As noted in the previous post, the Blackhawks could have as much as 5 million dollars in cap space this summer to fill out 4 roster spots. The biggest need for the Blackhawks is legitimate second line center. This has been an ongoing issue for the Blackhawks for the past few years and now they finally have an opportunity to address this hole in the roster.
Brooks Laich is a versatile player who can play any of the three forward positions. He would slide in perfectly next to Hossa on the Blackhawks second scoring line. Laich has been an integral player for the Washington Capitals since becoming a fulltime NHL player shortly after the lockout. Laich has eclipsed 20 goals three times in his career and added 16 goals this year for the surprisingly offensively inept Capitals. Brooks Laich had a salary of $2.4m last year with a cap hit of $2,066,667. Laich is a leader in the Capitals locker room, and Washington will try to find a way to resign him. However, the Capitals suddenly find themselves somewhat devoid of depth as many of their veterans are UFAs. The Capitals have to make some difficult decisions with RFAs Karl Alzner and goaltender Semyon Varlamov. In the event that Brooks Laich is the odd man out in Washington, the Blackhawks should definitely target the productive pivot. Laich could perhaps be a bit over valued in a weak UFA class. If the Blackhawks could clear even more cap space by trading away either Brian Campbell or Hjalmarsson, then perhaps the Blackhawks could get into a bidding war for Laich. Laich between $2.75m and $3m would provide the Blackhawks with tremendous value.
Tim Connelly has been a frustrating player for Buffalo Sabre fans for the past few years. He is immensely talented and a great playmaker, but he has been plagued by injuries and concussions. Connolly is coming off of a contract where he had a cap hit of $4.5m. Given his health concerns there is no way his next contract will approach that level. Connolly is 30 years old and hasn’t played a full 82 games since the 2002-03 season. Connolly presents a high risk, high reward scenario for the Blackhawks. Connolly would be the perfect play-making center for Marian Hossa. In both 2008-09 and 2009-10, Connolly approached point per game numbers in limited action. Pairing him with a talent like Marian Hossa could put both players over the top. If Connolly would be willing to take a short deal at a cap hit around $2.5m the Blackhawks should pounce on it.
The Free Agent class is devoid of quality centers. If the Blackhawks are unable to reach a reasonable deal with either of the two sited above, then they may look to add an “insurance” type of center as they ease Marcus Kruger into the second line center role. Here are a few of the other options:
- Marty Reasoner– Reasoner was a Blackhawk for about 10 minutes in 2010-11 before he too had to be shipped off in a salary saving move. Reasoner is an effective player who had some decent production for Atlanta in 2010-11. While he isn’t a great fit for the second line necessarily, he would add overall depth to the position and would be an upgrade over Jake Dowell and Ryan Johnson.
- Michael Handzus– Another centerman who had a cup of coffee with the Blackhawks could also be a fit. Handzus is a solid two-way player who was an important piece to the LA Kings as they made playoff appearances in each of the past two seasons. Again, not an ideal fit, but a nice depth player who could help the Hawks win.
- Max Talbot– Ideally a fourth line center, but Talbot would add an element of grit that was missing from last year’s Blackhawks team. The Penguins are financially strapped and probably won’t be able to resign Talbot. I like Talbot, but not at a cap hit of more than 1.8m. Hawks signing him is unlikely.