By Chris Emma–
(CBS) Previously stuck in the NHL offseason equivalent of being between a rock and a hard place, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman appears to be nearing completion of his roster reconstruction.READ MORE: Patients Left With A Lot Of Questions After Center For Covid Control Testing Sites Temporarily Shut Down, State Investigates Complaints
The Blackhawks’ payroll now stands a hair over $71.8 million, per hockeybuzz.com — or $418,129 over the $71.4 million hard salary cap — following this week’s stunning blockbuster trade of Brandon Saad and Friday’s re-upping with Andrew Desjardins, who signed a two-year deal.
But here’s the larger point to consider as the Blackhawks near the final horn of this revamp: Bowman’s darn good at his job.
Russian winger Viktor Tikhonov signed at $1.04 million, a low-cost, high-upside addition. Desjardins is booked at $800,000 for two more years, a steal considering he could’ve taken bigger bucks elsewhere. Artemi Panarin’s expected to join Chicago’s roster next season too, and his price tag before bonuses is just $812,000.
Oh, and and that stunner Saad deal brought the Blackhawks four forwards in return for a cost lower than Saad’s reported asking price of $6.5 million.
It appears that Artem Anisimov, 27, is the Blackhawks’ solution to end their long search for a second-line center — though Teuvo Teravainen could have something to say about that in the new few years — and he’s locked in with a chunk of the change Saad would’ve received in Chicago, a $4.55 million deal to kick in next summer.
Marko Dano could be a rising star for the Blackhawks. For now, he’s a promising 20-year-old forward with the versatility to play either wing or center the third line. He’s set to make just $925,000 over the next two years.
In addition, the team-friendly contracts of Jeremy Morin at $800,000 and Corey Tropp at $625,000 provide needed depth while keeping the Blackhawks at a reasonable cap number.READ MORE: No Communication With Firefighters Before Baby Was Found Dead Outside Fire Station; Could Baby Boxes Be A Last-Resort Option In Cases Like This?
So, what does it all mean?
Chicago still needs to deal either Patrick Sharp and his $5.9 million-per-year contract or Bryan Bickell and the $4 million he carries. However, without Saad’s big contract to take on, Bowman can afford to keep one of the two. Shipping Sharp away would allow the luxury to re-sign Marcus Kruger and likely Johny Oduya. A package with Bickell would allow the Blackhawks to bring Oduya back at a likely cost of around $3 million and effectively end the offseason.
While both Sharp and Bickell were ineffective for long stretches last season — and Bickell’s poor play lead to him being a healthy scratch in the Stanley Cup Final — each brings the makeup of a top-six forward to complement Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. Keeping one would give coach Joel Quenneville greater flexibility in the top lines, rather than working a grand experiment to fill those voids.
Bringing Kruger back, likely in the range of his prior salary of $1.4 million, would be a luxury for the Blackhawks, but their center depth is set with the likes of Teravainen, Dano, Andrew Shaw, Phillip Danault and even Desjardins, if needed.
Locking in a steady veteran defenseman like Oduya is more of a necessity, as the Blackhawks could use his presence to keep the a solid top-four group of him with Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Otherwise, a young player like Trevor van Riemsdyk, David Rundblad or rookie Stephen Johns will be thrust into a key role.
Competition in training camp will present Bowman and Quenneville with more difficult decisions, though those are the good ones to make. Perhaps another van Riemsdyk-type surprise will force the Blackhawks’ hand, or maybe Morin will embrace the chance to earn a key spot in the lineup.
But this Blackhawks roster will ultimately be centered around the core of Kane, Toews, Hossa, etc., the cast of three summers with the Cup.
To Bowman’s credit, the Blackhawks are nearing completion on a roster ready to compete for a Stanley Cup repeat.MORE NEWS: A Look At The Role Of Chicago, Local Pastor Richard Redmond, And Then-Future Mayor Harold Washington, In Making Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day A National Holiday
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.