CHICAGO –†This week, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman will celebrate.
Next week, Bowman and his front-office team will have to get back to work.
Sorry, Charlie (by Charlie, we mean Stan). You can take a couple of weeks off later in the summer to bask in the glow of Lord Stanley’s Cup, but not right now. The NHL free-agent signing period starts July 5 –†that’s only one week from Friday – and the Hawks will have some tough decisions to make regarding their roster for next season.
The good news is that the Hawks have all of their stars under contract for next season, from dynamic duo Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (both signed through 2014-15) to Patrick Sharp (signed through 2016-17) to Marian Hossa (signed through 2020-21).
The bad news is that several key contributors will be unrestricted free agents, including playoff sensation Bryan Bickell, speedster Viktor Stalberg and steady backup Ray Emery.
Here’s a position-by-position look at the Hawks as they head into a happy offseason:
Under contract: Toews, Kane, Sharp, Hossa, Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Daniel Carcillo, Brandon Bollig, Ben Smith
Restricted free agents: Marcus Kruger
Unrestricted free agents: Bickell, Stalberg, Michal Handzus, Jamal Mayers
Bottom line: In a perfect world, the Hawks would re-sign Bickell without having to subtract any existing pieces. But Bickell’s price tag increased with every terrific performance in the postseason, when he tallied 17 points (9 G, 8 A) and a plus-11 rating in 23 games while providing a perfect complement to Toews and Kane on the team’s top line. For the Hawks to afford Bickell, they might have to trade a high-salaried veteran such as Bolland.
Although Stalberg scored 22 goals one season ago, he fizzled in the playoffs and likely will head elsewhere after twice being benched during the postseason. Handzus (age 36) and Mayers (age 38) could return on cheap, short-term deals, but other teams might be willing to pay more for the locker-room presence of a veteran with a Stanley Cup ring. Several young players in the Hawks’ system are eager for a chance to stick with the big club, including Smith, Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin and Brandon Pirri.
Under contract: Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya, Sheldon Brookbank, Steve Montador
Restricted free agents: Nick Leddy
Unrestricted free agents: Michal Rozsival
Bottom line: The Hawks are all set with their top four defenseman, and Brookbank should earn more playing time as a No. 5 or 6 defenseman after playing 26 regular-season games and one playoff game in 2013. Like Handzus and Mayers, Rozsival (who turns 35 in September) will not command a long-term deal but might earn extra money elsewhere from a team eager to add a player who has won a Cup.
Leddy will be interesting to follow on the free-agent market. Because he is a restricted free agent, the Hawks have the ability to match any team’s offer to him, but whether the Hawks will do so is another question. At 22 years old, Leddy has a bright future as a puck-moving defenseman. But he struggled for much of the playoffs, tallying two assists and a minus-8 rating. If Leddy leaves, the Hawks have several talented defensemen in the minors, including 20-year-old prospect Adam Clendening.
Under contract: Corey Crawford
Unrestricted free agent: Emery
Bottom line: Emery provided the perfect complement to Crawford in the regular season as he posted a 17-1-0 record with a 1.94 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. He has earned the right to more money and more starts beyond Crawford’s shadow.
If Emery leaves, as expected, the Hawks could replace him with Antti Raanta, a highly touted 24-year-old from Finland who signed a one-year deal with the team June 3. Raanta posted a 21-10-11 record with a .945 save percentage in Finland last season and could spell Crawford for double-digit starts next season if all goes well.
•†Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.