The Stanley Cup playoffs kicked off this week and one of the NHL’s mainstay franchises was missing. The Chicago Blackhawks hadn’t missed the playoffs since the 2007-2008 season. That was the year before Patrick Kane. Nine straight playoff appearances and three Stanley Cups.
This season was definitely an anomaly for the Blackhawks as they finished dead last in the Central Division with only 76 points. Though Corey Crawford was hurt for most of the year, one could see just how lacking they were on defense.
The normally reliable Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook both regressed enormously. Stalwart defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson was traded to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin.
Dauphin ended up getting traded back to the Coyotes in the Richard Panik deal. Murphy was mediocre at best this year. While he led Blackhawk defensemen in hits and was third in blocked shots it was clear that he, at this point in time, is not able to fill the void left by Hjalmarsson.
While Murphy could possibly develop into a good defenseman (he is only 24) the rest of the blue line was a crap shoot. Only three d-men played more than 57 games this year (Keith, Seabrook, and Murphy). The other three blue-line positions were a revolving door as Coach Quenneville tried desperately to find pairings that gelled.
Going into the offseason Stan Bowman has to be aware of the team’s defensive struggles and may look to free agency and the draft for help. If the ping pong balls fall the Hawks’ way and they get the #1 pick then, of course, Rasmus Dahlin would help immensely.
Unfortunately, that is a pipe dream. The front office may have to trade away some players to make free agency contracts work with the cap, but here are some top defensive free agents that could provide much needed blue-line help.
Mike Green – Unrestricted Free Agent – Detroit Red Wings
Previous Cap Hit: $6,000,000
At this point in his career, Mike Green is a little on the older side but Coach Q tends to lean more on veteran defensemen. While Green lacks somewhat defensively (he is better than he was early in his career) he excels on offense and is one of the better puck-moving defenders.
While his stats were underwhelming this year, he did play on a pretty bad Detroit team (only 73 points). Mike Green could be an option for the Blackhawks but the money may be too much for Bowman and Co. to fork over.
Jack Johnson – Unrestricted Free Agent – Columbus Blue Jackets
Previous Cap Hit: $4,357,143
Jack Johnson is an interesting player and person. They don’t give out the “A” on the sweater for just anybody. He was the third overall pick in the 2005 NHL Draft and Johnson has been a cog for Columbus since he was traded from the Kings in 2012. He’s also married to Brady Quinn’s sister and declared bankruptcy in 2014 due to his parents’ gross mismanagement of his assets/money.
While Johnson still averaged over 19 minutes a game this year, he pushed for a trade as he had seen his role diminish. He wants to have a big role on a new team (Blackhawks need defensemen who can play 19 minutes a game) but he also wants to strike it rich so he can retire in the green and make up for his parents’ shortcomings.
Jack Johnson will be on tour soon. Sorry, that’s the singer.
Johnson the NHL defenseman may have too many off-the-ice issues to really be an option for the Blackhawks but his stability could be an asset for the next few years. Like every player though, can the Hawks afford Johnson?
Most likely not without some creative trades. Plus he only had 11 points in 77 games this year. Hardly a player worth throwing a long-term, big-money contract at.
Alexei Emelin – Unrestricted Free Agent – Nashville Predators
Age: 31 (turning 32 this month)
Previous Cap Hit: Accumulated $2,982,375 (Cap hit was $4,100,000)
Emelin could be a pretty good depth signing for the Blackhawks. He’s not very flashy and barely does anything offensively but he is very solid defensively and brings a physicality that the Hawks always seem to lack.
Last year, he had 181 hits in 76 games while logging a little less than 17 minutes per game. That is 43 more than Connor Murphy, who led Hawks defensemen in that department.
At the right price, Emelin could be a good third-pairing defenseman who can provide much-needed physicality, while simultaneously not getting into the penalty box (only 40 PIM in 76 games).
John Carlson – Unrestricted Free Agent – Washington Capitals
Previous Cap Hit: $3,966,667
John Carlson is about to get PAID. He is only 28 years old and, for his career, has averaged 23 minutes a game. For comparison, Duncan Keith averages a little over 25 minutes per game.
Carlson is coming off a season where he scored 15 goals and dished out 53 assists for 68 points. He seems to always be involved and through two games this postseason has six assists. He’s a very strong two-way defenseman and can be a lockdown defender.
Honestly, Carlson would be a perfect fit for just about any team but he’s definitely going to warrant a huge payday with his age, numbers and overall play. For the Hawks to have a chance, they would most likely need to shed Brent Seabrook’s salary or trade one of Artem Anisimov/Corey Crawford (which would hurt since they have no goalie in the pipeline).
Calvin de Haan – Unrestricted Free Agent – New York Islanders
Previous Cap Hit: $3,300,000
Calvin de Haan is a very intriguing possibility for the Blackhawks. He’s still young at 26 and it was clear that he made a difference for the Islanders. A shoulder injury derailed his season but, before the injury, the Islanders were sitting pretty at 18-12-3. Afterward, though they went 17-25-7. The Islanders GAA went up nearly half a goal without him.
He doesn’t do much on offense (12 points in 33 games) but he is a great shot blocker that knows where he needs to go and is rarely out of position (he was leading the team at plus-11 prior to his injury). He is fearless in that aspect and is willing to sacrifice his body to block even the hardest slapshots.
You can read more about Calvin de Haan’s season here. Does this sound a little bit like Niklas Hjalmarsson? With the injury de Haan could come at a somewhat reasonable price and be a cog on the blue-line for the Hawks for years to come.