By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The future looks bright for the Chicago Blackhawks, certainly a lot brighter than it did when they won the Stanley Cup in 2010.
There will be no dismantling of the team this time because the Blackhawks have managed the reduced salary cap this year. They won’t have to say goodbye to players like Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg and Antti Niemi this time around.
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are all under contract for multiple seasons. Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik each have a year to go on their deals.
Bryan Bickell, Viktor Stalberg and Michal Handzus are unrestricted free agents, and so is Jamal Mayers, but he did not compete in the playoffs.
On the blue line, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Johnny Oduya have multi-year deals. Niklas Hjalmarsson has one year left on his contract, while Michael Roszival will be an unrestricted free agent. Nick Leddy will be a restricted free agent, and that means he’s likely to remain with the team.
Goalie Corey Crawford has one year remaining on a contract that pays him $2.667 million. He will likely command at least $6 million per season when he signs a new deal. Backup Ray Emery is a free agent and will likely be courted heavily during the offseason.
Bickell and Emery are the most critical players for the team in this offseason.
Bickell’s postseason performance was both extraordinary and unexpected. The numbers were outstanding: nine goals, eight assists and plus-11, but they don’t tell the full story. Bickell’s badly sprained knee could have kept him out for the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins, but Bickell overcame the injury. His tying goal with 1:16 remaining in Game 6 will forever be part of Chicago sports lore.
Head coach Joel Quenneville was fearful that Bickell would not be able to play against the Bruins. “He had a badly sprained knee and I wasn’t sure we would see him on the ice,” said Quenneville. “And if he did play, I didn’t know how much he could contribute.”
But that’s just what he did. When he wasn’t getting on the scoresheet, he was banging bigger bodies, including Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid. If you looked at previous Bruins’ opponents, the Rangers and Penguins did not have any forward who regularly challenged those Boston blueliners.
Bickell’s contribution can’t be measured in just goals and assists. He is a presence who can create open space for himself and his teammates.
Emery’s value cannot be overstated. He was the best backup goalie in the league this season and that position means that Crawford can take a night off without any slippage or worry. If the backup goalie isn’t strong, the starter will play himself into exhaustion. That’s part of the problem for Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers every year.
Crawford can take a night off and come back refreshed, unconcerned that he let the team down. A poor backup will wear down the starter physically and psychologically.
Handzus and Roszival could go as well. They are solid role players, but they are not irreplaceable by any stretch.
Stan Bowman will ride in the parade along with the players he assembled tomorrow so the city can celebrate. But with the NHL draft coming up Sunday and free agency just days away as well, he will be thinking of the future and not just about what his team just accomplished.
If he can find a way to keep Bickell and Emery, it will make it much easier for the Blackhawks to fight for the title next year.
(All contract terms and salary figures provided by CapGeek.com.)
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.