With the signing period of NHL free agency beginning on Tuesday, it is exceedingly likely that the capped-out Chicago Blackhawks will be left mostly watching from the sidelines. With 21 players signed for the 2014-15 season, Chicago is just $700,000 under the salary cap ceiling of $69 million. All the same, the Blackhawks’ free agency period should be an interesting one to watch.
Contract extensions for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane should be finalized fairly soon. GM Stan Bowman predicted several weeks ago that the duo would sign their new contracts on July 1, the first day that they’re eligible to do so. That doesn’t seem probable anymore, but expect new deals for Toews and Kane within the first half of July.
As far as actual free agents are concerned, the Blackhawks are rumored to be seriously pursuing Paul Stastny. This is a pipe dream; Stastny reportedly will not take a pay cut from the $6.6 million that he made during each year of his previous contract, and Chicago doesn’t have even close to that type of salary cap space. Moving Patrick Sharp and Michal Rozsival would make enough room to fit Stastny for 2014-15, but it only shifts the difficulties one more year down the line when Toews, Kane and Brandon Saad‘s raises kick in. Furthermore, flipping away a player of Sharp’s caliber for the terribly overrated Stastny doesn’t make sense in its own right. Barring a major change of heart from him regarding his salary demands, Stastny won’t land in Chicago.
Something more along the lines of Brad Richards is a reasonable expectation. A quality veteran like Richards on a short-term, cheap deal would ultimately amount to a stopgap while Teuvo Teravainen develops, and this is the most sensible decision for the Blackhawks on both fiscal and personnel levels. Richards has flaws, but the Blackhawks don’t exactly need Sidney Crosby centering the second line in order to contend; they simply need a solid improvement from the disaster that was Michal Handzus.
Rozsival and his $2.2 million cap hit will almost surely be the first one moved if the team signs anybody of note. Chicago will not be a huge player in free agency, but the organization offers a winning culture and chance to contend that few other NHL teams can. Keep an eye on the Blackhawks on July 1.