Blackhawks

Blackhawks ink Chris Kunitz to one-year deal

Blackhawks ink Chris Kunitz to one-year deal

The Blackhawks agreed to terms with forward Chris Kunitz on a one-year deal, the team announced Sunday. It's worth $1 million, per Scott Powers of The Athletic.

Kunitz turns 39 in September, but played in all 82 games last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning and registered 13 goals and 16 assists despite averaging a career-low 11:57 of ice time. His 29 points would've ranked eighth on the Blackhawks last season.

"First thing about Chris is he’s got some versatility to the way he can be used by the coaching staff," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said. "Talking to Joel [Quenneville] the last couple days, that’s one thing Joel was really excited about. He’s got a lot of ingredients to his game, competitive guy, and I think he can really sort of bolster our veteran group.

"We’ve obviously got some great players on our team who have won multiple Cups, and this gives another voice like that on how to play the right way and guide these young players into taking the next step in their careers. He was used primarily in a checking role last year, but he still scored 13 goals. He played a lot with Ryan Callahan. He did move up throughout the season. He played on more offensive lines as well. He obviously had a very long run there in Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby on the left side.

"I think it’s probably too early to tell what line he’s going to be on, but I think he brings a lot of intangibles and intensity to the game. Like I said, in somewhat of a limited offensive role he still put in 13 goals, so he’s still got the ability to contribute offensively and he brings a lot of things to the table. I think as a coach, I know Joel’s excited about having that at his disposal. We’ve got some young guys that have a lot of ability too and want to see where they’re at with their development and what role they’re ready to take on next year."

Kunitz's ties to Chicago played a big role in him signing with the Blackhawks.

His wife grew up in the suburbs and because of that, he's spent the last 10-11 summers here training and skating with some Blackhawks players, such as Patrick Kane. Now they'll all reunite on one team and try revitalizing a group that hasn't advanced past the first round since 2015 when they won it all.

"We're just excited to be part of an unbelievable organization that has a chance to win every single year," Kunitz said. "They're going to put the right pieces in place to try to accomplish that and we want to come aboard and help in any way we can, [whether] that's playing a checking role, going out and shutting down other teams down or if it's getting moved up once in a while, I'm ready for all facets of helping a team to win and maybe helping some of the young guys along the way."

At this point in his career, Kunitz may be nothing more than a fourth-line player and a guy that can be a part of a penalty kill rotation that ranked 20th in the league with a 79.1 percent success rate. It's also a veteran, proven winner getting brought in to a locker room that's gotten younger over the last couple years.

Like the Blackhawks showed with bringing back Patrick Sharp last season, they like having a mixture of veterans and youth to help mold the latter into better players and showing them the ropes.

Kunitz, who is the only active player with at least four Stanley Cups, having won with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and three with the Pittsburgh Penguins (2009, 2016, 2017), has been around long enough to know there needs to be a strong balance of them.

"I think that's a good dynamic for winning teams nowadays," Kunitz said. "You need the guys to have experience and a lot of teams are letting their young guys kind of propel their careers by giving them opportunities and I think you see that with the Blackhawks and some of their young guys taking a big step into their second and third years, and really contributing.

"Obviously the veteran guys are the star power of the team that really control the locker room and stuff but it's an exciting team to be a part of.

"They have that desire to get back to the Stanley Cup and getting into the playoffs and as you see anything can happen, so I think that's the goal from an organizational standpoint is to win a Stanley Cup and I think as players and guys that have done it, it doesn't matter how you get there as long as you can get into the playoffs and then make that push and become one of the best teams and try to win a Stanley Cup. That's what they're looking to do every single year."

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

After finishing 30th in goals against average (3.55) and 31st in penalty kill percentage (72.7) this past season, the Blackhawks are clearly making it a priority to patch up their defense this summer. And that's been evident with the acquisitions of defensive-minded defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta.

But it raises some interesting questions about the future of the Blackhawks blue line.

With the de Haan and Maatta additions, the Blackhawks now have five defensemen under contract through at least the 2021-22 season: Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million cap hit), Duncan Keith ($5.538 million), de Haan ($4.55 million), Maatta ($4.083 million) and Connor Murphy ($3.85 million). That's $24.8 million tied up to five guys.

The money isn't the primary concern, though. It's the limited amount of roster spots available. The Blackhawks don't have to immediately figure out how it's going to work a year from now and beyond, but it makes you wonder how the cards may eventually be shuffled.

Let's run through the situations:

— Erik Gustafsson had a breakout season and is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He's obviously not part of the five current players under contract after next season, putting the Blackhawks in a spot where they have to consider trading him or be comfortable with letting him walk for nothing if he isn't re-signed. (They could always trade his negotiating rights after next season and pull off a sign-and-trade as well, if it came to that).

And even if Gustafsson is re-signed, the Blackhawks would then have six players locked up for the 2020-21 season and on, and that's enough to submit a lineup.

— Henri Jokiharju, who was drafted No. 29 overall in 2017, is probably ready to take the next step and become an everyday player. Where does he fit into the long-term plans?

— Adam Boqvist, who was taken No. 8 overall in 2018, likely needs one more year in the OHL before making the jump to the NHL, which would put him on a timeline to become part of the Blackhawks next season. Does he occupy that sixth spot if another one isn't opened by then?

— Nicolas Beaudin, who was drafted No. 27 overall in 2018, is expected to start the upcoming season in Rockford after four years in the QMJHL but might be NHL-ready by the 2020-21 campaign.

— And then there's Ian Mitchell, who's returning to Denver for his junior season and will serve as the team's captain. He's said all along that he intends to sign with the Blackhawks once he's finished with college, but does the organization value him enough to create a spot for him when he's ready?

To make things a little more complicated, the Seattle expansion draft is set to occur in 2021 and the same rules will apply as Vegas in 2017.

The Blackhawks have the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender. All players with no-movement clauses at the time of the expansion draft (and who decline to waive them) must be protected; Keith and Seabrook have a NMC. And all first- and second-year pros are exempt; Jokiharju would have to be protected.

As of this moment, the Blackhawks are likely to use the eight-skater option, but they will also have valuable forwards to protect. They're going to lose a good player one way or another, and it's probably going to come from the defensive group. All of this comes into play when weighing roster decisions for next season and beyond.

As stated above, the Blackhawks do not have to make an immediate decision on the future of their blue line corps. They can play out the 2019-20 season with the group as currently constructed. But the decisions the Blackhawks have to face next season could impact how Stan Bowman operates the rest of this summer and throughout the upcoming campaign.

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WATCH: Blackhawks draft pick Kirby Dach throws out the first pitch at Wrigley in his first trip to Chicago

WATCH: Blackhawks draft pick Kirby Dach throws out the first pitch at Wrigley in his first trip to Chicago

Kirby Dach was taken by the Blackhawks with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft on Friday.

On Monday, the Blackhawks introduced him to the city of Chicago. Dach took his first trip to Chicago for his introductory press conference.

Later in the day, the Canadian threw out the first pitch at the Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Dach didn't throw a strike, but it wasn't a blooper reel pitch either.

Watch Dach's first pitch in the video above.

 

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