Hard Hits: Blackhawks Turn The Page

Patrick Sharp kisses the Stanley Cup. The former Blackhawk was dealt to the Stars over the weekend.  Getty Images

Patrick Sharp kisses the Stanley Cup. The former Blackhawk was dealt to the Stars over the weekend.
Getty Images

After winning their third Stanley Cup in six years, the Blackhawks faced a tough off season. Indeed, GM Stan Bowman had to make hard decisions on which players to move due to the cap crunch. With so much money tied up in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, he couldn’t afford to keep everyone. Toews and Kane each make an average cap hit of $10.5 million through 2020. That’s $21 million for the two superstars.

With Brent Seabrook a year away from unrestricted free agency, Bowman has all but decided he must keep him. Entering his final year, Seabrook will make $5 million. The Hawks have Conn Smythe winner Duncan Keith locked up through 2020 on a team friendly $5.538 million and much overlooked Niklas Hjalmarsson signed through 2019 with an average cap hit of $4.1 million.

As we learned in the postseason, the value of great defensemen can’t be overstated. During the Hawks’ three championships, Keith and Seabrook have delivered clutch performances along with Hjalmarsson. Coach Joel Quenneville leaned on the top three heavily after Michal Rozsival went down. That included Johnny Oduya, who remains unsigned. With the Hawks finally trading Patrick Sharp inside the division to the Stars for veteran defenseman Trevor Daley ($3.3 million) and bruiser Ryan Garbutt, it looks like the end for Oduya. The Hawks barely have any room left and must re-sign key restricted checking forward Marcus Kruger.

By taking Daley and Garbutt back for Sharp, Chicago hardly saved any money. They subtracted Sharp’s $5.9 million cap hit but Daley and Garbutt take up a combined $4.2 million. Even after unloading Sharp and pricey Group II Brandon Saad, they’re still right up against the cap at $70.65 million. The cap max is $71.4 million. Unless Bowman flips Daley to another team who needs a defenseman, he’ll probably look to deal Kris Versteeg. He’s 29 and won his second Cup with the Hawks after returning. His cap figure is $2.2 million and he’ll turn unrestricted next summer. The Panthers are retaining half his salary.

If only the Hawks didn’t give Bryan Bickell that contract after winning their second Cup in 2013. He’s owed $9 million over the next two years and is a $4 million cap hit. That makes it all but impossible to subtract him. The money they’re paying him is why Sharp and Saad are no longer around. At the very least, they could’ve kept one. Instead, Bowman was forced to trade two of his top six forwards for Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp, Daley and Garbutt. He immediately signed Anisimov, who is being counted on to center the second line. He could be joined by fellow Russian Artem Panarin, who was a big scorer for the KHL’s St. Petersburg SKA putting up 26 goals and 36 assists this past season.

Would Teuvo Teravainen join them if Toews and Kane play together with Marian Hossa? Teravainen is a center. Only 20, he came into his own during the playoffs posting four goals and six helpers. A top three of Toews, Anisimov and Teravainen could be lethal. Especially if they can keep checking pivot Andrew Shaw. The 23-year old pest is signed for one more year and will earn $2.5 million. He’ll be restricted the following summer. Shaw’s sidekick Andrew Desjardins re-upped after coming over from the Sharks.

Bowman went out and signed former Coyotes 2008 first round pick Viktor Tikhonov. After putting up eight goals and eight assists in ’08-09 as a rookie, he spent the next two years in the AHL before returning home to play for St. Petersburg SKA. Still just 27, Tikhonov signed a one-year deal worth $1.04 million. He also played with Panarin in the KHL. Wonder if the thinking is an all Russian line of Tikhonov, Anisimov and Panarin? That would be interesting.

When the Hawks dealt Saad, they gave up their best young asset. He is a budding star who should make the Jackets dangerous in the Metropolitan Division. At least they got good value back in Anisimov and potential in Dano, who the Jackets were very high on. A 2013 first round pick, Dano split time in the AHL and NHL totaling 21 points (8-13-21) in 35 games for Columbus as a rookie. If he develops and Anisimov performs, the Hawks should be fine.

It’ll be intriguing to see how much of a jump Teravainen makes. He’s an extremely skilled forward with tremendous vision. The Hawks also can be patient with 2013 first round pick Ryan Hartman. A gritty 20-year old American who tallied 13 goals and 24 assists for 37 points with 120 penalty minutes in his first full pro season with AHL affiliate Rockford. When it comes to drafting, Chicago has done well finding gems. John Hayden and Tyler Motte both play collegiate. Fredrik Olofsson was taken in last year’s fourth round 98th overall. After a breakout year with the Chicago Steel of the USHL, he’ll attend Nebraska-Omaha this Fall.

If the Hawks can continue to draft and develop, they’ll remain near the top. Even after losing key players.

BODY CHECKS: The Devils said goodbye to long-time scout David Conte. After 31 years in the organization, the scout isn’t returning. New GM Ray Shero opted to go in a different direction. It was Shero’s hard work behind the scenes that helped the Devils win three Cups. They drafted well landing future Hall of Famers Martin Brodeur and Scott Niedermayer. The foundation of three championships along with Scott Stevens, who former GM Lou Lamoriello held out for as compensation for the Blues signing Brendan Shanahan.

Conte was also responsible for the selection of Patrik Elias. The Devils’ all-time franchise scoring leader who was a big part of 2000 and 2003. He teamed with Petr Sykora and Jason Arnott to form the A Line. Elias remains a Devil with a shot at the Hall Of Fame. With 406 goals and 611 assists for 1,017 points along with 125 points (45-80-125) in the postseason, he should get consideration. The thing that works against him is he has no individual awards. But consistency and longevity could work in his favor.

Even with the well running dry lately, Conte contributed Adam Henrique, Eric Gelinas, Jon Merrill, Adam Larsson, Damon Severson and Jacob Josefson to the Devils current roster. The jury is still out on Josefson and forward prospects Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau. Along with prize first round pick Pavel Zacha, all are critical to the Devils’ rebuild.

The date for Derek Stepan’s arbitration is set for July 27. That gives the Rangers and new GM Jeff Gorton two weeks to get something done. Either face whatever reward is handed out by an arbitrator or sign the valuable two-way center long-term. If only ex-GM Glen Sather didn’t bridge him and every other key forward.

Kudos to Patrick Sharp who thanked Blackhawks fans for all their support with a full page ad in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune. Hard to believe a decade ago, they stole him from the Flyers for Eric Meloche. Sharp finishes his Hawks career with 239 goals and 272 assists for 511 points. Putting it in perspective, he only totaled 15 points with the Flyers in 66 games. Sharp also had 80 points (42-38-80) in seven Chicago postseasons including 15 (5-10-15) in 2015.

At 33, Sharp now moves to Dallas where he’ll try to help the Stars get back in the playoffs. He’ll definitely aid their second line. It’s no secret the Stars were a one line team this past season far too reliant on Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky should benefit. Sharp will need to bounce back from an average regular season that saw his numbers drop from 34 goals and 78 points in ’13-14 to 16 and 43. He did miss 14 games. The Stars just became a hot ticket in Chicago. Plenty of Sharp fans will pay tribute. The Stars don’t visit the Windy City until February 11. The first meeting is December 22 at Dallas.

In the feel good moment of the summer stick tap to T.J. Oshie for speaking to his biggest fan five-year old Libby Lu on SportsCenter. When her Mom told her that Oshie was traded to the Capitals, she cried. A touching video shows Libby Lu joined by Dad Jimmy Manno as she gets the chance to speak to Oshie, who now is her favorite former Blue.

Oshie made a fan for life. He’ll send her an autographed jersey. Who knows? Maybe one day soon Libby Lu will get to swim in T.J.’s swimming pool.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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