2018 NHL free agency: Potential defensemen targets for the Blackhawks
There aren’t many quality options available this year.
(A quick note: This article was going to include goalies, but since it appears Cam Ward is on his way to Chicago, it didn’t seem worthwhile to discuss any other free agent options in net.)
As we mentioned Thursday, the Chicago Blackhawks do have some salary cap space to utilize this offseason. We’ve already been over the forwards who’ll be available to sign as free agency opens Sunday. Now it’s time to take a look at the defensemen.
But there’s some bad news there. If you thought the list of top free agent forwards available this summer was underwhelming, well ...
2017-18 team: Detroit Red Wings
2017-18 cap hit: $6 million
Status: Unrestricted free agent (UFA)
Stats: 66 games, 8 goals, 25 assists, 48.07 CF% (all possession stats via Corsica)
Starting this list with a 32-year-old defensemen coming off of neck injury in April should say a lot about the players available in this year’s class of free agent blue-liners. Green remains a solid contributor on the offensive half of the rink, but his defense has been called into questions at times and now his health will be a major concern following that operation and other health problems that have followed him for the last two seasons.
Calvin de Haan
2017-18 team: New York Islanders
2017-18 cap hit: $3.3 million
Stats: 33 games, 1 goal, 11 assists, 49.07 CF%
A shoulder injury in mid-December ended de Haan’s season abruptly. A first-round pick in 2009, de Haan played well for the Islanders during the team’s run to the playoffs in the 2016-17 season, with de Haan scoring five goals and adding 20 assists. This seems like the type of player who could fit on a second or third pairing with the Hawks, given de Haan’s solid all-around game. And at just 27 years old, he likely still has several prime seasons remaining. The aforementioned injury could also keep de Haan from demanding a long-term, high-dollar contract, something that could also draw interest from the Blackhawks.
2017-18 New York Islanders
2017-18 cap hit: $2.2 million
Stats: 69 games, 5 goals, 20 assists
A lot of what can be said about Hickey is identical to what was mentioned about his teammate de Haan above. Hickey was a fixture on the Islanders’ penalty kill but saw virtually no time on the power play. He’s just 29 years old and Hickey has played in 409 NHL games in his career. He could be another option of the Blackhawks are looking to add a potential top-four defenseman through free agency.
2017-18 team: New Jersey Devils
2017-18 cap hit: $1.67 million
Stats: 81 games, 7 assists, 11 goals, 49.05 CF%
Moore is the same age as de Haan but without quite as much upside. Whereas de Haan could work his way into a role as a No. 3 or No. 4 defenseman on a team like Chicago, Moore is best-served as a No. 6 defenseman and probably miscast in just about any other role.
2017-18 team: Winnipeg Jets
2017-18 cap hit: $5.75 million
Stats: 43 games, 1 goal, 5, assists, 52.2 CF%
Enstrom’s offensive numbers have steadily declined over the last few seasons, and the 33-year-old has also missed more and more time because of injuries over the last couple years. At his peak, Enstrom was a reliable, puck-moving defenseman. But age and injuries appear to have taken their toll on Enstrom. His struggles were particularly apparent in the Western Conference Final against the Vegas Golden Knights, resulting in Enstrom getting scratched for Game 5 of that series, a move that angered Enstrom and ensured he would not be re-signing in Winnipeg.
2017-18: Nashville Predators
2017-18 cap hit: $4.1 million
Stats: 76 games, 1 goal, 8 assists, 46.3% CF%
After spending six seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, Emelin was traded to the Predators on July 1, 2017 and then played in all 10 Stanley Cup Playoffs games for the Predators without producing a point in an average of 11:19 ice time per game. Emelin has played just seven seasons in the NHL but is already 32 years old, not arriving in America until he was 25. Our colleagues at On the Forecheck gave him a “D” grade for his 2017-18 season, probably not high enough to warrant consideration in Chicago.
2017-18 team: Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins
2017-18 cap hit: $2.1 million
Stats: 57 games, 5 goals, 15 assists, 51.68 CF%
Cole has a pair of Stanley Cups on his career resume, both won in Pittsburgh. He’s been a bottom-pairing player for most of his career and doesn’t figure to move up any higher than that, turning 30 years old next February. He’d be a solid addition for a team that needed a veteran presence on its third D-pairing. That doesn’t seem to be what the Blackhawks are after on the blue line.
And really, there are a lot more players like Ian Cole on the market this summer that aren’t worth diving into because they don’t seem like great fits in Chicago. There’s Brooks Orpik, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Clayton Stoner and Paul Martin all available for teams needing a veteran presence in their defense corps who can eat up third-line minutes. But that’s not what Chicago is looking for on July 1, so free agency doesn’t seem like the best route for Bowman and Co. to utilize for fixing Chicago’s issues on the blue line.