The Blackhawks are in what’s become a typical offseason situation for them: a few needs to fill, not a lot of cash with which to fill them. With four more signings on Saturday, however, the Blackhawks hope to give themselves some depth and options this season.
Wilmette native Tommy Wingels signed a one-year deal on Saturday, as did fellow forward Lance Bouma. The Blackhawks also signed goaltender Jean-François Bérubé and defenseman Jordan Oesterle to two-year contracts. The moves give the Blackhawks more options and all four players are in their 20s – Bérubé and Oesterle are both 25, Bouma is 27 and Wingels is 29.
Wingels brings that drive-to-the-net element that the Blackhawks had for most of the regular season but were sorely lacking in the playoffs. He said he talked with general manager Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville about his role. Whatever that may be, outside of going to the dirty areas, getting the chance to play for the hometown team is a thrill.
“Hearing from those guys meant a lot to me. When the offer did come, I spoke with my family and it was just a no-brainer. Such an unbelievable organization and what the Blackhawks mean to the city, I’m such a big fan of it,” Wingels said. “I’m a good bottom-six player, expected to bring energy, [play] a straight-line game and get into the dirty areas. Watching the team, watching how the team fared in the playoffs, that’s a piece that was missing. I’m sure they’re adding others but I think that’s an area I can help out and get to the net, score some dirty goals and be a difficult player to play against.”
Wingels can play either center or wing, and being a right-handed shot was also an asset.
“Whether he’s full time in the middle, I’m not sure. That’s something Joel [Quenneville] will figure out. We definitely like having a right-handed shot to take faceoffs and [Patrick Sharp] is the same way. He played center long ago, but we see him more on the wing here. But Patrick certainly has the ability to take faceoffs, too,” Bowman said. “We don’t have a lot of right-handed centers here and we wanted to add to that area. It’s probably more on the wing for Tommy but he has experience in the middle and I think as things go along, he could end up there.”
Bouma, meanwhile, should bring a gritty element the Blackhawks have been lacking. This is also a welcomed fresh start for Bouma; the Calgary Flames bought out the final year of his previous contract on Friday.
“Anytime you end like that it’s tough… because you’re signed to a deal and you want to prove them right on what they signed you to. But I had a great run there, made a lot of great friends in the city and on the team,” Bouma said. “I’m just looking forward and obviously winning here and having fun here and meeting new teammates. It’s going to be a fun time for sure.”
With Bérubé the Blackhawks gain some depth at goaltending. Anton Forsberg is likely the Blackhawks’ backup goaltender but Bowman wanted another option. Last year when Corey Crawford was out with appendicitis, Scott Darling started all 11 games in his absence.
Bowman wouldn’t say what else the Blackhawks could add during this free-agency period. They’re currently a few million over the $75 million salary cap – teams are allowed to be 10 percent over it until the regular-season begins – and are expected to make another move. They’ll still also see what happens regarding Marian Hossa’s long-term injured reserve possibility; Bowman didn’t foresee that being a problem, and it’s likely to be applied early in the regular season.
The Blackhawks still have concerns at defense, where replacing Niklas Hjalmarsson will be difficult. Again, as said above, we’ll see if the Blackhawks make any more moves or, once Hossa’s LTIR can be applied, look at options then. Right now there’s a lot of youth there, from guys who have gotten some work with the Blackhawks (Michal Kempny, Gustav Forsling, Erik Gustaffson) to those who haven’t Jan Rutta, Ville Pokka and Oesterle).
“The opportunity will be there for the young guys to show which one belongs or if a few belong, that would be great,” Bowman said. “That’s what we’ll figure out in camp. It’ll be a competitive time for these guys to put their best foot forward and see who’s ready for the job.”