This week the Chicago Blackhawks announced the contract extensions of goaltender Corey Crawford and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Crawford signed for 6 years with an annual cap hit of $6 million. Hjalmarsson signed for 5 years with an annual hit of $4.1 million.
This, combined with the signing of forward Bryan Bickell for 4 years with a cap hit of $4 million per year shows the Blackhawks have a commitment to keeping the current Championship squad intact. This is very good news for fans of the Hawks.
GM Stan Bowman was able to get all these deals signed without having to overpay. Bickell’s $16 million deal means he left an awful lot of money on the table. Given the deals to other power forwards like Nathan Horton and David Clarkson, Bickell probably left at least $15 million on the table, based on the money and years those forwards got. Hjalmarsson is still not even in the top 30 defensemen in the NHL, based on current salaries. By this time next season he might not even be in the Top 50.
Blackhawks fans are wincing over the size and length of the Crawford deal. But the simple fact of the matter is that based on what other goaltenders around the league are making, he still barely cracks the top third of starters, while being a 28-year-old with a Jennings Trophy and Stanley Cup, and was robbed of a Conn Smythe Trophy. Also, he’ll most likely add an Olympic medal to his trophy case by the time his extension kicks in.
By keeping all three of these players in the fold, Bowman has the team prepared to succedd beyond the current afterglow of their second Stanley Cup win in four years. Bickell, Hjalmarsson and Crawford are all under the age of 30, and the next two extensions for him to work on are the most important – 25-year-old Captain Jonathan Toews, and 24-year-old Patrick Kane.
Not only is there little to no doubt that both players will sign extensions with the Chicago Blackhawks, but given team President John McDonough’s flair for the dramatic, you can expect these signings to be announced at next summer’s Fan Convention.
On top of this stability at the NHL level, there will be a steady stream of young players looking to make their way onto the Blackhawks each year. This year, Jeremy Morin and Ben Smith will be very capable replacements for the recently departed Viktor Stalberg and Michael Frolik, respectively. Brandon Pirri and Drew LeBlanc will compete for a spot on the second line as centers, a role Dave Bolland never quite filled before being traded to Toronto.
After this season, several veteran’s contracts will roll off the books. There is no reason to believe that Nikolai Khabibulin, Michal Handzus or Sheldon Brookbank won’t be replaced by players moving up from the AHL Rockford IceHogs. In fact, during this season there will probably be IceHogs coming to fill in for injured players. Expect to see Ryan Stanton, Jimmy Hayes, and Antti Raanta to be first in line at defense, forward and goalie, respectively.
This time next season, the Hawks will also see youngsters like Philip Danault, Mark McNeill, Adam Clendening, Stephen Johns and Teuvo Teravainen all looking to make the roster. What Bowman has managed to do is set up the NHL and organizational depth charts in such a way that no player will need to be rushed into the NHL, as Nick Leddy and Marcus Kruger were. When these players finally arrive in the United Center to stay, they will spend time in the AHL, skating on power plays and killing penalties. Also, with new coaching hire Yannic Perrault, forwards will be expected to win faceoffs – not a small consideration given the difficulties this team has had with centers not named Jonathan Toews.
A steady stream of young players, current players all under contract for the next couple years, and a salary cap that is certain to rise substantially means the Chicago Blackhawks, who have won two Stanley Cups with the current core group of players, are not done yet. This year the number of players who have won two Stanley Cups as members of the Blackhawks increased from 6 to 14. The number of players who have won three Cups as Blackhawks is currently zero.
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thange change. - ed note – Dammit.
About the Author: Spent my formative years breathing in the rarified air of the second balcony at Chicago Stadium. Refined my flair for colorful euphemisms in the blue seats at Madison Square Garden. Now a curmudgeon in the 300 level in the United Center. My musings can also be found at Hockeenight.com...and yes, I muse.