The Chicago Blackhawks signed Wilmette, Ill., native Tommy Wingels to a one-year contract Saturday, adding another forward to their roster in an effort to boost their depth up front for the upcoming NHL season. It’s a move that has the potential to be beneficial to Chicago without having much risk of backfiring on them, which is always ideal when it comes to free agent contracts.
Wingels has never been much more than a depth forward, with largely unimpressive scoring numbers throughout his career. He started his career with the San Jose Sharks, playing with them for parts of seven seasons before being traded to the Ottawa Senators last season. While with the Sharks, he posted his career highs in goals (16) and points (38) in 2013-14. That production earned him a three-year contract extension from San Jose with an AAV of $2.475 million, according to CapFriendly.
He followed his strong 2013-14 performance with similar numbers in 2014-15, posting 15 goals and 36 points. Since then, though, he has had a hard time living up to his contract. He posted only 18 points in 2015-16 and followed that up with a mere 12 points in 73 games between San Jose and Ottawa last season.
He also hasn’t been impressive in terms of generating possession. He has posted negative relative possession stats each of the past three seasons, meaning his teams have controlled a better share of the shots when he was off the ice than when he was on it. That is certainly not ideal, and essentially a red flag with this signing. It’s likely the Blackhawks believe their system and/or the players they can surround Wingels with will help him in this area.
What Wingels brings to the table more than anything at this point is physicality. He posted three 200-hit seasons from 2014-16, including a 263-hit season in 2014-15. Compare that to last season’s Blackhawks, who had only three guys with 100-plus hits, led by Richard Panik at 147. Wingels immediately adds a dose of aggressiveness to a forward corps that got pushed around at times in the playoffs.
It’s fair to wonder whether this is the best path to go down for the Blackhawks, but adding Wingels doesn’t come with much risk. While there has yet to be any details reported pertaining to what Wingels’ salary will be for 2017-18, given the Blackhawks extremely tight salary cap situation and the fact that it is a one-year deal, it’s safe to believe his salary is quite low. If Wingels ends up being absolutely awful and is more of a detriment to the team than a benefit, they have little money being wasted, and can easily scratch Wingels regularly or bury him in Rockford in the American Hockey League.
If the Blackhawks can create the environment for the 29-year-old to succeed, though, they will have found an effective depth forward on a very cheap contract, which has proven to be a key piece for championship teams in recent years. The Blackhawks have proven their ability to find depth forwards in unlikely places in the past, as well, so it’s not entirely unlikely that this deal ends up working out for them as well.