Blackhawks

Evaluating Saturday's depth signings, and where Blackhawks stand after Day 1 of free agency

Evaluating Saturday's depth signings, and where Blackhawks stand after Day 1 of free agency

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.

[MORE: Blackhawks bolster depth with flurry of moves]

“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.”

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the ECHL to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.