren't really painted into a corner here. He's a restricted free agent this offseason, so the team could simply make him a qualifying offer worth around $2.5 million and tell him to wait for a year until getting a bigger raise, a la Marcus Kruger. They could also trade him to recoup some picks considering they don't draft before the third round this year. Even if the Hawks can't re-sign Shaw to a long-term extension, there are still ways that this situation can work out favorably for Chicago. Shaw will clearly command interest from other teams, and while he's someone you'd love to have around, that depends entirely on the kind of contract he wants. Otherwise, gimme those picks (or a good young defenseman).
Richard Panik | 2015-16 cap hit: $975,000
Panik has said that he wants to return to Chicago, but that's a common sentiment to hear from players during their end-of-season interviews. What makes the possibility of a Panik return seem more likely is the way that Joel Quenneville seemed to embrace his versatility as an asset on the roster. Shaw has long been the guy that Q turns to when he needs to plug a spot on any of the four lines, and Panik seems to have endeared himself to filling a similar role. The cost likely wouldn't be too high, either, given that Panik is an RFA and didn't exactly cost a major haul to acquire from Toronto in the first place. If they can get him to return on a Andrew Desjardins-like deal -- which has a cap hit low enough it can be fully buried -- that would make a lot of sense.
Mark McNeill | 2015-16 cap hit: $863,333
The team's 2011 first-round pick has never quite broken through at the NHL level, consistently playing a major role in Rockford over the past couple seasons. He made his debut in 2015-16 and could factor in next season as a depth option and potential bottom-sixer like Rasmussen.
Dennis Rasmussen | 2015-16 cap hit: $575,000
Moose got bumped out of the lineup in the latter part of the season but seems like a useful depth player for the Hawks. Presumably he wouldn't cost much to re-sign, so I imagine that happens.
Ryan Haggerty | 2015-16 cap hit: $925,000
Mathieu Brisebois | 2015-16 cap hit: $655,000
Matt Fraser | 2015-16 cap hit: $650,000
Garret Ross | 2015-16 cap hit: $636,666
Four guys who could probably walk without anyone noticing. Haggerty was acquired last year in exchange for Anders Nilsson and might be the most intriguing prospect in the group. Ross probably hurt his chances of getting re-signed after the whole mess involving the Illinois revenge porn law, although the way the team quickly reinstated him after charges were dropped might signal that they're not 100 percent ready to cut ties. I'm not sure why the team would re-sign a fringe prospect after all that, though.
Unrestricted free agents
Andrew Ladd | 2015-16 cap hit: $4.4 million (partially retained by Jets)
No, Ladd probably isn't coming back. Let's just get that out of the way to start. Even with Ladd more or less suggesting he would take less money at this point in his career for the right situation, we've heard that many times before until someone opens up their wallet. It's a lot easier to decline the money when it's not actually being offered to you yet. And while the Hawks would surely love to retain Ladd, they're already strapped for cap space and that's before getting into everyone listed here. Shaw is going to get paid before Ladd ever does, so unless the team somehow manages to clear enough space to sign BOTH of them, Ladd is probably a goner. Again.
Dale Weise | 2015-16 cap hit: $1.025 million (partially retained by Habs)
Other than his huge goal in Game 5 against St. Louis, Weise's time in Chicago didn't quite go according to plan. The forward never quite found his steady role on the team and it quickly became easy to second guess Bowman's decision to trade Phillip Danault and a second-round pick for Weise and Tomas Fleischmann. Danault is arguably a better player right now than both of the veterans that Chicago rented, so it's fair to wonder whether that was a misguided attempt at adding veteran talent without focusing enough on the "talent" part of the equation. I don't think anyone would mind re-signing Weise, especially if Shaw leaves, but only if the price is right.
Tomas Fleischmann | 2015-16 cap hit: $750,000
Here's the veteran rental forward I think the Hawks could and probably should re-sign. Fleischmann couldn't even crack a seven-figure salary as a free agent last offseason, then delivered a very solid year between Montreal and Chicago. He's the kind of two-way forward that Quenneville likes and probably won't be able to command too much of a raise. If the team needs solid, affordable bottom-six options, I'm not sure it needs to look further than Fleischmann.
Christian Ehrhoff | 2015-16 cap hit: $1.5 million (partially retained by Kings)
Michal Rozsival | 2015-16 cap hit: $600,000
Brandon Mashinter | 2015-16 cap hit: $562,500
Three guys from the bottom of the NHL roster who seem highly replaceable. Roszival's return this season was admirable and his understanding of the Hawks' system made him a serviceable depth defenseman, but he got benched against the Blues because he didn't have the legs to keep up in that series. Ehrhoff, meanwhile, didn't even get that shot after some truly rough moments in his brief stint with the team. The most likely to re-sign might be Mashinter, who endeared himself to Q this season and would presumably come back on a dirt cheap contract. That's not an especially exciting proposition, but it might happen anyway.
Jay Harrison | 2015-16 cap hit: $1.05 million
Tim Jackman | 2015-16 cap hit: $700,000
Drew McIntyre | 2015-16 cap hit: $600,000
Kyle Cumiskey | 2015-16 cap hit: $575,000
Mike Liambas | 2015-16 cap hit: $575,000
The UFA edition of "guys who could leave and I'm not sure anyone would notice." Most of these guys are older journeymen and if they re-sign for depth, great, but none of them really factor into the Hawks' 2016-17 plans in a meaningful way.