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Numbers Game: Blackhawks Go Big Into Free Agency

Scott Cullen
7/1/2008 8:32:13 PM
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A franchise on the upswing after a long drought, the Chicago Blackhawks made two major signings on the first day of free agency.

Numbers Game looks at the next step in the Blackhawks' development.

The Blackhawks Get: G Cristobal Huet and D Brian Campbell.

While Huet's game comes under question, there's no getting around his numbers, which are among the best in the league since the lockout.

That's not to put the 32-year-old into the elite class, because his 52 games in 2007-2008 also represented a career high, but a .921 save percentage over the last three seasons sure indicates that he knows how to get in the way of the puck, whether it's pretty or not.

The challenge will be figuring out how to get Huet enough playing time to make this sizeable investment worthwhile.

Unless the Blackhawks intend to put more than $12-million into their goaltending tandem, incumbent starter Nikolai Khabibulin could end up on the trading block, with one year and $6.75-million left on his current deal.

For the time being then, the Blackhawks have a tremendous goaltending tandem, one that may be too good to be true.

Washington filled their goaltending hole by landing Jose Theodore, who came at a cheaper rate for a shorter term.

Huet may have been the top goaltender on the free agent market, the Blackhawks also secured the defenceman in the greatest demand as well.

Campbell, 29, has become one of the best offensive defencemen in the game, putting up 62 points last season and there is a lot to like about investing in a durable player who has played 244 regular season games since the lockout. 

While the Blackhawks already have young defencemen that can skate, none of their young blueliners can run the power play with Campbell's profiency as Soupy notched 33 points with the man advantage last season. 

For comparison's sake, and not counting Dustin Byfuglien who moved to left wing, the top power play defenceman in Chicago last season was Brent Seabrook with 12 points.

Adding that dynamic to an already up-and-coming team, Campbell will be a very valuable addition to the Blackhawks and he'd better be, at $56.8-million over eight seasons, the Blackhawks are going to need him to be an elite defenceman for quite a ong time. 

Something tells me that the last couple years of this contract may not seem like such a good idea but, as they say, that's the price of doing business.

San Jose is left with a gaping hole on the blueline, particularly when the team appeared to be in such good shape with Campbell as part of the mix, so the Sharks will have to go back to the drawing board and likely try to find the right trade to bring in another puck-moving defenceman.

Taking both of these free agent signings into consideration, along with the anticipated improvement from a good portion of the Blackhawks' young roster, Chicago could be poised for a big improvement in 2008-2009. 

For a team that has missed the playoffs in 10 of the last 11 seasons, that kind of optimism is rare and it helps a team go over the top when it comes time to pay the big bucks.

Scott Cullen can be reached at scullen@tsn.ca



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