General manager Stan Bowman has a huge offseason ahead of him. Especially after the two blockbuster deals that occurred last offseason involving Artemi Panarin and Niklas Hjalmarsson and the Chicago Blackhawks lackluster season.
The biggest problem for the Hawks this season has been their defense. People could argue that it’s been the absence of Corey Crawford, but with a decent defense, the Hawks could still be in the playoff conversation. Crawford has covered up many of the Hawks issues on the backend for multiple years now. That’s exactly what you want your goalie to do. On the flip side, when he goes out those problems that have been covered up are exposed in broad daylight for everyone to see.
If the Hawks were able to get the deals for Marian Hossa and Artem Anisimov off the books this offseason they would actually have money to spend in free agency for the first time since Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews signed their new contracts. That money could and would go into fixing the defense. This week, the Hawks have put a kibosh on that plan.
It started when the team decided to re-sign Erik Gustafsson to a two-year contract extension. The deal will pay Gustafsson $1 million in the first year and $1.4 million in the second year. That is way too much for a guy who is, at best, a sixth or seventh defenseman on a good team. Sure, the kid can skate and score, but his abilities as a true defenseman are average.
Gustafsson was also going to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season, so it’s kind of strange why the Hawks would give him a two-year deal worth that amount of money. Don’t get me wrong, Gustafsson has some upside and is still young at 25, but no one else was going to give him this kind of money. Once again the Hawks were competing with themselves and still managed to overpay.
The smart thing to do would have been to give Gustafsson a qualifying offer worth around $800,000. Again, no one else was going to give him that kind of money. If he didn’t want to take it, you tell him to have fun in the KHL or wherever else hockey is played these days besides the NHL.
On Thursday, it was announced that the Hawks were also re-signing Jan Rutta to an extension worth $2.25 million. Once again this an example of overpaying for a player, who’s had issues staying in the lineup with injuries and because of bad play. He did start off the year off well. However, he is not worth anything near or around two million dollars, let along two million and change.
I don’t have a problem bringing one of these guys back—I do have a problem bringing everyone back and that’s what Bowman has just about done. As of today, here are the defensemen that will be on the books for next season.
Brent Seabrook: $6.875M
Duncan Keith: $5.538M
Connor Murphy: $3.85M
Jan Rutta: $2.25M
Erik Gustafsson: $1.2M
Gustav Forsling: $872K
Carl Dahlstrom: $751K
Jordan Oesterle: $650K
That’s eight defensemen already. Most teams don’t carry more than that. So, basically, the Hawks are bringing back the same group as last year, which we’ve learned, isn’t very good.
They are not going to be able to trade Seabrook either, so let’s stop acting like that is an option. He has a full no-trade clause. If the Hawks were able to find a team that Seabrook would be willing to waive his clause to go to, they still would have to eat a good portion of his contract, which would eat into too much cap space.
Do they still have money to spend on an unrestricted free agent defenseman? Absolutely, but now they don’t have a roster spot for a UFA. To win another Stanley Cup (which should be the goal as long as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are on the roster), the defense needs to be upgraded, not kept the same.
Bowman’s plan seems to be to get Crawford back and try the same group of defensemen that were awful this year, next year. News flash: that’s not a good plan. In fact, that’s a terrible idea in general. This was supposed to be the offseason Bowman finally had money to spend. Instead, he’s using the money to sign players he already likes on the team, who are not very good.
This isn’t the first time Bowman has fallen for his own players and overpaid them. Anisimov was given a huge contract after being acquired in the original Brandon Saad deal. Note that Anisimov received that contract before he ever stepped foot on the United Center ice. He’s been fine for the most part, but not worth the money he was basically handed.
Then we have Seabrook, who was given a monster deal after the 2015 Stanley Cup victory. At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do, Seabrook played a key role in all three championships. In hindsight, Bowman overpaid once again. Now, it will take a miracle to get Seabrook’s legs back or to move him in a deal that makes sense.
The most recent example of Bowman overpaying a player comes in the form of Richard Panik. Panik was one of the Hawks best players in 2017. Did he deserve the two-year contract that paid him $2.8 million a year? No. Panik would have taken another one-year deal worth around $900,000 or $1,000,000. Thank god for the Arizona Coyotes, who didn’t care about the money attached to the deal and just wanted to unload a player of their own.
Say what you want about Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, but they don’t overpay or overvalue their players. Instead, Belichick will sell off a player one to two years early to receive the most value. That’s why the Patriots dynasty is alive and well, while the Hawks may be over.
One word to describe these moves would be frustrating. It just doesn’t make much sense, unless a big trade is coming, which is doubtful given the contract situations of both Anisimov and Seabrook. At this point, it’s hard to trust Stan Bowman heading into the draft. Since the last Cup, he has done a great job of running this team into the ground. Hopefully, he has something up his sleeve, but I wouldn’t count on it.