In the NHL, it’s never too early to start thinking about free agency. And if the salary cap is coming down, as expected, in the new CBA, then there are going to be a lot of sleepless nights for numerous general managers around the league in the coming months, some for different reasons than others.
For Stan Bowman and the Chicago Blackhawks, some of the sleepless nights may be related to Nick Leddy and the decision that they will soon have to make regarding their young defenseman.
Leddy is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, regardless of whether or not there is a season. Contracts do not freeze during this lockout, and Leddy’s entry-level deal is up. Meaning that the Blackhawks are going to have to open their wallets if they hope to retain him.
As an offensive defenseman with elite potential, Leddy is going to be a hot commodity, as any young d-man in the same situation would be. There are always teams looking to add a blue liner that can move the puck in the way that Leddy can, and with the potential that he possesses.
If Leddy was an unrestricted free agent, then they Hawks could likely all but kiss him goodbye. But as a restricted free agent, the team will have an opportunity to match. But will they? That is going to be the big question facing this front office. Already with a lack of defensive depth on the current roster, could they really let him walk?
Long-term, the Blackhawks are hoping that Leddy ends up as projected: as a player similar to that of Brian Campbell. We already know he’s capable of putting up points (37 last year), and moving the puck on the attack. But he’ll need to prove that he can play consistently in his own zone if the Hawks are going to decide the investment is worth it.
There’s also the fact that the Hawks have a similar defenseman waiting in the wings, in Adam Clendening. He’s still a little bit of a ways away from reaching the top level, but he has great potential as an offensive d-man. Could his presence down in Rockford mean anything when it comes time to work out a new deal for Leddy?
Some will point out the mistake of matching the contract for Niklas Hjalmarsson, back when the San Jose Sharks attempted to sign him back in the summer of 2010. But it’s really apples and oranges. Hjalmarsson’s development halted after that summer, and even prior to that he didn’t hold to type of gamebreaking ability that so many believe Leddy possesses.
If the Hawks are going to work out a new contract for Nick Leddy, they better look into doing it before free agency begins. Of course, a lowering cap will have a tremendous impact on that, both good and bad. It could cause teams to shy away, but it could also lead to the Hawks being completely unable to afford him, whether they wish to or not.
When it comes down to it, Leddy is still a bit raw, and has been forced into a role that he wasn’t entirely ready for. But if he continues to develop and improves his defensive game, he could be worth the investment. Either way, it will be interesting to see what the Blackhawks do when it comes to Leddy when the summer rolls around.