For the first time in a long time, Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman had quite a bit of salary cap space to work with heading into the offseason. Instead of dishing out long-term, big-money contracts to a rather weak free-agent class, Bowman made most of his roster changes via the trade market.
Bowman addressed his needs on the blue line by acquiring Olli Maata from the Pittsburgh Penguins and Calvin de Haan from the Carolina Hurricanes in a pair of trades in June. He also added to his depth at the forward position by bringing back Andrew Shaw from the Montreal Canadiens.
Bowman Plays it Safe in Free Agency
When July 1 hit and the free agency opened, it was apparent that Bowman was not willing to give out any contracts that would hinder him in the future. This is a very wise plan considering that Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat are both entering the final season of their current contracts and will be owed significant raises.
One of the two moves the Blackhawks made on the first day of free agency was signing center Ryan Carpenter to a three-year contract worth a total of $3 million.
Carpenter’s offensive numbers do not exactly jump off the page. He had just five goals and 18 points in 68 games for the Vegas Golden Knights last season. He did not suit up for any of their playoff games.
Vegas claimed Carpenter off of waivers from the San Jose Sharks in December of 2017 and he was a terrific pick up for them. He scored nine goals and added five assists in his 36 games with the Golden Knights. He picked up another five assists in 17 postseason games, playing a role in their historic run to the Stanley Cup Final.
While we’ve established that Carpenter will not bring a ton offense to the table, he does offer some value to the team. With Carpenter on the fourth line, the Blackhawks have another reliable guy at the faceoff dot. He has 50.6 career faceoff-win percentage (FO%) after posting a career-best 52.6 FO% last season. Considering Jonathan Toews was the only center last season who won more faceoffs than he lost, Carpenter will be looked upon to take some key draws.
Carpenter has established himself as a very good defensive center. He can be used in a shutdown role and be trusted with key defensive-zone starts in close games. This will spell Toews from having to take all of these though faceoffs and shifts. And every once in a while, he can do something like this!
The 28-year-old Florida native should get plenty of action on the penalty kill unit. He ranked fifth among all Golden Knights forwards last season in shorthanded time on ice. He was on the ice for 12 power-play goals against and, for what it is worth, he scored a shorthanded goal and assisted on another. The Blackhawks penalty kill was the worst in the entire league last season, so any help is welcomed.
For those of you who enjoy a player with a little “grit” and “jam” to his game, you will enjoy Carpenter. He finished fifth on the Golden Knights with 126 hits. Brent Seabrook led the Blackhawks with 124. Some of you may think hits are overrated, but you still need to have some physicality in today’s game.
Forth Line Gets a Major Upgrade
In bringing in Carpenter, the Blackhawks have improved the fourth-line center position over the departed Marcus Kruger for a third of the cost. Both players are the same age, 28, but Carpenter has much less wear-and-tear on his body. He had more goals, assists, shots on goal and far fewer penalty minutes than Kruger last season.
You also get a major upgrade in both the possession numbers and faceoff department. Carpenter finished last season with a 58.1 Corsi-For percentage (CF%) and a 52.6 FO%, while Kruger put up a 47.6 CF% and 48.1 FO%.
The Blackhawks will benefit from all of these upgrades all while saving some major money. Carpenter’s entire three-year contract will come in $83,000 less than what the team paid Kruger for last season alone.
Carpenter Ready to Fill His Role
As far as what Carpenter will bring to the Blackhawks lineup this season, let’s get that straight from the horse’s mouth.
“We’re super excited to be part of the Blackhawks,” Carpenter said shortly after signing his new deal. “I mean, just in the past so many years, there’s been such a high expectation of winning and rightfully so with how many Cups they’ve won in the last 10 years. … Two of the important things for me: I just wanted to have a chance to play a role. My role as a player is a bottom-six forward, good PKer, good right-handed faceoff centerman, and a guy that just does all the little things right. Teams that win and make the playoffs and go on long runs, they need those kinds of players to be successful.
“I know the Hawks have a ton of scoring too, so hopefully just able to come in and contribute and establish myself with that role.”
Sure, fourth-line centers do not generate a ton of excitement in free agency, but Carpenter should be a solid addition and help the Blackhawks in areas of the game they lacked in last season.
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.