In a season that ended sooner than anticipated for Chicago Blackhawks fans, now comes the part of the season fans love and hate the most: free agency.
The Hawks have some players that they need to bring back, let go, trade, and extend contracts for. This offseason could be business as usual, but could a big name player be dealt this summer?
The first player is Michal Handzus. Handzus was a great second line center for the Hawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup campaign, but this year he had his ups and downs. Handzus had a disappointing postseason this year with only three points, a huge decrease from his 11 in 2013. The Hawks need a solid second line center if the Finnish star Teuvo Teravainen isn’t ready. Handzus is 37 years old but has expressed interest in playing in the NHL another year; just don’t expect it to be in Chicago.
Another player is the young gun Jeremy Morin. Morin didn’t make the lineup on a consistent basis, but he showed some promise when Patrick Kane went down with an injury late last season. Morin recorded 11 points over 24 games with the Hawks this past season. Those aren’t exactly ground breaking numbers, but it shows that the young Morin can be a good setup player in the near future. As a restricted free agent at a pretty low price, Morin should be wearing the Indian head next year.
Next up is Peter Regin. Regin was a good but not great player for the Hawks after his trade from the New York Islanders back in February. Regin played a limited number of minutes this past season only seeing the ice 22 times including the playoffs. Regin came to the Hawks with a plus/minus rating of -10 and only 7 points in 44 games. When he came to the Hawks, his play seemed to turn around with a +5 rating and 4 points in 17 games. That production came to a standstill in the playoffs though, where Regin played five games and recorded zero points and a -1 rating.
Although personally I would like to see how Peter Regin does in the future, General Manager Stan Bowman probably does not and Regin will most likely not be in Chicago next season.
Two players have been talked about being used for trade bait as of late. Kris Versteeg and Michal Rozsival have both had disappointing seasons compared to what they have done in the past. Versteeg had a -4 rating in his last five games in the postseason, and Rozsival wasn’t much better with a +1, but he and his defensive partner Nick Leddy both cracked under pressure. Rozsival will most likely be dealt to another team for a late round draft pick to take away his $2.2 million cap hit. Versteeg, on the other hand, should be safe. The 28-year-old left wing is still recovering from knee surgery so that could explain his lack of production toward the end of the season. Rozsival is most likely out; Steeger is most likely back.
There are a couple no brainers when it comes to who will be re-signed and who will be given the boot. First off, Ben Smith is up for a new contract and fans will be scratching their heads if he does not get one.
Sheldon Brookbank came in the clutch and helped the team when he was needed, but that wasn’t much. The seventh defender for the Hawks that rarely dressed will most likely be gone.
Another player that will be either retiring or given the boot is 41-year-old goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. Bowman signed Khabibulin to a one-year contract last offseason to give Corey Crawford a veteran backup. After a season ending injury early in the season, the “Bulin Wall” had fallen. There is no way he returns to Chicago next season.
One big name player could be dealt to another team this summer to relieve their cap hit, but that is all speculation. If any player would be leaving it is likely to be Patrick Sharp. Sharp had a team leading 34 goals in the 2013-2014 season and emerged as one of the hottest sticks in the middle of the season. However, a disappointing postseason with a -2 plus/minus rating and 10 points in 19 games is a cause for concern.
One thing to remember is that this team was one win away from a second consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance. The Hawks don’t need to make drastic changes, just some minor ones. Chances are Sharp won’t be leaving, but if a big name is moving away from the windy city, it could be Sharpie.
All in all, this should be a somewhat painless offseason. One thing Stan Bowman addressed is that both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews contract extensions are a top priority this summer. With some players leaving, this could free up much needed cap space for some pieces to that championship puzzle this free agency period.