Blackhawks

Scott, Carcillo, Richards, Campbell: A look back at the Blackhawks' free-agency periods

Scott, Carcillo, Richards, Campbell: A look back at the Blackhawks' free-agency periods

It’s free agency again, when we see what pre-July 1 conjecture comes to fruition, when we either give pickups a nod of approval or a vehement shake of the head and when we make fun of teams overspending because someone always does.

It’s always interesting to see what a team will or won’t do and how much they’re willing to spend to find the answers. What will free agency mean for the Blackhawks? As of Friday morning the Blackhawks are still $3 million in the red and, while they can be 10 percent over the $75 million cap from now until the start of the season, they still have voids to fill and little-to-no cash with which to do it. It’s still very likely they Marcus Kruger to free up some space. Will the league give the Blackhawks the go-ahead to use Marian Hossa’s cap hit for long-term injured reserve and, if so, when do they apply it?

Time will tell on that. Free agency isn’t just one day and much can change between now and the fall. Before we hit this July 1, however, let’s look at how the free agency period has treated the Blackhawks the last few years:

2010: After spending June of that year going through their Stanley Cup salary purge, the Blackhawks started the rebuild attempt the following months. They signed John Scott on July 1 but didn’t make other additions until later in the summer. Unable to afford Antti Niemi – he had been awarded $2.75 million in arbitration in late July – the Blackhawks signed Marty Turco to a one-year deal on Aug. 2. Fernando Pisani signed a one-year deal later that month.

Results: Scott spent two seasons with the Blackhawks, playing a total of 69 games. Pisani played 60 games and wasn’t the depth signing the Blackhawks hoped he would be. Turco struggled early and by the turn of the year Corey Crawford was emerging as the Blackhawks’ No. 1 goaltender.

2011: In another attempt to restock the depth they lost in 2010, the Blackhawks sign five veterans on July 1 of that year: Jamal Mayers, Daniel Carcillo, Andrew Brunette, Sean O’Donnell and Brett McLean.

Results: McLean didn’t make the Blackhawks out of camp, played part of the season with the Rockford IceHogs before returning to Switzerland, where he had played the two previous seasons. Brunette and O’Donnell each spent one season with the Blackhawks; Brunette had 12 goals and 15 assists in 78 games and O’Donnell had seven assists in 51 games. Mayers continued on with the Blackhawks and was part of their 2012-13 Stanley Cup-winning team. Carcillo was on the 2012-13 Cup team, spent the next season with the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers, then rejoined the Blackhawks in the fall of 2014. He earned his second Cup with the Blackhawks later that season.

2012: We wouldn’t have hockey until January 2013, but that offseason the Blackhawks addressed defensive depth needs. Sheldon Brookbank was signed on July 1 and in September, the Blackhawks added Michal Rozsival.

Results: Rozsival’s been part of two Stanley Cup teams here. He hoisted his first Cup in 2013 – “Oh my God, how heavy is it? Oh my God!” – and was coming off a strong Western Conference semifinal series against Minnesota in 2015 when he fractured his ankle. Rozsival is still here, having signed a one-year deal last season. Brookbank played two seasons with the Blackhawks, including on the 2012-13 Stanley Cup-winning team. He played in one postseason game that year, filling in for a suspended Duncan Keith against the Los Angeles Kings.

2013: You know how we’ve recently talked about the Blackhawks bringing back former players? Well, we forgot one: on July 5, 2013 they signed Nikolai Khabibulin to a one-year deal. His first stint with the Blackhawks was from 2005-09.

Results: Khabibulin played in just four games that season before suffering a hip injury. He would have season-ending shoulder surgery later. Soon after, Antti Raanta got his opportunity as the Blackhawks’ backup goaltender.

2014: The Blackhawks’ seemingly subtle moves this offseason proved pivotal. On July 1, 2014, they found their second-line center, signing Brad Richards to a one-year deal. Richards had become an unrestricted free agent in late June when the New York Rangers bought out what was left of his nine-year, $60 million contract. The other signing? Lemont resident Scott Darling, who was coming off a solid outing with the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville’s AHL affiliate) the previous season.

Results: Yeah, these two did alright. Richards had a pretty good regular season, recording 37 points in 76 games and finding good chemistry with Kris Versteeg and Patrick Kane. But he saved his best for the playoffs; his primary assist to Kane sealed the Blackhawks 2-0 Game 6 victory over the Tampa Bay Lighting, earning Richards the second Stanley Cup of his career. As for Darling, he battled with Antti Raanta for the Blackhawks’ backup goaltending job, winning it in February 2015. Darling was critical to the Blackhawks’ postseason, replacing a struggling Corey Crawford in the first-round series against the Predators.

2015: After getting Artemi Panarin a few months earlier, the Blackhawks signed Panarin’s friend and KHL teammate Viktor Tikhonov to a one-year deal on July 1. On July 10 the Blackhawks parted with Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns in exchange for Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt.

Results: Offseason acquisitions, we hardly knew ya. Tikhonov was here until December of 2015, when he was placed on waivers. The two players the Blackhawks got in the Sharp deal were soon gone, too. In December 2015 Daley was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for longtime defenseman/one-game wing Rob Scuderi. In January, Garbutt was dealt to Anaheim for Jiri Sekac, who was with the Blackhawks for a month before they placed him on waivers. Daley won two Cups with the Penguins. Garbutt is headed to the KHL this season.

2016: It was Blackhawks-Cup-days-revisited time again. Looking to add depth at defense, the team brought Brian Campbell back on a one-year deal last July 1. A few days later the Blackhawks picked up gritty forward Jordin Tootoo.

Results: Campbell was fine with the Blackhawks last season but the move didn’t have the overall desired effect on a defense that, following a first-round sweep to the Predators, had to get younger and faster. Campbell is not expected back this season. Tootoo, who was in and out of the lineup in 2016-17, will enter his second season with the Blackhawks.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews: 'Our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs'

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews: 'Our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs'

Jonathan Toews watched a lot of playoff hockey this spring. 

"Quite a bit," he admitted Wednesday before making his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut at MB Ice Arena. "More than usual."

That's because the Blackhawks missed out on the postseason for the first time since his rookie year in 2007-08. It's obviously not a position he'd like himself or his team to be in, especially after experiencing three Stanley Cups in a six-year span.

But you have to find a way to take the positives out of it at this point and let it fuel you for the upcoming campaign.

"You always want to be there playing," Toews said. "But when you can maybe step away from the game a little bit and just kind of breathe and — at the same time, look back and realize you’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of success. Obviously there’s no satisfaction there, but you understand it’s not the worst thing to stop and smell the roses and appreciate what you’ve been able to experience, because I think failing to get to the playoffs makes you realize how difficult it really is and maybe it’s something you took for granted.

"But watching more hockey this spring, I think, is something that was really motivating and kind of inspiring and exciting to want to get back to that level again. You dream of playing in the NHL, but at the end of the day, you want to play playoff hockey. That’s what it’s all about."

There were plenty of things that went wrong for the Blackhawks last season and contributed to why they watched the playoffs from home, whether it's the Corey Crawford injury, the down season from Brandon Saad, or the inexperience on the blue line.

For Toews, who turned 30 in April, it's about regaining that old form that made him one of the top players in the NHL and hoping it can filter down the rest of the Blackhawks lineup.

"For me, it’s part of just recapturing that energy, that motivation, excitement and that mindset of a young player who takes nothing for granted, that you had in your younger days," he said. "But also carrying the experience with you and understanding the impact of what you say, what you do, how you carry yourself can impact your teammates, especially the young guys. For me, it comes down to knowing what to say at the right time. But letting my play be the thing that helps me lead by example. No better time than now to use that experience and that excitement trying to rebound off the season we had last year."

If there's any reason to have belief that the Blackhawks can turn it around quickly, look no further than the two teams that collided in the Stanley Cup Final: Vegas and Washington. 

The Golden Knights had the longest odds to win it all at the beginning of the season while the Capitals' championship window was perceived to be closed after they failed to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017 in the second round yet again with a loaded roster. But it's not about what's on paper.

"Watching that last series, you just knew it came down to who had the most, the deepest belief in themselves," Toews said. "I even had a hard time predicting who was going to win every series. It could’ve gone either way in a lot of situations. It’s not only motivating, seeing how fast that play was and to have missed out on playoff hockey this year and to have the drive to get back there, but knowing if you do sneak into the playoffs it doesn’t matter. You can go a long way.

"For us, thinking, 'OK, we're gonna back and win a Stanley Cup this year,' it sounds like a long shot. But as always, our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs and being ready to hit our stride when we get there."

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

The Blackhawks had cap space to use this summer but elected to shore up their depth rather than make a splash when free agency opened up on July 1. Perhaps a large reason for that was because Marian Hossa's $5.275 million cap hit over the next three years complicated what they could do exactly in the short term without jeopardizing the long term.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman admitted Tuesday that they had had discussions about moving Hossa's contract for a year now. But it finally reached a point where they simply needed to get it off their hands, even if it meant giving up Vinnie Hinostroza as a sweetener.

"We tried to make that deal work in every other way possible but they obviously said he had to be in it," Bowman said of including Hinostroza.

That's how important it was to free up even more cap space. By trading Hossa's contract in a nine-piece trade with the Arizona Coyotes, it created more options for the Blackhawks and financial flexibility going forward.

"It was a difficult trade from a sentimental perspective, because we'd love to not have to do that," Bowman said. "But on the practical matter, it was becoming challenging to try to operate with that contract here. It necessitated us trying to make the move that we did make. You don't know when those opportunities are going to come to try and make that type of a move. ... When this presented itself, we talked it through and got to the point where we thought it was something we had to take advantage of."

The problem for the short term is, it's mid-July and the big-name free agents are off the market. There's not much the Blackhawks can do to improve their roster externally unless they make a trade, which would require dipping into the pipeline.

And it's unfair to put a grade on the Hossa trade as a whole without seeing how they utilize that extra cap space. Could that be before the 2018-19 season starts?

"It's an option if we can find the right player or the right situation," Bowman said. "We certainly have more options now than we did before. I wouldn't say we have to do something. Having cap space is an asset in and of itself, so things will come along maybe in the summer or maybe in the beginning part of the year where teams have a couple players that make their team unexpectedly and that makes some other players more expendable. In the past we probably haven't really been a good match for those types of situations because we didn't have the cap room at that time, so now we're going to be in the mix for those types of things.

"Whether we use it right away or whether we use it during the season, I think the nice thing is we have the flexibility now going in to the coming years where we're going to need cap room, all that and more, to sign the young players."

It doesn't sound like there's much urgency to pull something off between now and when training camp rolls around in September. At least for now.

That doesn't mean there won't be once the market picks back up again. 

"Each year teams have surprises, good and bad, in camp," Bowman said. "Our team’s the same way. You have ideas on how your lines are going to look or how your players are going to be ready. Sometimes guys surprise you in a good way, sometimes it’s not what you think. There’ll be some adjustments around the league, but probably not a lot of activity.

"If you look back the last couple of seasons, late July and August are quieter as far as transactions. But there are some arbitration cases coming up around the league; those may get settled ahead of time. But if they do go to arbitration, if the number's not the way the team likes it, they may look to do something. There’s the possibility of moves, but probably closer to training camp is more when changes may happen."