The Blackhawks season ended abruptly and well ahead of the schedule they had set for themselves. That early departure gives them a lot of time to evaluate the changes that are going to come. There are a few restricted free agents (RFA), several unrestricted free agents (UFA), and a contract the team would likely prefer to dump. The question is when the dust settles who will survive the Blackhawks free agent fallout?
The Key RFA’s
Shaw is the most important RFA for the Blackhawks, and he will almost certainly require a significant contract upgrade. Coach Joel Quenneville has referred to the feisty forward as ‘irreplaceable’. He is a versatile forward that thrived on just about every line, no matter which position he played or who his linemates were from shift to shift. Shaw is a player that virtually every team took a pass on more than once until the Blackhawks drafted him with the 139th pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.
Shaw loves to play the sandpaper role, but he is also adept at getting to the crease to clean up rebounds or deflect a shot from the point. He is almost immovable in spite of the fact that he is almost always faced with opponents that have a considerable size advantage. The concern is that Shaw should garner some interest from other teams, and his contract increase while deserved will make a difficult situation for Stan Bowman and the cap-strapped Blackhawks.
However, the Blackhawks simply must find a way to keep Shaw in the Indianhead sweater for a long time to come. Shaw is a fan favorite, and he is as Quenneville assessed, irreplaceable.
Panik was acquired early in the season in an under the radar deal. An AHL player (Jeremy Morin) for an AHL player (Panik) trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs as they were just starting to clean house. Panik failed to impress new coach Mike Babcock and was sent down to the Toronto Marlies after a decent season last year with the Leafs (76 games, 11 goals, six assists). He also played 75 games over the course of two seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning before being sent to Toronto.
When he arrived in Chicago, Panik was looking to find a team that he could stick with, and he played well in his first few outings. However, he fell out of favor quickly after oversleeping and got jumbled around through the lineup and subjected to some healthy scratches until later in the season after an injury to Marian Hossa.
Panik didn’t really show what he could do until the Blackhawks first round playoff series when he was frequently one of the most noticeable players on the ice. He played in all six games averaging just under 13 minutes a game. He contributed three assists in the final three games (each elimination games). In those games, Panik spent most of his time on the top line with Shaw and Toews. He was even more noticeable for his physical play. He recorded 23 hits in his six appearances.
Panik made an impression, and he should be an affordable forward that can step in wherever the Blackhawks need him. He plays with a physical edge and is versatile enough to play throughout the lineup which makes him a valuable asset for the Blackhawks, especially given the cap constraints. Panik may have found himself a home in Chicago after all.
While some of these players could return, the odds are not in their favor at present. Among this group, there are bound to be some hard losses. Some for cap reasons, some simply never found their place, and a few may be at the end of their NHL journey.
Ladd is a player the Blackhawks would love to keep around and he has said that he would consider a hometown discount to remain in Chicago for another go at the Stanley Cup. However, the Blackhawks cap situation makes that a virtual impossibility. First of all, if there is a good chunk of cash available the expectation is that it will go towards keeping Shaw or extending Artemi Panarin. Both investments in the teams future, where Ladd would be a short term option.
— theScore NHL (@theScoreNHL) May 2, 2016
Unless a hometown discount is around the league minimum, there is little chance that both sides can come to terms that would be beneficial to both parties. While Ladd would love to stay, he would have to leave an awful lot of money and term on the table for the Blackhawks to sign him and risk that his value drops off during what would likely be only a one-year contract. If Ladd has an opportunity to sign a multi-year deal elsewhere, it would be difficult to fault him for taking it.
No matter how much Ladd, Bowman, the team, Quenneville, or the fans would like to see Ladd remain with the Blackhawks, it would be a tough deal for either side to make happen.
Mashinter could find his way back onto the Blackhawks roster because he is likely to carry a cap friendly price tag, but in spite of a considerable amount of ice time late in the season, Mash was at times cringe worthy. While he certainly proved he was capable of scoring greasy goals from time to time, there is one trait that left a bit of a bad taste in the mouths of fans and likely the coaching staff. The penalties.
Mashinter committed needless penalties more often than most would be comfortable with. The Blackhawks have a number of forwards in Rockford who could be called up to replace Mashinter, so it is unlikely he will be skating in Chicago next season.
Weise struggled to find his place with the Blackhawks. He likely would improve as he clearly started to figure the system out in the playoffs, but this is likely going to be a case of too little too late. Weise will almost certainly be hitting the open market, and he should garner some interest around the league.
He is a big winger that can bring both a physical presence and a strong work ethic. Weise is not a flashy winger, but for a team looking for a depth winger that can battle he is an affordable addition.
The Flash was a surprise for the Blackhawks after he came over in the deal that brought Weise to Chicago. He picked up Quenneville’s system quickly and scored goals in bunches early on. However, Fleischmann was blanked in four playoff appearances before being healthy scratched for the final three games.
Fleischmann is getting closer to the end of his career and may be available on a short term affordable contract for the Blackhawks. If Flash re-signs with Chicago, it will probably be a late summer signing as the Blackhawks will almost certainly shore up Shaw, Panik, and possibly an extension for Panarin first.
There is no way anyone can talk about the Blackhawks offseason without bringing up the elephant in the room. What to do with Bickell.
The most likely resolution would be to buyout his contract. The buyout would save them $3,000,000 for the coming season which would almost certainly go right to Shaw. However, that may not be enough to sign the gritty forward.
— The Athletic Chicago (@TheAthleticCHI) May 17, 2016
Whatever may be ahead, there is absolutely no way that Bryan Bickell is still in Chicago by training camp. It would be in the best interest of both parties to unload Bickell’s contract as it has proven to be an anchor around the neck of the team collectively and Bickell who has undoubtedly felt the weight of it for the better part of two seasons.
The Blackhawks could opt to try and shop the big forward, but they’ve been trying to unload him for some time, and his contract is simply too prohibitive unless the Blackhawks are willing to give up a big piece in return or eat a significant portion of his cap hit. At the deadline, that piece was rumored to be Teuvo Teravainen or Trevor van Riemsdyk. However, neither player earns over six figures, and both have the potential to be key players for the Blackhawks well into the future, so a move to rid themselves of Bickell’s awful contract simply doesn’t seem like a good idea.
There is a possibility that someone might take a risk on Bickell this summer with only one year remaining on his contract, but inevitably any GM worth his salt will try to squeeze the cap-strapped Blackhawks for a sweetener on such a favor. The most likely resolution is a buyout as soon as the window opens (June 15, or 48 hours after the Stanley Cup Finals end). Bickell is truly the only certainty in Chicago; He has played his final game in the red and black.
Bickell is truly the only certainty in Chicago; He has played his final game in the red and black.
The Blackhawks have reportedly signed Czech defenseman Kempny to a one-year entry-level contract. He is a 25-year-old left-handed defenseman, who has strong skating ability and plays solid defense in his own end. He is mobile, and can transition the puck and move up into the play on the offensive side as well. Kempny is listed as 6-foot and 194 pounds, so he is comparable to Duncan Keith sizewise.
There is a possibility Kempny’s signing could mean Michal Rozsival will return on an affordable contract as the newest addition does not speak English, so Rosi could factor in like Viktor Tikhonov did for Panarin early on as he acclimates to his new team and city. Kempny fills a big hole that the Blackhawks carried all season long after losing Johnny Oduya to free agency over the summer.
He should bolster a blue line that already boasts Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and van Riemsdyk. Ideally, they will start training camp looking to fill that sixth spot with either Erik Gustafsson, Gustav Forsling or Viktor Svedberg. A far cry from how they started the 2015-16 season as they were looking to fill out the bottom three before van Riemsdyk solidified his spot when Keith was injured in November.
The terms of his contract have yet to be confirmed but early reports indicate a one-year deal.
Motte isn’t exactly new blood as he was drafted in 2013 (121st overall), but he recently signed a three-year entry-level contract after a strong collegiate career (Hobey Baker Finalist) at the University of Michigan and a solid effort at the World Championships in Russia this month. While it is likely Motte will start with the Rockford IceHogs, he will be a player to watch in the preseason as he certainly has some upside and could find his way up right out of camp like van Riemsdyk did in 2014.
Motte is not particularly big (5′ 10″, 190 lbs.), nor is he the flashiest of scorers but he has good hockey sense and has a solid work ethic that should make him an asset whenever he makes his first appearance with the Blackhawks.
Forsling is a Swedish defenseman that recently signed a three-year contract. He was acquired in a trade with Vancouver in 2015 and has been playing in the Swedish Elite League before signing in Chicago. At 19, Forsling still has a lot of developing to do, but he is a good skater with puck-moving capabilities and should fit in well withing the Blackhawks system as he likes to get involved offensively. He was also recently named Sweden’s Top Junior Player.
Forsling is on the smaller side for a defenseman. He lists as 5’11” and 175 pounds which would be the smallest defenseman on a Blackhawks roster since Kimmo Timonen. However, Forsling has a real offensive upside and skates well enough to be elusive. Many have recognized the potential that Forsling has, and he is following in some pretty elite footsteps as Sweden’s Top Junior Player behind Henrik Lundqvist, Niklas Backstrom, The Sedin twins, Peter Forsberg, and Niklas Kronwall.
Forsling will certainly be a work in progress, but he is an exciting prospect who could make his way into the lineup this year, if not right out of training camp. There is definitely a lot for the Blackhawks and their fans to look forward to where Forlsing is concerned.
— Thomas Roost (@thomasroost) May 17, 2016
Kristi is a long time hockey fan who grew up in, and around hockey rinks across the United States and Canada. A native Chicagoan, Loucks has always been an avid Blackhawks fan. Kristi also covers the Chicago Cubs and writes suspense thrillers, when not covering the Chicago Blackhawks. Follow Kristi on twitter @louckske