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Blackhawks stick to the clearance section while free agent shopping

Like they always do. And should.

Florida Panthers v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It’s been the same story for the Chicago Blackhawks on each July 1 for about eight years now.

When free agency opens, the NHL goes bonkers, throwing out insane amounts of money dispersed over a period of time that’s far too long.

And then there’s the Blackhawks, sitting on the sidelines, grabbing a few pieces off the bargain racks. Chicago hasn’t done much in free agency following the back-to-back signings of Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

They signed Tommy Wingels, who’s a fourth-line forward. They signed Lance Bouma, who’s a fourth-line forward. They (re) signed Patrick Sharp, who’s probably peaking as a third-liner at this stage of his career.

General Manager Stan Bowman hasn’t had the flexibility to make big splashes in free agency, but that’s probably for the best. But none of the teams among the league’s elite are ever able to do that. The Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t made any big free agency moves in the two offseasons before their most recent Stanley Cups (Phil Kessel was acquired via trade). The Nashville Predators’ big signing in the 2016 offseason? Third-pairing defenseman Yannick Weber. The path to the Cup in the salary cap era is not built in free agency. Ask Minnesota Wild fans how all that money they spent on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter is working.

I don’t know if any of the players signed by Bowman are going to be any good. But at their collective ceiling, they amount to the complimentary performances from depth positions that can help teams win Stanley Cup championships. Think about guys like John Madden in 2010, Michael Frolik in 2013, or Andrew Desjardins in 2015.

But they will not be the primary reasons for the success or failure of the next Blackhawks season.

Whether or not the Hawks get back into contention in the 2017-18 season is going to depend on the players who were on the roster ahead of July 1. It’s going to depend on whether or not Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews can be the possession-driving players that they were when they were teamed up in the past. It’s going to depend on whether or not Patrick Kane can still do what he’s always done even with Artemi Panarin no longer on his opposite wing. It’s going to depend on whether or not defensemen other than Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook can step up to fill the void left by the departure of Niklas Hjalmarsson. And it’s going to depend on whether or not Corey Crawford keeps being one of the best goalies in the Western Conference.

Let the rest of the NHL compete for the offseason championship. A Stanley Cup championship is way more fun.