We all know by now that with the glory of winning a championship can become slightly bittersweet with fast departures of players who worked to win the Cup. It’s hard to forget what felt like a dismantling of the Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup team due to the always looming salary cap. Luckily this past offseason hasn’t been quite so dramatic, and honestly, with a few minor exceptions, seems to have been very successful.
Due to Ray Emery’s success in net this past season, it was no surprise that the Blackhawks would be saying goodbye to him soon after he hoisted the Cup. Emery showed major improvement in net during the regular season and saw quite a few starts due in large part to Corey Crawford’s battle with concussions. However, Emery stepped up in almost every scenario contributing greatly to the Blackhawks’ success with a 17-1 record and a 1.94 goals-against average. It seemed pretty clear Emery would find a starting position with another organization for the start of the 2013-14 season, and in early July the Philadelphia Flyers signed him to a one-year contact.
The Blackhawks will also be losing their Game 6 hero, Dave Bolland. Less than a week after he scored the game winning goal to bring the Stanley Cup back to Chicago, Bolland was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for two picks and a fourth round selection in 2014. Although Bolland has helped the Blackhawks win two Stanley Cups in the past four years, the truth is that his talent can be replaced. Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger are both strong replacements who are actually ahead of him on the depth chart. Not to mention Bolland’s $3.375 million salary would clear out a big chunk of cap space for the Blackhawks.
Other players that the Blackhawks have parted ways with include Viktor Stalberg, Michael Frolik and Steve Montador. Although Stalberg is known for his speed on the ice, his performance was not very consistent for the Blackhawks. This past season he had 23 points in 47 regular season games and only three assists during the postseason. He again is talent that can be replaced. Stalberg signed a 4-year $12 million contract with the Nashville Predators. Michael Frolik was traded to the Winnipeg Jets for two picks in the 2013 draft. Although Frolik didn’t have the statistics to show much for the 2012-13 season, he was a major influence for the Blackhawks penalty kill and will certainly be missed for his ability to read passes and his active stick. Steve Montador never suited up for the Blackhawks this past season, instead spending his time playing for the Rockford Ice Hogs. Montador had signed a 4-year, $11 million deal with the Blackhawks in 2011 but suffered a season ending concussion shortly after and has since been playing in Rockford. Montador is now headed to the KHL after recently signing with the Russian league team Medvescak Zagreb.
Many thought that Michael Handzus would be let go at the end of the season especially since he was a last minute addition at the trade deadline, however the Blackhawks have decided to sign him to a one year deal. Although Handzus didn’t contribute overwhelmingly with points on the ice, he proved to be a strong veteran presence for the team. With his 15 years of experience in the NHL, there is no doubt he had a strong influence off the ice for this young Blackhawks team.
The Blackhawks also welcomed in another familiar face this offseason signing Nikolai Khabibulin to a one-year contract to back up Crawford in net. Khabibulin played for the Blackhawks from 2005-2009 before being signed by the Edmonton Oilers. Khabibulin is believed to be brought in until Antti Raanta, the newly signed 24-year-old Finnish goaltender, is ready for the NHL. However, with a 82-game season condensed due to the Olympics, Khabibulin could see 20-plus starts. Although he has been troubled with multiple injuries in the last few years, the Blackhawks are hoping he has at least one more solid season left in him.
With the holes left by Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg, the Blackhawks organization has been tossing around names to determine their replacements. At this point, Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin and Ben Smith have all been the primary candidates, particularly since all three have played in at least 15 NHL games; however, Brandon Pirri is also a name that seems to be on a lot of people’s lips. Pirri is a lefty shooter known for his offensive skills and his ability to distribute the puck. As of now, Pirri is being discussed as possibly filling the second line center position, a spot Brandon Saad is also being considered for. If Pirri were able to find success on the second line, that would leave open the opportunity to keep Saad on the third line with Andrew Shaw which made for a very strong pairing last season.
Probably the most notable offseason decision for the Blackhawks, however, was the re-signing of Bryan Bickell to a 4-year $16 million deal. Bickell had an undeniable break-out postseason for the Blackhawks during the Stanley Cup run. Bickell is a big forward who contributes on the scoring lines. During the regular season he had 9 goals and 14 assists, numbers nearly matched in the postseason where he scored 9 goals and had 8 assists, including the game-tying goal with less than 1:20 left to play in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Much of the cap space made by the Blackhawks this offseason was made in order to secure this deal with Bryan Bickell.
With training camp coming up and the first preseason game only a month away, it will be interesting to see how the Blackhawks come together, especially after such a short offseason. After a summer of celebration it is time to refocus and dedicate themselves to the hope of another successful season. Since the Blackhawks, Bruins and Kings have all struggled after their Stanley Cup winning seasons the last three years, let’s hope this new Blackhawks team can find a way to break that trend and live up to the much anticipated talks of a possible repeat to bring the Cup back to Chicago for a third time in five years.