The Chicago Blackhawks made five signings on the first day of NHL free agency, highlighted by the return of veteran Patrick Sharp on a potential bargain deal. He took just $800,000 in base salary and $200,000 in potential bonuses to come back to his old stomping grounds.
The Hawks also added a pair of fourth-line forwards in Tommy Wingels and Lance Bouma, a third goaltender in Jean-Francois Berube, and a depth defenseman in Jordan Oesterle.
You’ll notice those are all pretty minor moves, and that’s because the Blackhawks didn’t have any money to spend. It’s apparent at this point that their plan going forward is to trade Marcus Kruger, hit a $75 million salary cap for opening day, then place Marian Hossa on long-term injured reserve on the second day of the season.
That’ll allow them to use up to $80.275 million in cap spending during the season, which will provide flexibility for injury management and accruing cap space that can go toward midseason additions. If the Hawks placed Hossa on LTIR before the season, they could spend the $80.275 million now, but they’d be tied into a roster with minimal flexibility.
So they’ve decided to keep it cheap, and add a few players on low-salary deals that should still allow them to hit $75 million. Here are some thoughts on each move.
Details: One year, $800,000 cap hit, plus $200,000 in performance bonuses
The most controversial move of the day, mainly because some people are getting a little tired of the retreads after Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, etc. But in the case of Sharp, it’s hard to argue against this move at this time.
The deal Sharp took from the Blackhawks is ridiculously team-friendly. A $800,000 base salary means he’ll cost the same amount as Tomas Jurco, and with only $200,000 in potential bonuses, there’s no chance for a big cap overage like the ones they’ve had the past two seasons.
Sharp also might not be done! Yes, he’s had some serious injury issues that are worth noting and he’s 35 years old. But Bowman said his recent hip surgery was not a concern for the team in signing him, and he’s only one season removed from a 55-point season. He also shot just 5.5 percent last season. There’s usually a good chance that kind of stuff doesn’t last.
So I like this move. Whether Sharp tries to play in the top six or gets used on the third line, this beats putting all the chips on guys like Tanner Kero, Vinnie Hinostroza, and Jurco to produce.
Details: One year, cap hit unknown
The Blackhawks are never shy to add local players, and Wingels grew up just outside Chicago in Wilmette, Ill. He graduated from the same high school as me, so he gets bonus points for that.
Wingels is also a physical presence who immediately changes the Hawks’ dynamic a bit. It’s clear they feel like they got pushed around too much in the playoffs, so they’re hoping guys like Wingels can bring a bit more of an edge to stifle that.
Will it work out? I’m not sure, but ideally, Wingels will also find the offensive touch he had earlier in his career. The 29-year-old recorded 31 goals and 74 points over the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons with the Sharks. If he can produce at that level in the bottom six while bringing the grit? People will love the hometown product.
Details: One year, cap hit unknown
If the Blackhawks are going to lose Kruger, they’ll need help on the penalty kill. Bouma clearly is being brought in with that in mind. He’s a penalty killer with good size whose gotten minutes in that role for years.
The trouble is that Bouma hasn’t been all that effective.
He also has just 14 points over his last 105 games.
You can see what the Blackhawks are going after here, but if they’re hoping Bouma can help replace Kruger, that may not work out well.
Details: Two years, $750,000 cap hit
The Blackhawks needed a third goalie, and Berube is a fine choice. He struggled in a brief stint with the Islanders last season, but he’s consistently been solid in the AHL over the past few years.
The Hawks already have their top two in Corey Crawford and Anton Forsberg, so Berube will likely open the season in the AHL alongside Jeff Glass. It probably won’t be as nice as having Scott Darling around, but the Hawks have addressed their complete lack of goalie depth for the time being.
Details: Two years, $650,000 cap hit
Another defenseman to throw into the mix for depth. He’s recorded 57 points in 88 AHL games over the past two seasons. Sure, why not.