CHICAGO -- A pair of developments in the NHL over the past two days could have an impact on the Chicago Blackhawks as free agency is set to begin on Sunday morning.
First, the league announced the salary cap increased to $70.2 million for the coming season. The second, and more stunning development, was that New Jersey Devils goaltender Marty Brodeur is likely to test the market, though he could still re-sign with the Devils.
The Hawks now have approximately $8 million in cap space, which means they can add without having first to subtract. Though they may still cut hefty contracts -- league sources continue to indicate dealing Niklas Hjalmarsson is a strong possibility. But those types of moves could happen in a day, week or month. The extra cap space has given them flexibility.
Even still, to max out on a trade, moving Hjalmarsson or any other player with a significant price tag before Sunday has more logic to it. Once the Hawks are at or over the salary cap, trade partners have all the leverage. Look at the summer of 2010 for proof. General manager Stan Bowman probably could have gotten more in return for Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, et al. if he wasn’t under the gun to rid so much salary -- and everyone knew it.
Either way, nothing has changed in weeks. Nashville All-Star defenseman Ryan Suter likes the Hawks, and the Hawks, undoubtedly, like him. But there will be plenty of suitors for Suter. If they do add him, a trade or salary dump of another defenseman will become a sure thing. Maybe it’s best the Hawks don’t make a move before Sunday. If they strike out on Suter, trading Hjalmarsson might not be necessary. It’s a cat-and-mouse game in which maxing out money and trade value is the goal. Can Bowman pull it off? It remains to be seen.
Marty in the Midwest?
The thought of the winningest goaltender in league history leaving the Devils seems improbable but stranger things have happened. There is no concrete proof the Hawks are looking at netminders to replace Corey Crawford, but it makes sense they would kick the tires on something that could be easy and fall into their lap. Roberto Luongo doesn’t fit that description. Brodeur does -- simply because it would be a one- to two-year deal likely at a reasonable rate for the 40 year-old. That’s in the Hawks wheelhouse.
Hitting the ground running
Last year the Hawks signed four players who contributed to the team on Day 1 of free agency -- Dan Carcillo, Jamal Mayers, Andrew Brunette and Sean O’Donnell. As has been well documented, they have less holes and roster spots to fill this time around. And with the emergence of Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes, the re-signing of Johnny Oduya and improved health of Carcillo, the Hawks won’t be as busy. The quantity won’t be there, but they are hoping the quality will be.
Suter would be a top-flight addition. Another name that has emerged to a lesser degree is Jason Garrison, who had a stellar year for Florida, particularly on the point on the power play. The Hawks would more than likely look to add penalty-killing depth at forward as well -- another sore spot a season ago.
If the Hawks miss on Suter, it’s not clear if they have another All-Star caliber player in mind. There’s no sure-thing second-line center on the market this offseason. Also, Chicago isn’t the only marquee franchise with money to burn. The Detroit Red Wings have about $24 million in cap space. They are in more need of a top defenseman after the retirement of Niklas Lidstrom and could use a forward or two with Jiri Hudler and Tomas Holmstrom becoming free agents on Sunday.
Speaking of Holmstrom, even at 39, he’d be an upgrade on the power play in front of the net. Hawks’ players talked of missing that kind of net presence every power play needs -- they even tried 37-year-old Jamal Mayers there last season for basically the first time in his career. They were and still are, desperate.
Ten of Holmstrom’s 11 goals last season came on the power play. That would have led the Hawks. He would be a specialist, but a good one if he plays near to form. It’s the role that Brunette was unable to take ownership of despite some good moments—he just didn’t have enough of them. Holmstrom might retire if he doesn’t re-sign with the Wings, but couldn’t the Hawks make a decent offer for him to move west a few miles for one season? It makes sense on several levels.