The Chicago Blackhawks enter this free agency period much the same way the went into July 1 of last summer: they need to make some moves to get back to their serious Cup-contending ways.
Question is, what do they do?
The Blackhawks have about 8 million in cap space the projected cap, at least right now, is around 70 million heading into free agency. Sources said before the NHL draft that defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Steve Montador will probably be shopped -- or Montadors contract could follow the same path that Cristobal Huet and Rostislav Oleszs did. Those are still strong possibilities, which would free up an extra 6 million of cap space.
But as weve stated in this space before, as much as it is about having money to spend, its about how you spend it. The Blackhawks will have options, but they have to choose wisely. Make a play for Ryan Suter? Sure, its worth a shot. But the bidding war for him will probably be ridiculous, and theres always a danger in paying too high of a price.
Word is the Blackhawks inquired about Calgary defenseman Jay Bouwmeester recently. No, hes not an unrestricted free agent; hes got two years left and a hefty 6.8 million cap hitper year of it. The Flames are chock full of defensemen, which now includes recently signed Dennis Wideman and Corey Sarich. And while Bouwmeester hasnt been the lights-out defenseman that most figured hed be when he signed with Calgary out of Florida, hes still a strong player. Calgary GM Jay Feaster, however, told Calgary media yesterday that hes not trading Bouwmeester right now. Still, that could change in the coming weeks.
Jason Garrison wouldnt be a bad fit, either. The Florida Panthers defenseman earned just 675,000 last season; but considering his talent and being a free agent during a summer with few great options at defenseman, Garrison is going to get a big raise. Garrison has a cannon of a shot. Even more alluring for the Blackhawks: he had nine power-play goals last season. The Blackhawks had 20 power-play goals as a team last season.
Earlier today I threw out my opinion on Sheldon Souray. Yes, he has an awful injury history and hes not fleet of skates. He never was the latter. But hes another one with a rocket shot; wouldnt offer him a big wad of cash, but hed be a more frugal option to add to blue-line depth.
The Blackhawks may also look for a center or help between the pipes. As intriguing as it would be to see Shane Doan in a Blackhawks uniform, it seems unlikely. Doan could still sign with the Coyotes the guys been loyal to that franchise through thick and thin. If he doesnt, hell have some choice offers coming his way. Martin Brodeur? We covered that yesterday.
Whatever the scenarios, its crunch time for the Blackhawks. They need the right pieces to get them past the first round, get them back to seriously competing for the Cup. Its all about choices. The Blackhawks hope they make the right ones.