Winning a Cup comes with a price. To win it all sometimes it takes a high price. For most teams it means a high salary or making a trade right before the deadline to nab a rental player or extra scoring or defensive punch. Sometimes it means building talent up from a young age and then having to pay some of the guys a nice raise when you make a deep run or even win a title. But what happened in Chicago this summer? It was a straight up exodus! Players leaving through free agency and players being traded left and right. Seeing as I normally look at free agent and trade movements, I wanted to look at exactly how much and who all has left the Blackhawks this summer as it seems that half of their roster has been traded or has found themselves a new home out on the market.
Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, and Kris Versteeg: Between the three wingers, the team lost what came out to 116 points last season. But what they lost may have been a lot more then just some offense. The glaring thing that sticks out to me is the loss of forward depth. It is scary to think that as good as these guys are, most of the time these guys where on the 2nd line or maybe 3rd. All three were also young and getting better. All three where 25 or younger, and all three look like they could have good futures ahead of them. Big Buff was versatile in the he could play wing or defender, and was a horror for opposing defenses and goalies when he would get himself around the crease on the powerplay. Atlanta looks to probably move him back to the defensive side for 5-on-5, but I would be surprised if he does not get to the net when they are on the powerplay. Ladd has posted 87 points over the last two seasons and looks to be a solid 2nd line winger who can play both on the PP and PK if needed. Atlanta’s forward core got a lot stronger with addition of these two. And then Versteeg got sent to Toronto, and is a scrappy and very liked young forward who can put up offense and play in his own zone very well. These three will be sorely missed, as they made up the middle part of the Blackhawks forward group after the top names like Kane, Toews, and Hossa. They may have gotten some players back, but Chicago definitely got weaker as a team by having to trade these three away. Loss of grit, loss of scoring depth, and lose of overall depth equates to a team that is not as strong.
John Madden: The veteran center seemed to want to stay in Chicago at first, but the financial situation took another casualty in Madden. He ends up in Minnesota where he will continue on as a 3rd or 4th line center and a PK specialist. While he was not a huge loss to many people, his presence will be missed. He was a leadership guide for many, an amazing player on the PK, and someone that was apparently really liked in Chicago. More depth and core talent that was lost.
Ben Eager and Adam Burish: These are just straight grit and grind-it-out guys. While Eager and Burish are guys at about the middle of their career age-wise and are not big guys for the overall team, they are the type of grinding and “tough customer” guys that every good roster needs. Each is the type of player that can chip in a rare goal and some points spread out over the season, but is really around to be a 3rd or 4th line guy to get in the corners and chip away. While these type of guys can be replaced a lot easier, both were a part of what was a successful team and locker room, and in whatever way they could helped the team. Not big losses, but 2 more guys that were on the Cup roster but won’t be in Chicago this coming season.
Antti Niemi: Sure the Blackhawks pulled in veteran Marty Turco for cheap. I still think it could be a downgrade at the position. Niemi is younger and already has more playoff experience and success then Turco. And it does not hurt that he got going last season and finished the regular season with a 2.25 GAA and .912 SV%. With the stacked defense that Chicago has, those are still solid numbers. His GAA went up to a little over 2.50 in the playoffs but his SV% stayed about the same, saying he just faced more shots and better overall shots in the playoffs but still made the saves about the same rate. I think the Sharks may have gotten a solid goalie for a pretty good price after the Blackhawks passed on Niemi when arbitration did not go quite as they expected. Don’t get me wrong, I have watched Turco for years down here in Dallas and he was an amazing goalie at times and even was playing elite level one playoff season. But he is passing his prime and has not looked like the star level goalie in a couple of seasons. He will put in a good season with a great defense, but the Blackhawks lost a little bit more in the overall exchange of goalies.
All of this equates to a lot of new faces in the locker room and on the ice in the form of young guys and cheap players to fill in the roster spaces but stay under the cap. Overall I think the Blackhawks took a serious hit this summer and go from Stanley Cup champs to probably 4th or 5th in the West this season, and a team that will compete for the title but one that unless they can dump Huet and add talent will probably fall short this next spring.