Zawaski’s Mailbag: What’s On Blackhawks’ Offseason To-Do List?

By Jay Zawaski–

(CBS) After the offseason came earlier than usual for the Blackhawks with a first-round postseason exit, there will also be no shortage of work to do with the roster as they look to construct a championship contender for 2016-’17.

In this mailbag, we take a look at some of the items on the Hawks’ offseason to-do list.

Is there a team that doesn’t prioritize analytics that could be duped by Brent Seabrook’s 49 points, +6 rating and “winning pedigree”? — Jon

It was a down year defensively for Seabrook. The eye test and the analytics prove this, but there are two aspects to consider when evaluating his year.

1) He spent the large majority of the season paired up with Trevor van Riemsdyk (412:16), Erik Gustafsson (305:50) or Viktor Svedberg (298:40). In fact, Seabrook played more than 120 minutes more with Svedberg than he did with Niklas Hjalmarsson (177:05) and 182 minutes more than he did with Duncan Keith (116:06). Seabrook played role of babysitter for the majority of this season, and while many of the mistakes made by his pairings were his and his alone, Seabrook is at his best as the second-best player on his pairing. That wasn’t the case for much of the season, and his weaknesses were exposed.

2) It’s highly likely that Seabrook was playing hurt for at least a decent portion of the season. After the season-ending series against St. Louis, Blues analyst Kelly Chase commented that Seabrook had to be helped on the plane after the game. It’s unclear what kind of injury Seabrook was dealing with, but that sort of description indicates, at least to me, a severe concussion or a back injury. Either way, he wasn’t 100 percent.

So to answer your question, I think it’s unlikely the Hawks could find a taker for the 31-year-old Seabrook at this point, with his new eight-year deal starting this coming season. At the same time, I really don’t think the Hawks should be looking to trade Seabrook at this point. No team is going to give up a young defenseman for and old defenseman, so the Hawks wouldn’t be able to fill their main need.

Without a legit defenseman coming back, the Hawks need a player like Seabrook, who still is better than 75 percent or 80 percent of the defensemen in the league.

It may be too far in the future and maybe not all the rules are set, but how does the future NHL expansion and that draft affect the Hawks and the players they can or must protect on this roster? I love Marian Hossa, but if after this year, they could save his salary cap hit by making him available to an expansion team, that might help the Hawks. — Tim

Hossa’s best days are clearly behind him, and taking his $5.275 million cap hit off the books for the next five seasons would help on paper, but as far as I understand it, if Marian Hossa were exposed to the expansion draft and if he was claimed by the Las Vegas Flying Elvises or whatever they’ll be called and if he decides to retire, the Blackhawks would still be on the hook for the recapture penalties.

That would be bad.

The Hawks may be better off keeping Hossa on the roster, happy and in direct communication about his plans. They don’t need any salary cap surprises. It’s safe to assume that if Hossa is still playing in Chicago that he will communicate his intentions with the Blackhawks.

Remember, when the Hawks signed Hossa, it was with the intention of winning a Stanley Cup at all costs, damn the future consequences. Well, they’ve won three (and counting), so I think it’s safe to say that the Hossa deal, despite its potentially messy end, was totally worth any pain it may cause.

How many points do you think Teuvo Teravainen will have next season? How big of a contract will he get from the Blackhawks? — Joe Mels

It’s hard to put a number on what to expect from Teravainen. It all depends on where he plays. As we all know, he was yo-yoed up and down and side to side this season — third-line center, fourth-ling right wing, first-line right wing, third-line left wing, fourth-line left wing. It was a crazy year for Teravainen. I’ve thought for a while and still believe that the best move for the young Finn would be some lineup consistency, ideally in a top-six role.

Late in the series against the Blues, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville shifted Hossa to the third-line right wing spot, with solid results. If he continues that assignment next regular season, that opens up a spot for Teravainen on the top line. If he spends the majority of his season with Jonathan Toews and whoever the first-line left winger turns out to be, I think a 45-55 point season is very possible.

If Teravainen is again quarantined to the bottom six, I think 45 points would be optimistic, especially considering that the 2016-’17 Blackhawks will likely feature a less experienced and less skilled group of bottom-six forwards.

As far as Teravainen’s contract goes, I have it on good authority that he would likely accept a deal around $1.8 million annually for the next two to three years, assuming he doesn’t have an Artemi Panarin-like offensive explosion next season.

I would assume that Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman, in his own best interest, would like to get extensions for Teravainen and Panarin done before the puck drops on the 2016-17 season, before any potential “pricing out” scenarios present themselves.

Why am I hearing rumors about Corey Crawford being a piece of trade talks all of the sudden? What are the odds of that actually happening? What scenario could you see that playing out in? — Soutside C

Whenever you see a trade rumor, consider how it would look after the trade is made. With his $6 million contract, Crawford seems like an obvious move to some members of the Blackhawks fan base and to out-of -touch national talking heads who still don’t believe in the two-time Cup winner.

If these playoffs have proved anything, it’s that goaltending is important again. Brian Elliott has propelled St. Louis into the Western Conference Final, while the combined failures of Dallas’ Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are the reason Patrick Sharp, Jamie Benn and company are scheduling early tee times.

Losing Crawford would kill this team. He was (aside from Patrick Kane) their MVP last season. Scott Darling isn’t an everyday NHL starter, and the free agent options are less than inspiring.

To me, moving Crawford isn’t an option.

What new faces do you think we’ll see in a Hawks sweater next year? — Billy Carson

It’s nearly impossible to envision the Blackhawks bringing in any marquee free agents this summer with their cap situation.

I believe we’ll finally see extended looks for either Ryan Hartman or Mark McNeill. I think it’s also likely that Andrew Shaw is traded this June, and the Hawks will have to find his replacement internally. Depending on whether Nick Schmaltz signs in Chicago or returns to North Dakota for another year, players like Tyler Motte, Tanner Kero and Vincent Hinostroza will have a shot at filling some forward spots as well.

On the blue line, Ville Pokka had a solid second half to his season and could compete for a job, as could the newly signed Gustav Forsling. Svedberg and Erik Gustafsson should each improve their games a little in the offseason as well.

Keep an eye on the news wires as well. Several reports have the Hawks interested in and leading the negotiations for KHL defenseman Michal Kempny, a 25-year-old who was one of the KHL’s top defensemen last season. If signed, he will be expected to play the better part of 82 games in Chicago.

Recently Artemi Panarin was involved in an interview where he mentioned something involving his knowledge of Chicago’s cap issues and his re-signing. Do you see any chance he actually doesn’t get extended? — Nathan

Aside from trying to find someone to take on any or all of Bryan Bickell’s contract next season, a new, hopefully reasonable deal for Panarin should be Bowman’s top priority. As a free agent, Panarin would easily command $6 million-$7 million a year.  If the Hawks could secure him for two or three years at $4.5 million-$5.5 million annually, they should get it done as soon as possible. Panarin played well in the playoffs and has quickly proved to be among the NHL’s elite scorers.

Should I be concerned that Nick Schmaltz hasn’t signed with the Blackhawks yet? — Kenny Owens from La Grange Park

Good question Kenny, and I understand your beef with this situation.

The way Bowman has talked over the last few days, it feels like Schmaltz may indeed be headed back to North Dakota. The Blackhawks aren’t really sure what he’s thinking either way, according to sources in the organization, and they might be preparing to face 2016-’17 without him.

Bowman has said all the right things, encouraging Schmaltz to do whatever is best for him, but Bowman wants him here and will be disappointed if he’s not at training camp this summer.

Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score and the Blackhawks columnist for CBSChicago.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast with James Neveau of NBCChicago.com that you can listen and subscribe to here. Follow him on Twitter @JayZawaski670.

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