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Off-Season Game Plan: Chicago Blackhawks

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Scott Cullen
6/27/2013 12:08:01 PM
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The Chicago Blackhawks won their second Stanley Cup in four seasons and have a nucleus of a team that should contend for years to come.

Off-Season Game Plan looks at what the Blackhawks could do this summer as they prepare for their title defence next season.

While any team that wins is going to run into some challenges with a decreasing salary cap, the Blackhawks are in much better position compared to where they were following their 2010 Cup win, when they had to get rid of a lot of valuable players because they didn't have the financial flexibility to keep the roster intact.

This year, once they exercise buyouts of Steve Montador and Rostislav Olesz, the Blackhawks should have some room to maneuver. Even if they lose unrestricted free agents Bryan Bickell, Viktor Stalberg, Michal Rozsival and Ray Emery, Chicago has prospects coming and could do some free agent shopping; after all, it's a little easier to convince players to come play for the reigning champions.

In any case, the Blackhawks have won two of the last four Cups and have a core together that should compete next year and the year after and, probably, the year after. When their two best players, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, are 25 and 24, respectively, there's every reason to expect more great seasons in the future.

The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013 regular season ratings with a 93.65.

Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.

GM/COACH
Stan Bowman/Joel Quenneville

Returning Forwards

Player Rating GP G A PTS +/- Cap Hit
Jonathan Toews 84.36 47 23 25 48 +28 $6.3M
Patrick Kane 83.12 47 23 32 55 +11 $6.3M
Marian Hossa 78.77 40 17 14 31 +20 $5.275M
Patrick Sharp 75.04 28 6 14 20 +8 $5.9M
Brandon Saad 68.27 46 10 17 27 +17 $894K
Michael Frolik 64.76 45 3 7 10 +5 $2.333M
Andrew Shaw 63.53 48 9 6 15 +6 $578K
Dave Bolland 61.95 35 7 7 14 -7 $3.375M
Daniel Carcillo 57.39 23 2 1 3 +1 $825K
Brandon Bollig 52.25 25 0 0 0 -1 $575K

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating GP G A PTS +/- Class '12-'13 Cap Hit
Bryan Bickell 73.70 48 9 14 23 +12 UFA $542K
Viktor Stalberg 66.39 47 9 14 23 +16 UFA $875K
Michal Handzus 62.72 39 2 6 8 -2 UFA $2.5M
Marcus Kruger 59.33 47 4 9 13 +3 RFA $900K
Jamal Mayers 53.82 19 0 2 2 +2 UFA $650K

Blackhawks Forwards Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com

Captain Serious, Jonathan Toews, continued his improved production during the regular season, scoring more than a point-per-game for the first time in his career and while he wasn't as productive in the playoffs, Toews came up big when the Western Conference Final and Stanley Cup were on the line.

Over the last four years, Toews has been among the very best puck possession players in the league, he won the Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward and can play and excel in all situations. Few, if any, would be a better player around which to build a team.

Last offseason, Blackhawks wild child Patrick Kane went through some highly-publicized partying that raised the spectre of his being moved out of Chicago -- he was too much trouble for a player coming off his least productive season. But the Blackhawks stuck with him and Kane scored 55 points in 48 games, a career-best 1.17 points per game during the regular season. Now, Kane actually had fewer shots on goal per game than in 2011-2012, so he benefitted from some high percentage (16.7%) shooting, but it was a great response to adversity.

Kane also won the Conn Smythe, as playoff MVP and, over the course of his six-year career, he has 424 points, which ranks 14th.

In four seasons with the Blackhawks, Marian Hossa has 216 points and is plus-71, one of a dozen players to have 200 points and a plus-50 rating over that span. The 34-year-old is still an excellent two-way player, but it's going to be fascinating to see how his contract plays out. With new cap penalties for back-diving contracts, and the Blackhawks using their two buyouts on Rostislav Olesz and Steve Montador, they are committed to seeing his contract through and it runs through 2021.

Injuries cost Patrick Sharp 20 games in the regular season and his goal-scoring rate (0.21 gpg) was his lowest since 2005-2006, but then Sharp came up big in the playoffs, leading with 10 goals in 23 games. Since 2007-2008, he has 160 goals, which ranks 21st.

20-year-old rookie Brandon Saad worked his way up the depth chart to spend the last couple months of the regular season skating alongside Toews and Hossa on Chicago's first line, scoring 24 points in his last 28 games. His size and physical presence adds a needed dimension to the Blackhawks' forward lines.

In Michael Frolik's first couple years in the league, it appeared that he was going to be a scoring winger, scoring 42 goals, but he's managed a total of 19 goals in three seasons since and has found his niche as a checker and penalty killer in Chicago. That's fine, but Frolik is paid a little much to be handling 12-13 minutes per game.

Drafted in his final junior season, Andrew Shaw has been a terrific addition to the Blackhawks, already playing 85 games (only four players from the 2011 draft have played more), contributing 38 points. On top of that, points aren't the real measure of Shaw's contributions. He's relentless and plays much bigger than he is and his energy (as well as his production) was crucial to the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup win.

Scoring the Stanley-Cup-winning goal was a nice way to redeem a down season for Dave Bolland, who scored at the lowest rate (0.40 ppg) of his career while finishing a career-low minus-7. While Bolland does get the tough checking assignments, he's handled much more difficult zone starts than what he had in 2013 and was more effective. When healthy, though, Bolland is usually a very good defensive centre who can contribute enough in an offensive role that the Blackhawks tried to have him fill their second-line centre spot.

There is being more disciplined and then there is what was going on with Daniel Carcillo in 2013. A player who had 1068 penalty minutes in 310 career games (3.45 per game), had a total of 11 penalty minutes in 23 games last season. He's a part-time player in Chicago, which can be a tough lineup to crack, but is Carcillo good enough to be anything more than that if he's not wreaking havoc?

Brandon Bollig takes some playing time from Carcillo, as Bollig is a bigger, more physical presence and, while he has yet to record a point in 43 career games and has his ice time sheltered, he did have good possession numbers.

The Blackhawks have tried to get Marcus Kruger to fill their second-line centre spot too, but the 23-year-old hasn't been up to that responsibility. He's a decent two-way player, but hasn't provided the offence to fill a scoring role; at least not yet.

Playoff hero Bryan Bickell is due for a substantial raise as an unrestricted free agent. Bickell is a complementary player, albeit one with good size and decent hands, but he can play in the top nine for just about any club, which means he's going to have no shortage of free agent suitors. If Bickell and Viktor Stalberg move on as free agents, there could be some openings up front.

For years the Blackhawks have been just getting by in the second-line centre spot. If they want to make a push for a veteran free agent -- Stephen Weiss, Derek Roy, Vincent Lecavalier -- they might have the resources to make that kind of move and, as a championship contender, might be able to get players to take a little bit less to join the team.

Returning Defence

Player Rating GP G A PTS +/- Cap Hit
Duncan Keith 77.11 47 3 24 27 +16 $5.538M
Brent Seabrook 72.31 47 8 12 20 +12 $5.8M
Johnny Oduya 71.38 48 3 9 12 +12 $3.383M
Niklas Hjalmarsson 67.09 46 2 8 10 +15 $3.5M
Sheldon Brookbank 59.86 26 1 0 1 -2 $1.25M
Steve Montador             $2.75M

Free Agent Defence

Player Rating GP G A PTS +/- Class '12-'13 Cap Hit
Michal Rozsival 71.43 27 0 12 12 +18 UFA $2.0M
Nick Leddy 69.41 48 6 12 18 +15 RFA $1.167M

Bruins Defence Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com

One of the very best puck possession defencemen in the game when he's on, like he was in the playoffs, Duncan Keith actually played his fewest minutes per game (24:07) since 2006-2007 during the regular season.

Brent Seabrook also played less, his 22 minutes per game his fewest since 2007-2008, which is a testament to the trust that the coaching staff has in Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson, yet at the same time, Seabrook was seeing his ice time cut early in the Blackhawks' playoff run; then he scored two huge overtime goals on the way to a Stanley Cup win and winning tends to erase any concerns about a possible decline in Seabrook's play.

Adding Johnny Oduya from Winnipeg at the 2012 trade deadline has turned out to be an outstanding addition to the Blackhawks, a much-needed presence with mobility and good passing skills to play in their top four on the blueline.

Niklas Hjalmarsson rounds out the top four, playing a career-high 20:54 per game in 2013 and finishing a career-best plus-15. Hjalmarsson has good size, moves well and has been a strong possession player over the last four seasons.

Sheldon Brookbank is a tough extra defenceman. As long as he's not asked to do too much, though, he can be a serviceable option on the third pair.

Concussions have derailed Steve Montador's career, though he did get into 14 games with Rockford last season. With a couple years left on his contract, and questions about whether he'll be a viable regular going forward, it's understandable that he's going to get bought out this summer.

A tremendous skater and puck mover whose role was greatly reduced last season, Nick Leddy has lots of potential, but will need to improve his play without the puck in order to earn the trust of the coaching staff. He still had nice possession stats in 2013, but played nearly five minutes fewer per game and his usage was much more sheltered. He was exposed at times in the playoffs, but he's 22, he'll get better.

If the Blackhawks promote prospect Adam Clendening to replace free agent Michal Rozsival, they could still have a very similar defensive core going into next season. With such a strong group, stability is a bonus.

Returning Goaltender

Player Rating GP W L OTL GAA SV% Cap Hit
Corey Crawford 87.22 30 19 5 5 1.94 .926 $2.667M

Free Agent Goaltender

Player Rating GP W L OTL GAA SV% Class '12-'13 Cap Hit
Ray Emery 81.90 21 17 1 0 1.94 .922 UFA $1.15M

Corey Crawford rebounded from a down 2011-2012 season to post a career-best .926 save percentage and even if his playoff performance had some ups and downs, he finished with a .932 save percentage while playing every minute of all 23 games for the Blackhawks. Winning a Stanley Cup should help Crawford's rep, but another strong season with a .920-plus save percentage would command more respect too.

Since Ray Emery should have an opportunity to compete for a starting job somewhere as a free agent, Finnish goalie Antti Raanta may be given first crack at the backup job.

Top Prospects

Player Pos. Team/League Stats
Teuvo Teravainen C Jokerit (SML) 13-18-31, +2, 44 GP
Phillip Danault C Moncton (QMJHL) 23-62-85, +16, 56 GP
Mark McNeill C Prince Albert (WHL) 25-42-67,+4, 65 GP
Brandon Pirri C Rockford (AHL) 22-53-75, +11, 76 GP
Adam Clendening D Rockford (AHL) 9-37-46, +17, 73 GP
Jeremy Morin RW Rockford (AHL) 30-28-58, +2, 67 GP
Antti Raanta G Assat Pori (SML) 29-10-11, 1.85 GAA, .943 SV%
Jimmy Hayes RW Rockford (AHL) 25-20-45, even, 67 GP
Ben Smith RW Rockford (AHL) 27-20-47, +17, 54 GP
Drew LeBlanc C St. Cloud St. (WCHA) 13-37-50, +14, 42 GP

The 18th pick in last summer's draft, Teuvo Teravainen is on the small side, but he's a skilled playmaker who could be a first-line player if he gets strong enough to handle that role in North America.

Drafted 26th in 2011, Phillip Danault doesn't have standout skills, but is a solid, smart player who will compete for a job with the Blackhawks soon.

Mark McNeill is a physically strong two-way centre who should be quick to contend for a job soon, but it's questionable whether he'll score enough to fill an offensive role.

Brandon Pirri has already played three AHL seasons, scoring nearly a point-per-game last season and just turned 22, which has to put him in consideration for an NHL job before much longer.

A talented puck-moving defenceman, Adam Clendening had a terrific first pro season. If the Blackhawks want to improve their puck skills on the back end, he's a candidate to move up when there is ice time available.

22-year-old winger Jeremy Morin has scored 48 goals and racked up 207 penalty minutes over the last two years in the AHL. Perhaps he's a touch closer to the league than some of the younger prospects, having scored five points in 15 AHL games, but that's a lot of guys pushing for jobs.

Signed as a free agent, 24-year-old Antti Raanta has been dominant in Finland over the last couple seasons, putting an exclamation point on his career there with a .955 save percentage in 16 playoff games. With Ray Emery an unrestricted free agent, it's entirely possible that Raanta will open next season as the number two behind Corey Crawford.

6-foot-6 winger Jimmy Hayes has 13 points in 41 career games with the Blackhawks and finished the AHL season strong, scoring 28 points in his last 29 games.

While the Blackhawks have a very strong group of forward prospects, Ben Smith is a 24-year-old that has a little more experience and has fit, from time-to-time in a fourth-line role with the Blackhawks.

Reigning Hobey Baker winner Drew LeBlanc had a very productive career at St. Cloud State, scoring 101 points in 90 games over the last three seasons. Lots of forwards in the mix for jobs in Chicago over the next few seasons.

Additionally, defencemen Stephen Johns and Dylan Olsen, winger Garret Ross and goaltenders Kent Simpson and Mac Carruth are all worth tracking. For a team that just won the Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks' prospect cupboard is quite well stocked.

DRAFT
 30th - Morgan Klimchuk, Ryan Hartman, J.T. Compher.

FREE AGENCY
According to www.capgeek.com, the Blackhawks have approximately $60.0M committed to the 2013-2014 salary cap for 18 players.

Check out my possible Blackhawks lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.

Needs: One top six forward, depth forwards, one or two defencemen, backup goaltender.

What I said the Blackhawks needed last year: One top six forward, depth forwards, depth defencemen.

They added: Brandon Saad, Jamal Mayers, Michal Rozsival.

TRADE MARKET
Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik, Daniel Carcillo, prospects.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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