With NHL free agency getting underway this Friday, teams will turn to the open market as they seek to improve their squads ahead of the 2016-17 regular season. The Chicago Blackhawks will undoubtedly be among them, as they currently have several roster spots open and not a lot of salary cap space to operate with.
According to Cap Friendly, the Blackhawks currently have nine forwards, six defensemen and two goalies signed to NHL contracts for next season. That leaves them needing to fill at least three roster spots to field a legal team, but ideally they add five players to the fold to give themselves some options. Cap Friendly currently has them with $6,390,705 of cap space, so finding five players on that budget could prove to be a difficult task.
Granted, the Blackhawks have a few in house options that could compete for full time spots in the NHL next season. Nick Schmaltz, Tyler Motte, Ryan Hartman, and Kyle Baun are all young forwards who should get long looks and consideration for NHL spots out of training camp. Ville Pokka and Gustav Forsling will seek to make an impact on the back end.
However, all of those players represent unknowns, and they have very little NHL experience among them. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville has a reputation as someone with an affinity for known quantities as opposed to unknown youngsters, so it would unsurprising to see Stan Bowman turn to free agency to find some players with NHL experience who might sign inexpensive contracts. Here are a few options that would be available to the Blackhawks should they look to go that route.
Position: Center/Right wing
Last team: Calgary Flames
2015-16 Cap hit: $975,000
Jooris is a solid two-way forward who is comparable in a lot of ways to Marcus Kruger. With a solid defensive game, Jooris could be a perfect fit for the Hawks as an effective checking line winger to pair with Kruger and another forward like Andrew Desjardins. He appeared in 59 games for the Flames last season, posting 13 points (four goals, nine assists). That was actually a pretty stark drop from his 2014-15 showing when he posted 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists) in 60 appearances.
Jooris also struggled a bit possession-wise in 2015-16. He was only able to post a 47.28 percent Corsi For and a -1.07 percent Corsi relative at 5v5. His drop in production and inability to control possession likely played a big role in Calgary's decision to not offer him a qualifying offer despite his restricted free agent status.
However, Jooris is still just 25 years old, so he's right in his prime and could bounce back. He could very well be a system fit for the Hawks and slot well with Kruger on the checking line. And with his strong defensive game, penalty killing abilities and previous showing of offensive prowess as well, he could be a very good acquisition for the Blackhawks at a cheap price.
Last team: New Jersey Devils
2015-16 Cap hit: $625,000
As one of the more underrated offensive defensemen in the NHL, Schlemko flew under the radar for much of last offseason, eventually signing a one-year deal with the Devils for just $625,000. He went on to have a rather good season for the Devils and heads into this offseason with more attention on him than last season. However, with a number of other better, more proven options than Schlemko available this summer, it remains likely that he could be had on an inexpensive deal.
Schlemko's 2015-16 campaign was not overly impressive, but still very solid. He posted a 3.56 percent Corsi Relative, good enough for second on the Devils among their defensemen who played at least 900 minutes of ice time. He also posted 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 67 games, with 12 of those points coming on the power play, including one goal. That ability to create on the power play could be a solid addition to the Blackhawks' already strong power play from last season, and his puck moving abilities would be very valuable on the back end, as the Hawks' lacking that sort of defenseman last season resulted in many of the blue line's struggles.
If Schlemko could be had at a low price tag, he could be a very welcome addition to the Blackhawks blue line, especially if they end up missing out on Brian Campbell. If the Hawks did manage to land Campbell, the need for Schlemko would be lessened, but he could still have a place on the roster and prove to be a useful depth option for Chicago.
Last team: Washington Capitals
2015-16 Cap hit: $1 million
There's a lot to like about the resume of Mike Richards. As a former team captain with the Philadelphia Flyers and a two time Stanley Cup champion with the Los Angeles Kings, success has followed Richards around throughout his career. He signed with the Washington Capitals during the 2015-16 season after his contract with the Kings was terminated under some suspicious circumstances.
The issue with Richards is that his play as declined quite a bit over the past several seasons, with last season being easily the worst of his career. He was only able to produce five points (two goals, three assists) in 39 games for the President's Trophy winners, resulting in a career worst 0.13 points per game rating. However, while his point production dropped off, he was still able to help the Capitals control 52.37 percent of the shot attempts while he was on the ice at 5v5.
Richards' ability to contribute to puck possession and proficiency as a two-way forward could make him another solid veteran addition to the Blackhawks' bottom six. Also, considering his lowly $1 million cap hit from last season and lackluster performance, there is a real possibility he could be signed to a very inexpensive contract. If the Blackhawks are looking for a known commodity who knows what it takes to be a champion, Richards could make a lot of sense if the money is right.
Adam Hess is a staff writer at Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter at @_adamhess.