Blackhawks Bytes From Free Agency: Quotes on Johnson, Fleury, Esposito & More

Welcome to the second installment of a series that will feature quotes and comments from players, coaches, management, journalists and fans alike concerning everything Chicago Blackhawks. The purpose of this ongoing column is to capture a slice of the existing outlook, attitudes and culture surrounding the team throughout the 2021-22 season. Please join me as we have some fun with the everyday, albeit fascinating aspect of human nature; the power of words. Today, let’s discuss some quotable quotes that came out of the Blackhawks’ free agency frenzy.

Johnson a Worthy Teammate

On Jul. 27, with the free agency period beginning the following day, the Blackhawks made a late-night move to acquire Tyler Johnson from the Tampa Bay Lightning. The 31-year-old center has been with the Lightning for his entire nine-year career, recently winning back-to-back Stanley Cups with the team.

Tyler Johnson #9, Tampa Bay Lightning
The Chicago Blackhawks acquired Tyler Johnson from the Tampa Bay Lightning in July 2021.(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

But last season wasn’t the greatest for Johnson. He was almost a salary cap casualty, as the Lightning informed him they were interested in eliminating his $5 million cap hit. So he waived his no-movement clause, but no other teams bit on making a trade. He was subsequently placed on waivers twice, and was scratched for the opening night banner raising ceremony celebrating the 2019-20 Cup win.

Johnson’s role was, not surprisingly, diminished throughout the 2020-21 regular season. But he never outwardly complained or caused any turmoil in the dressing room. He simply went about his business, despite an underwhelming campaign that led to even more criticism about his place with the team.

Related – Lightning’s Tyler Johnson Doesn’t Get Enough Credit

Ah, but Johnson’s veteran experience and leadership came out during the playoffs. His most notable contribution was two goals in Game 3 of the Cup Final against the Montreal Canadiens. After the game Lightning head coach Jon Cooper had some effusive praise for Johnson, which went well beyond his dual tallies,

As teams change and they evolve, and the salary cap (comes into play) … guys are coming up. But there was one thing we never lost faith in: Tyler Johnson. He never lost faith in himself. And roles change, you have to adapt, and nobody’s done it better than Tyler…I couldn’t be more happy for somebody, and I know that his teammates were for his performance tonight, and being rewarded for everything he’s gone through…I’m extremely happy for the win; I might be a little happier for Tyler Johnson.

That sounds like the kind of guy you’d like to have on your team! Johnson had to adapt and play a lesser role on a stacked Lightning squad. But I’m sure he’s looking forward to a larger role on a retooling team like the Blackhawks. Did I further mention Johnson has a 49.5% career faceoff percentage, and 54.8% at the dot for the 2020-21 season?! Let’s throw in one more quote regarding the newest Blackhawks’ center,

The team certainly lacked depth down the middle this past season, so the addition of Johnson is something all Blackhawks’ fans can get excited about.

Adding Another American in McCabe

The start of the free agency period on Jul. 28 brought the Blackhawks’ acquisition of defenseman Jake McCabe from the Buffalo Sabres. McCabe was born and raised in Eau Claire, WI, and his wife is from Downers Grove, IL. The couple have a home in nearby Lakeview, and the 27-year-old has trained in Chicago the past five offseasons. As he told Blackhawks’ Insider Carter Baum, signing with Chicago was a “dream come true” and he’s been “secretly hoping this was going to come to fruition for a long time”.

Jake McCabe Buffalo Sabres
Chicago Blackhawks newly acquired defenseman Jake McCabe, formerly of the Buffalo Sabres, has plenty of connections with Chicago. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

But not only are McCabe’s Chicago ties a plus, he has connections with a few of the other Blackhawks’ American-born defensemen as well.

I’m pretty sure every single U.S. team that I’ve been lucky enough to play on, Murph (Connor Murphy)’s been on that team since we’ve been 15, maybe 16. We go way back and know each other well and went through the National Development program together. Jonesy (Seth Jones) was there as well, a year younger than us, but I’ve played on a lot of teams with him.

McCabe is known as a shutdown defenseman that’s hard to play against; he could very easily be deployed with his buddy Connor Murphy on a new shutdown pairing. He should be an excellent addition to the team.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks’ American contingent continues to grow. McCabe joins Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Ryan Carpenter, Adam Gaudette, Mike Hardman, Seth Jones, Caleb Jones, Alec Regula, Johnson, Murphy and goaltender Collin Delia as U.S.-born. That’s 12 players in all. Go USA!

Fleury’s In!

The Blackhawks’ offseason goaltending acquisition might be the final piece to the puzzle that could yield a very successful season for the Blackhawks. Bowman went bold by trading for the 2021 Vezina Trophy recipient Marc-Andre Fleury from the Vegas Golden Knights on Jul. 27.

Related – Blackhawks Bytes: Hear From Toews, Keith, Jones & More

But then we learned Fleury was weighing his options; he wasn’t sure if he wanted to uproot his family to a brand new city. Well, we all know by now he decided it was worth it to commit to Chicago. I’m sure this quote is music to all Blackhawks’ fans ears,

In a press conference the following week, the 36-year-old netminder indicated he had spoken with former Blackhawks Cam Ward, Chris Kunitz and Robin Lehner about the organization. “I keep hearing so many great things about the team and how they treat the players and the families.”

So there you have it. Despite recent sexual assault controversy surrounding the Blackhawks, as well as their declining status as a playoff team, Chicago still appears to be a popular destination for players. But to address their declining status, Fleury further elaborated,

Let’s hope Stan DID do a great job, and this team WILL be competitive this coming season. With the added help of Fleury, of course.

Tribute to Esposito

Unfortunately, we end on a sad note. On Aug. 10, Blackhawks’ long-time ambassador and former goaltender Tony Esposito died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 78. Blackhawks’ fans will always remember Tony O for setting multiple records with the Blackhawks and the NHL.

Tony Esposito
Goaltender Tony Esposito was a legendary player and ambassador for the Chicago Blackhawks. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

But even more importantly, it appears he was a very special man. Tributes have come pouring in from far and wide about how Esposito went out of his way to engage with the players, the fans, and anyone else in the industry with which he crossed paths. They don’t come like this much anymore.

Related – Remembering Blackhawks’ Legend Tony Esposito

In the family’s statement about his death, they spoke of the kind of man Esposito was to his family, the Blackhawks, and the fans.

God Bless to Tony O, and to his family during this difficult time.

Stay tuned for more Blackhawks Bytes as the offseason progresses and we near training camp in September. In the meantime, keep it here at The Hockey Writers for all the latest news and updates.

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