Decisions Await The Blackhawks This Offseason
The Chicago Blackhawks head into the offseason disappointed how their quest for back-to-back Stanley Cups ended but with real reason to believe they can get back to the top of the NHL mountain. They came within a Game 7 overtime goal of returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight year. But before 2014-15 comes they will have a slew of decisions to make and contracts to sign. Not only will team captain Jonathan Toews and designated clutch artist Patrick Kane need extensions, but there is still a gaping hole at second line center and an underperforming fourth line to deal with.
Resigning the two players who have embodied the Hawks' resurgence over the last six years will be the priority of GM Stan Bowman. Both Toews and Kane will be entering the final year of their contracts next season and the Hawks surely don't want either testing the waters of free agency. They will be eligible to be resigned July 2; expect an announcement shortly after that. Both continue to be the cornerstones of a talented roster and after this playoff run, Kane should look forward to playing with Brandon Saad for the foreseeable future.
Speaking of Saad, he will be a restricted free agent after next year and will need a new contract, as well. This isn't as pressing as the status of Kane and Toews, but Bowman will need to have a number in mind if he plans on being able to sign all three and still have enough room to fill his roster.
In 2012-13 the Hawks caught lightning in a bottle with the play of Michal Handzus in the second line center role. This year was a different story. The second line didn't round into form until Saad, Kane and Andrew Shaw were put together during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. Unfortunately, Shaw is better suited in his role on the third line than he is centering Saad and Kane. So there is still a hole that needs to be dealt with.
Some are clamoring for Bowman to make a big move and trade Patrick Sharp for either Joe Thornton or Ryan Kesler to solidify the second line. Considering Sharp led the team in scoring during the regular season, that would be a drastic move for a team that has rarely made the mistake of overreacting. Hawks fans saw a glimpse into the future when center prospect Teuvo Teravainen came in for three games late in the season. Look for Teravainen to get every opportunity to earn his keep next year.
That's not to say the Hawks won't make any trades. Johnny Oduya is a strong possibility to be dealt before the draft or at the deadline next year. He has played well for the Hawks, but has a large salary cap hit. Another possibility is Brent Seabrook. He had a disappointing regular season and playoff run, but is still well regarded around the league. He looked a step slow and was caught standing around on several pivotal goals against the Kings. If anyone is traded from the supposed core, Seabrook is more of a possibility than Sharp.
While we're talking about disappointing play, Kris Versteeg was a healthy scratch several times and turned in probably the worst postseason performance of anyone wearing a Hawks sweater. Considering he was coming off serious knee surgery and the high price Bowman paid in the trade, Versteeg might get the opportunity to bounce back next year from a dismal season. Whether or not he deserves that chance is up for debate.
Whatever moves the Blackhawks make, they will rightfully enter the 2014-15 season as one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. While this season didn't end for the Hawks with sunshine and lollipops, the immediate future still looks bright at 1901 W. Madison.