It could be the biggest turnover of a championship roster in just over a year that the NHL has ever seen. The difference between this summer and the last one is general manager Stan Bowman isn’t being forced to make these moves, as he was a year ago. He’s doing them willingly.
The three latest players who left, Kopecky, Troy Brouwer and Brian Campbell, all conceivably would have been overpaid entering the 2011-12 campaign. Campbell’s situation is well documented and while Brouwer and Kopecky were nice players, they were due raises into the $2-million range and both could have ended up playing fourth-line minutes.
Add Tomas Kopecky to the long list of Cup-winning Blackhawks cut loose by the team in just over a year.
Kopecky getting dealt to Florida was a head scratcher from the Panthers' angle. He's set to be an unrestricted free agent come Friday, and while he had a decent season, he's hardly a player that will instigate a bidding war. Panthers GM Dale Tallon gave up a pick for him when he could have gotten him for nothing at the end of the week. And Tallon has more cap money to spend than anyone in the league. Bowman must have wondered what the catch was for a moment before agreeing. Kopecky has some leverage now, because if he doesn’t sign with Florida, Tallon will come out of it looking bad.
Bowman is simply setting up his roster so he can get close to full value throughout. As the saying goes, this is business, not personal.
Just like last offseason, the Blackhawks who were jettisoned are talented, but don’t fit the team's plans at the prices they were commanding. With the news that Jake Dowell might not return, since the Hawks did not extend a “qualifying” offer to him, the shedding might be complete.
It’s time to add, starting with the re-signing of Chris Campoli, Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg. Expect quick and bloodless negotiations, though the restricted free agents don’t have to be signed by Friday when free agency begins. It’s doubtful any will be extended an offer sheet as Niklas Hjalmarsson was last July.
As for Dowell, the fourth-line center simply didn’t live up to the gritty two-way player the Hawks envisioned. He’s not expensive, but the Hawks don’t want to be tied to a one-way contract as they explore rebuilding that trio. A two-way contract could be in the cards for Dowell if he doesn’t find another team to offer better.
The relationship between the Hawks and their former front office employees has been interesting to watch, to say the least. Last summer, Bowman and Rick Dudley, then with Atlanta, pulled off the blockbusters. This time, it was Bowman and his predecessor, Tallon.
Tallon did the Hawks a huge favor by taking on Campbell’s contract. It’s doubtful anyone else would have. Listening to him at the NHL draft this past weekend, he sounded like a man still wanting to justify the money and years he gave Campbell in 2008 while he was the GM in Chicago and Campbell was a big-ticket free agent. But Joel Quenneville didn’t play him like a $7-million man, and maybe the Panthers will. Bowman and another former Hawks’ GM, Bob Murray, have also done business since the former took over the job in 2009.
For those pining for a return of some of the other championship pieces who exited, ironically, the Hawks now have money to afford some of them back if they desire. John Madden and Brent Sopel are available and both undoubtedly would love to return. Adam Burish is signed for one more year in Dallas and his cap hit is $1.15 million. That seemed like a king’s ransom a year ago, but it’s exactly in line with what the Hawks can -- and probably will -- spend to help rebuild their fourth line. Ben Eager is also available, and the Hawks already kicked the tires on reacquiring him last season before he was eventually moved to San Jose.
“Sometimes you target players, and we do have a little bit more room now to make sure we get guys that we value at that position,” Bowman said of the fourth line on Saturday at the NHL draft. “It’s an important thing.”
Reacquiring players who won the Cup just because they won the Cup is shortsighted and way too sentimental for an NHL general manager. But in the case of a few of these names, it might not be a bad thing.
Burish, Madden and Sopel are capable of providing some of what went missing last season, in terms of character in the dressing room. They also play a role which Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were weary of even before the latest trades: they’re all good interviews. Especially Burish.
Campbell, Brouwer and even Kopecky were all willing and able whenever a microphone was placed in front of them. Every interview they did was one less Kane and Toews had to do. And those stars appreciated it. Burish might talk too much for a coach’s liking, but if he takes pressure off other players, there is plenty of value in it. Of course, the Hawks would have to deal for him, but they have plenty of trading chips with the plethora of players they’ve acquired since last offseason..
Of course, there are plenty of other players that fit the Hawks’ needs and salary structure who will be available come Friday.
Zenon Konopka, Joel Ward, Mike Rupp, Jamal Mayers and Aaron Asham are some names that could fit the bill. Some might be too old, or not the right fit, but the point is the Hawks can pick and choose instead of being left with scraps. Maybe former Hawk Michael Handzus will get a look. Replacing one Slovak with another would make at least one Hawk happy.
A case could be made it was wrong for any of the players to be moved in the last three days, but the case for the trades is stronger. It starts and ends with the flexibility the trades provide the Hawks moving forward. The purge (part II) is over. Now starts the retooling.