Football

Do you hear anything? No? Me either. No noise. No torches and pitchforks. No jobs on the line (yet). It’s pretty boring around here.

Usually in late July we’re all too eager here in Chicago to begin HOT TAKE SZN surrounding the Bears and the NFL. This July, though, feels different. Is everyone just happy to banter about the Cubs division chase and Sox future potential? No, we’ve been doing that every July since 2015. The NBA had a pretty big summer, but the Bulls largely sat that out and everyone is just content they MIGHT make a surprise run at the 8-seed in the East. Hawks prospect camp and convention?? OK, I’m done.

So with nothing new or exciting going on in major sports around the city, why is this late July so different? The Bears, coming off their first playoff appearance since 2010 and second in the last 13 years, have had the quietest offseason in about as long. No new head coach/GM/Front Office personnel. No major signings/high draft picks. Hardly any turnover on the roster/staff, and no real starting positions up for the taking. GM Ryan Pace didn’t even get to make a draft pick until the third day, and there’s been little discussion about the his team or the impending camp since.

The biggest offseason story? Kickers. Cody Parkey long fired into the sun, the talk of both mini-camp and now training camp is the kicking sideshow. Each day’s camp breakdown thus far has started with the accuracy for that day’s kicker; Elliot Fry is 17 of 20 so far! He’s hit from 60 and banged in from 48 and 51 in the driving rain! Eddie Pineiro hit from 63 after doing his best 80s macho movie hunk routine – after his coaches asked him to try from 60 he replied “nah, how ’bout 63”! Suh gnarly, broseph.

The crowds are another HOT story coming out of Bourbonnais. Attendance day one? OVER 8,000!!! Videos tweeted of fans LIGHTLY JOGGING to get front row standing room to see the Midway Monsters strap on the pads and paw at each other! Whoa, did you see that 50-yard bomb from Mitch to Gabriel?? Kahlil Mack and Eddie Jackson are sooooo goood OMFG!!!! I mean, it’s great to see the guys you want to excel succeed in practice, but that’s the bar here, no? To be as good as advertised?

This shit is BORING. But boring doesn’t really mean bad. Consider:

-There was one major coaching change in the offseason, but not the normal refrain of a deficiency in some area. Vic Fangio left to go be the head coach in Denver because his defense was so amazing (while the rest of the team was total ass for most of his tenure). The ensuing hire? Chuck Pagano, a highly regarded defensive mind in his own right that mostly just needs to keep the ship on course. There also are no ‘hot’ seats to speak of at the moment. Weird.

-The players lost to free agency were seen as priced out of their worth at Halas Hall and nary a tear was shed for Adrian Amos or Bryce Callahan. The replacements and other new signings were mostly budget buys met with a collective “meh”.  HaHa Clinton-Dix and Buster Skine swap in for Amos and Callahan. Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson are here to do something in the backfield. Great, fine. I bet you didn’t even know they signed Ted Larson, again, for O-Line depth or Marvin Hall and Peter Williams. Only one of those guys is made up, but I’m guessing you have to look it up to tell me which one.

-The draft was pretty uneventful as well, unless you count trading up 14 or so spots in the 3rd round “eventful”. Sure, they got their GUY at running back in David Montgomery, or so they’ll tell anything with ears. Even he hasn’t generated much buzz since the draft, a soft spoken type that just does his work and stays quiet off the field. Booooooring. The rest of the draft was all lottery tickets and undrafted free agents because Pace only had five picks to work with. They got a Ridley? No, not the one from Alabama.

-There aren’t any big injuries to get all worked up about, either. Adam Shaheen hasn’t practiced in two days, but that’s basically his whole bag of tricks since being wildly overdrafted three years ago. Someone named Emmanuel Hall is recovering from groin surgery. HaHa is on the PUP list, rehabbing a lower body injury but expected back before too long. Whatever.

So this late July, the start to camp is boring. Embrace the boring, it means that most of us are looking forward to September and could give a shit about what happens between now and then. We don’t even get another open practice for a few days; the team has a shorter, closed practice today and is off Wednesday. There’s a preseason game a week after that, so maybe by the weekend we’ll start to get some real battles for the edge of the roster. Those are the positions that help to define serious championship contending NFL teams from the dregs they beat up.

Boring kinda sucks, but we’ll take it after the last decade worth of summers overstuffed with tough questions. Wait and see how these jokers fighting for their NFL lives fair in game reps in a week or so. If you need your fix the rest of this first week, keep refreshing that twitter account of your favorite beat writer to see where Steady Eddie P tells coach he’s spotting his next kick. HOOOOO BABYYYYY!

@WFrenchman on Twitter

Hockey

A few notes to clear out before free agency officially begins, and keep in mind this post could be wiped moot in a matter of hours or even minutes.

-As I said last night, the Andrew Shaw trade could very well work out. You kind of know what you’re getting with Shaw, and unless he’s put on the shelf with a concussion by a stiff breeze (truly possible) it’s certainly going to help. It won’t be a directional change or a pivot, but he’ll contribute. But it’s yet another sign of just how much the Hawks pro scouting sucks, and yet there’s never been any impetus for change there.

Quick, name the last player the Hawks acquired out of an entry-level deal that was any good. That was a win. Strome doesn’t count because he was in his entry-level deal and the info on him was still mostly from the amateur scouting. I’ll give you Connor Murphy, even though everyone else hates him and he honestly might not still be as good as the player he was traded for. Richard Panik? Artem Anisimov for one season between two all-stars? And he was worse than the player they traded for him. And then they went and got that player back for a player much better than he is who just got $12M from the Rangers.

You have to go all the way back to Antoine Vermette, and before that the list isn’t very cheerful until you get back to Johnny Oduya (the first time). And you know the list of players that haven’t worked out at all. Look, if Rob Scuderi and Brandon Manning are on your list at all, your list sucks and I don’t care what else is on it.

Stan Bowman keeps making these moves and they keep sucking and yet nothing ever seems to change. Just you wait until you get a look at Olli Maatta. The Hawks seems to gain cover from fans and media for bringing back old names and cashing in on memories, and by the time everyone realizes these players suck now they’re on to the next one or the season’s gone anyway.

-Speaking of frugality, which is a big reason people seem to like the Shaw move, the Hawks are right in sitting out this market for the most part…if they indeed do. There aren’t really foundational players to be found unless you want to offer sheet Marner or Aho, and the Hawks won’t because they think they have to keep that from happening to DeBrincat. Fair enough, we’ll see. $9M for Lee is a function of him being one of the very few pieces out there and cashing in on desperation, and good for him, but you don’t want to be paying that. Three years for Pavelski is in the same range. It’s just not a very good class, and you can’t force it to be by paying more for it.

But if you’re truly trying to be frugal, why acquire Shaw for $4M instead of just keeping Kahun around who is basically going to give you the same thing for at least $2.5M less for the next few years? With a lot less dumbass offensive zone penalties and better health? More speed and durability? Younger? Am I supposed to believe Annette Frontpresence on the SECOND power play unit is that important?

The Hawks will say they got Maatta out of it, but he’s terrible and also seems to have crowded Henri Jokiharju out of the lineup completely. Which is either scandalous or they’ve decided Jokiharju sucks now which is also scandalous. So yeah, ok, Shaw isn’t that expensive but there was an even better money-saving way to go about it. This is middle path shit and the Hawks want pats on the back for like, spelling their name right on the SAT. It’s not imaginary or creative.

-When all is said and done today or this week, the Hawks still have not informed me how they plan on getting the puck to their forwards. Maatta can’t do it. de Haan can’t do it. Seabrook can’t do it. Keith can like do it maybe once per game. Gustafsson can’t because he’s too slow. It’s not Murphy’s game. How? You say you have scoring but what does that matter if the forwards have to break out themselves?

The Hawks have literally no transition game right now. None. Jokiharju is supposedly an answer to that, and they don’t even want him on the roster to begin the season. Boqvist is supposed to be that, but he’s one guy, a year away most likely at best, and also a smurf.

Again, there doesn’t seem to be a plan here, or any sense of how the game is played now. But hey, partial season ticket plans available!

Everything Else

We’ll wrap up our free agent wishlist, and wait for the Hawks to sign players we never considered, with the biggest fish out there, unrestricted or restricted. And let’s cut the heart out of the Leafs while we’re at it. 

Mitch Marner

Height: 6-0 (not really)  Weight: 175 lb

Age: 22   Shoots: Right

2018-2019

82 games – 26 G – 68 A – 94 P – 22 PIM

52.0 CF% (+0.38 Relative)  52.8 x GF% (+1.63 Relative) 51.6 ZSR

Why The Hawks Should Sign Him

Because he’s really good. Because he might actually be a generational player. Because 22-year-olds who just racked up 94 points are generally nowhere near the market, and we can thank the Toronto media and fans for this bit of intrigue. Because he’s another torch-bearer when Toews and Kane can’t do it anymore. Because it’s a statement of intent. Because it makes it clear the last two seasons were simply unacceptable. Because it shows imagination and hutzpah. Because the Hawks might actually have to sell some tickets instead of papering their sellout streak anyway possible. Because it would certainly placate the veterans you still want to be a part of things. Because it would be exciting and suddenly your team might just be Showtime of the Central Division. I really don’t even have to sell this.

Why the Hawks Shouldn’t Sign Him

Well, that’s just as obvious, isn’t it? He ties up the cap something fierce. He doesn’t help the defense other than scoring more goals. There are questions about his appetite for getting involved in the middle of the ice when things matter most, though that’s probably drummed up by the Toronto media again to help drive his price down. He’s a touch small, but that shouldn’t be a concern at all. He doesn’t help the kill much, though he did kill penalties for the first time this season, and is someone whose speed and threat could be a real weapon on the kill. Point-men would be a little more careful with the puck knowing any slip is sending Marner the other way.

Verdict

Ok, let’s first figure out how it’s possible, because it is. Let’s just say right now it takes a seven-year, $77M offer. It might even be more, but let’s go with the $11M figure for now. The Hawks have just over that in space, so signing Marner to that leaves no room for Perlini and Kampf. Well, actually it does, because you can be 10% over until opening night.

So for the 185th time, get Anisimov off this roster. You just drafted his replacement anyway, and said replacement should probably be playing, and if Dach really isn’t up for it this season guess what? Marner can play center too. It’s not ideal, but you can do it. So there’s $2-4M in space depending on what you have to take back to get Arty’s beleaguered ass out of town. That probably gets you through this season, though your defense is still a goddamn mess. But we’ve pretty much already acquiesced to that being the case.

BUT WHAT ABOUT STROME AND TOP CAT HOW ARE WE GOING TO PAY THEM?! That’s been the squeal from the front office itself for about six months now. First, pump the brakes on Strome for a hot minute. This time last year the Hawks were telling everyone that they had to reserve space to throw $6-7M a year at Nick Schmaltz. He’s on a trainer’s table in Glendale now. Strome gave you a good 50 games. So did Schmaltz. Let’s just say he’s got more to prove.

Still, you’ll obviously need more than $6M in space or so that moving Arty along will give you, plus the minuscule bump the cap will get. It’s the season after that when the new US TV deal will kick in and the cap will get a noticeable bump, so we’ve got some work to do.

Let’s attack another way. The Hawks currently have $23M open for next year. $11M to Marner brings that down to $12M, but a punting of Arty makes it somewhere between $14-$16. If everything goes well this year, DeBrincat and Strome eat that up, and you also haven’t re-signed Crawford yet. But, one or two of Murphy, de Haan, or Maatta probably have to go because they all do the same thing and by 2020 Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell had better be in the lineup or everyone’s fired. You’re probably selling Brandon Saad too unless he does something pretty goofy this season. After that the US TV deal kicks in and you have more room and fucking figure it out.

As for the draft picks? Who gives a shit? You’re not going to have a top three pick again, and you supposedly just got your #1 center of the future. You clearly think you have enough young d-men to make up for the fact that none of them are a true #1, but it may be that you don’t need that anymore. You can find players at #18 or #25 or wherever the Hawks plan on finishing, but you can find players anywhere too. Maybe you convince the Leafs to send one of the #1s back to you for Gustafsson or something. Or you get another #1 for him at the deadline when he’s goofing another 60 points off the power play but Jokiharju and Boqvist are ready to go and hey maybe Denver is done early and Mitchell is too. Whatever, how long do you want to be in the wilderness?

Basically, it doesn’t make any sense but it can be figured out. Fortune favors the brave. Let’s get nuts.

Everything Else

It’s only one report. And you can hear things differently. But The Athletic’s Scott Powers had some thoughts yesterday, and boy do they set you out to kind of ignore next season. Let’s go through them.

1. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported Tuesday the Blackhawks’ offseason objective now that they’ve signed two defensemen is to find a forward or two who could help on faceoffs and the penalty kill.

No question that the Hawks penalty kill sucked, but it sucked because they didn’t have a single d-man who could play on it. Seabrook was too slow to react to anything, Keith didn’t care, Dahlstrom was overwhelmed, Slater Koekkoek has a terminal case of being Slater Koekkoek, and I don’t have to talk about Gustav Forsling anymore so I’m not going to. When Connor Murphy wasn’t out there, and he had way too much to do, it was a problem.

So fine, if you want some quick forwards to apply more pressure, that’s not a bad thing. But it can’t be all that they do. And you could probably fashion a PK out of Toews, Saad, Caggiula, Kampf, Kubalik, and Perlini (whose speed could be a real weapon on the kill if he could be taught where to be).

The whole faceoff thing…aren’t we past this? Kampf had a rough year at the dot last year but was 53% in his rookie year so we know he can do it. The Flyers, Ducks, and Red Wings were in the top ten in faceoffs last year as a team. The Caps, Islanders, Canes, and Avs were in the bottom-10. Faceoffs as a whole aren’t as important as teams still think. Individual draws are, and you’ve got enough for that. It’s not worth tossing $3M at Bellemare to win the occasional draw. Jesus Christ.

2. Powers goes on to project what the team will look like:

Saad-Toews-Sikura

Top Cat-Strome-Kane

Kubalik-Anisimov-Perlini

Caggiula-Kampf-Some Signing

That’s the same forward group that got nowhere near the playoffs last season. Why are we supposed to get excited? Where is this going?

Keith-Gustafsson

de Haan-Seabrook

Maatta-Murphy

That blue line sucks hard. Like golfball through a garden hose hard. It’s also ridiculously slow. Is it better than last year? Sure. but what kind of bar is that?

What’s really worrying is that the rumbling from more than just Powers and Stan’s actual quotes on the Score on Tuesday is that Henri Jokiharju is going to struggle to make the team out of camp. Which is a big fucking problem, because if he can’t crack this he sucks. Yeah, he only had a half season at Rockford, but if he’s all they want you to believe he is than that should be enough. Also, there’s no allowance for Boqvist blowing everyone away in camp, but I guess that’s some miracle now even though Joel Qunneville, a far more experienced coach than the mannequin currently in the position, was making noise that he wanted to keep Boqvist around last year.

Oh, and here’s the kicker:

Jokiharju is probably a better fit than a few of the defensemen listed there, but best fit likely won’t decide which defensemen are in the lineup. Contracts and experience will probably be factored in too, and that could mean Jokiharju is on the outside looking in next season.

THIS IS THE GODDAMN FUCKING HORSESHITING PROBLEM!

Contracts and experience don’t matter when it comes to figure out your lineup (I’m going to turn into Brad Pitt here, “HIS DEFENSE DOES NOT MATTER!”) This is simply the Hawks justifying keeping Seabrook in the lineup. You’re already spending that money and his experience isn’t going to help him not skate and move like he just shit out a badger in his hockey pants so quit doubling your mistake. HIS CONTRACT DOES NOT MATTER.

Anyway, the only other nugget is that the Hawks are terrified of Strome’s and Top Cat’s next contract tying their hands again. An easy solution would be to punt Artem Anisimov into any box marked, “To Timbuktu,” and open up more space. That also opens a spot for Dach to make the team.

And that’s the main problem for me now. Because even if I accept that the Hawks really do regard this as yet another rebuilding year–and please release any video or audio of them selling that to Keith, Seabrook, Toews, and Kane–then that team listed above is your base. And I’m supposed to believe that the additions of Dach and Boqvist and maybe Mitchell make it a Cup contender? Sell that one to me. It’s a playoff team. It’s a decent team. Maybe it makes some noise behind a hot Crawford. But a really good team? I don’t see it.

But it’s a process, not a plan.

Everything Else

Continuing our look at the sparse free agent market, we turn to the winger perhaps below the class of Pavelski or Lee, but would be an awfully solid signing, Gustav Nyquist.  And also maybe our most esoteric reference ever. 

Gustav Nyquist

Height: 5-11   Weight: 184 lbs.

Age: 29 (3o on Opening Night)  Shoots: Left

2018-2019 Stats

81 games – 22 G – 38 A – 60 P – 12 PIM

53.1 CF% (+4.9 Relative) 53.0 xGF% (+7.6 Relative)  52.7 ZSR

Why The Hawks Should Sign Him

Because he kind of does a lot. He’s played both sides in his career, and even moonlighted at center in an emergency, but mostly sticks to the right side. At the moment, that’s where the Hawks’ gap in the top six is. He’s not a prolific goal-scorer, but has put up over 20 in four of the past six seasons, and when getting to play on a real team again in San Jose saw his highest goals-per-game rate since 2015, the last time the Wings were even close to worth a shit. Unlike recent additions and whispers, Nyquist can actually move around the ice quickly. He is not defensively inept either, and has driven the play and chances and expected goals at above the team rate every year of his career, which continued in San Jose and it was not easy to be above the team-rate there. He did it with slanted offensive zone starts but not terribly so, and could be a player you’d ask to join say Toews and Saad in taking a fair share of defensive draws but turning the ice over. Toews needs the help, and Nyquist can provide it, which is something Lee’s footspeed and Pavelski’s age make a question. Nyquist also might come in cheaper than the other two, coming off a $4.7M hit and after a 22-goal, 60-point season he probably isn’t going to exceed that by much or at all. If the flexibility for DeBrincat and hopefully Strome next summer is a concern, Nyquist would not interfere with that.

Why The Hawks Shouldn’t Sign Him

First off, age is a question. He will be 30 when the season opens, and as he creeps deeper into that decade and loses a half step or step it’s a wonder how much his game will be affected. I might not care about the next, but the Hawks clearly think size is a problem for them and Nyquist doesn’t do anything about that. If he loses any scoring touch at all, he’s a third-liner at best and you can’t say for sure that he can transition into a full-time checking winger. The Hawks are short another 30-goal guy, as Saad hasn’t proven to be one, and Nyquist isn’t going to be one either. That leaves only Kane, Top Cat, and another Toews renaissance and you might need one more. All of this is question on term. Nyquist also hasn’t ever really killed penalties, so he won’t help there.

Verdict

In truth, Nyquist would be a great signing in addition to a big splash like Lee or Pavelski. Suddenly you’d be swimming in forward depth, counting on a second-line player like Nyquist for third-line scoring. Given his smarts, he’d be a nice compliment to Dach if the latter makes the team. It would depend on what he’s looking for and cost. If you could get Nyquist for just three years and around $4M, he’d be a steal. Having him around until he’s 35 is a risk, and anything about $5M feels a little excessive. He can do a job, but he’s more a support beam than foundational. You could do way worse, though. Like Perry.

Everything Else

Monday is when the doors fly open and GMs go climbing and rushing over each other for the chance to splash the cash on whatever player or players they think will take them to the promise land. Or save their jobs. Stan Bowman and the Hawks have been making noise at being interestingly active for once past July 1, so what might they be in the mood for? We start with the winger they’ve been most heavily linked to. 

Anders Lee

Height: 6-3  Weight: 231

Age: 28 (29 on Opening Night)  Shoots: Left

2018-2019

Team: New York Islanders

82 games – 28 G – 23 A – 51 P – 58 PIM

49.2 CF% (+1.96 Relative)  54.2 xGF% (+4.29 Relative)  49.5 Zone-Star Rating (or offensive zone starts

Why The Hawks Should Sign Him

What they’ll tell you, though we might not necessarily believe, is size and goals. Lee would immediately become the Hawks’ main power forward threat, now that Artem Anisimov is no more than a fourth-line winger if not garbage to be jettisoned before the jump into hyperspace. On the top six, the only winger with size at the moment is Brandon Saad, and he’s not really much of a crease-crasher, space-eater, greasy goal-getter. While we might hem and haw, you do need that somewhere and Lee does that. And the dude scores. 28 last year, 4o the year before when playing with Tavares, 34 the year before that. That 102 goals over the past three years ranks Lee 12th in the league, ahead of names like Skinner, Seguin, and MacKinnon and right behind Kane and Draisaitl. Goals are still the name of the game. While the 28 goals might look a drop, Lee moved from the first line to the second line with Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle.

While Lee isn’t exactly swift, he does carry the “moves well for his size” label. And perhaps under the radar, the dude is good in both ends, with an expected goals percentage way over the team-rate both last year and three seasons ago and consistently ahead of it every year. And he’s done that with Captain Jack Capuano‘s Fury Road With No Planning methods or Barry Trotz’s cure for insomnia. So he can do just about whatever you ask him. He’s also been the picture of durability, missing nine games in the past five seasons total.

Why The Hawks Shouldn’t Sign Him

Well, that depends on how much you think speed matters in the game in terms of size. Lee won’t make the Hawks any faster, and they already are behind in the game when it comes to speed with which it is played. It’s also a little hard to picture where Lee would line up. He’s almost always been a left-winger, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to play him with Kane unless Toews was between them. As we’ve seen, Kane will make just about anything work but ideally has an actual sniper on the other side instead of just a crease-crasher. Lee isn’t really that. You could play him with Toews and RW du jour (Saad?) and have a hybrid scoring/checking line again, if Toews is up for that. Lee also might come at a higher price than you might think given that goals-standing over the past three seasons. He will be 29 when the season starts, so committing a ton of years to him might just leave you with an awfully expensive Andrew Ladd (now) on your hands in three or four years.

Verdict

Much like his former teammate in de Haan, you can’t see how a Lee signing would make the Hawks any worse. He would be an excellent weapon on the power play blotting out the sun, and he can do more than just stand there and shift out and make plays as well like Strome did. Whether that’s on the first or second unit, it would certainly strengthen it. The Hawks need someone to occupy defenders down low, and Lee does that, which should open up more space for the more creative forwards he plays with. And he probably helps defensively, too.

On the other hand, we’re talking about a not all that quick player heading into his 30s, and you have to wonder how much of a step he can lose before the hands and brain can’t compensate any more.

Like with anything, it’ll depend on the deal. You’d be awfully antsy about handing him more than five years, or anyone really. Second, given that goal-total the past three years, Lee wouldn’t be remiss in asking for $8M or more. Jeff Skinner, whose numbers Lee has essentially matched the past three seasons, just signed an extension that’s $9M per year. On the other end, Cam Atkinson–another numbers match–is only paid $5.8M per year, though he signed that extension a little while ago.

Eyeballing it, the upper-limit on what I would hand Lee is $7M per year. And that’s if you absolutely have to. That would still leave the Hawks with wiggle room to either do more or save space for DeBrincat and Strome (if he earns it). Skinner’s $9M seems too high as he has four 30-goal seasons on his resume to Lee’s two. Even $8M feels that way. If you can get Lee in for between $6-7M and for five years, six at the absolute max, you’ve probably got a good deal. Otherwise, shop better.

Everything Else

We took a bit of a tour through the league last week, but of the more local concerns, what have the other Central Division teams been up to this offseason?

Nashville Predators – The reigning champs haven’t really done much of anything other than watch PK Subban have the summer we all dream of having. They have a ton of cap space but have yet to use it, and Ryan Hartman and Juuse Saaros remain unsigned. Perhaps they’re keeping their powder dry for next summer when they sign Ryan Ellis and/or Pekka Rinne to utterly hilarious extensions. This is probably a team that could use more firepower up front, despite what they keep telling you. Maybe they’re spending it on the Eli Toivanen PR machine. Not sure. Still awfully silent on the Austin Watson case, and they’ll almost assuredly welcome him to training camp with open arms because David Poile is the same bag of shit that every other NHL GM is when it comes to that sort of thing, and don’t let Preds fans tell you different.

Winnipeg Jets – The Jets have also been remarkably quiet, but you can do that when you probably were the West’s most complete team last season. There are still extensions waiting for Hellebuyck, Trouba, Tanev, and Lowry, and the first two could be quite expensive. Even Lowry should get more than you’d think as one of the better checking forwards last year. They lost Stastny to Vegas, but this was a borderline great team before he showed up, and going Scheifele-Little-Perreault-Lowry, or moving Copp or Roslovic to the middle should still make for a great team. They still need a backup goalie of some kind because Hellebuyck isn’t going to play 70 games, and I’ll laugh pretty damn hard if they bring Pavelec back to do that. Still, this is a team that needs to keep space reserved for next summer when Wheeler, Copp. Laine, and Connor are all up for new deals. This is still a team you have to figure out why they can’t come out of the West instead of why they can.

Minnesota Wild – Other than scouring the black market for bionic limbs for Zach Parise, this is the same collection of “Oh that guy” it’s been for at least five years now. J.T. Brown or Eric Fehr don’t really move the needle, and they’ll count on kids like Kunin or Greenway to take this rabble any farther than it’s gone, which they can’t do. Matt Dumba remains unsigned, though they have plenty of space to accommodate whatever his number comes in at. Bruch Boudreau “GO GO GO” ways and Devan Dubnyk probably monkey-hump this team to another playoff appearance, the question for everyone is what good will that do? This is a team screaming for a major shakeup that simply can’t produce one.

Colorado Avalanche – This was a team whose main goal was to not fuck up their rebuild too much, though they’ve been whispered to be in on Erik Karlsson. Matt Calvert is an interest signing who didn’t cost much at $2.8 per, and if he’s restricted to middle six minutes would be a boon to their depth. Tyson Barrie is somehow still here even though they’ve been trying to trade him since the first Obama administration and now he kinda sucks. They brought in Phillip Grubauer to replace Semyon Varlamov, which should be an upgrade. Basically, this team is looking at how much Yost, Kerfoot, Girard, Compher, Rantanen, and Kamenev grow for whatever their improvement is going to be, and that’s basically all they should do. It’s not as promising in Denver as some would have you believe, but it’s far from hopeless either.

St. Louis Blues – We went over this last week, but this is how a team should react to missing the playoffs. Bozak and O’Reilly are massive upgrades on what they had, and that includes Stastny. $4M on David Perron is a complete waste of time other than to my sense of mirth, but given what’s here he can pretty much be restricted to third-line duties which is all he’s ever really been. The defense is still slow and overrated, and Jay Gallon is going to piss fire all over whatever they try and do, but at least it’s a team acting with some urgency.

Dallas Stars – They were poised to make the biggest splash by acquiring Karlsson, and then fucked it up by bragging to everyone how badly they were bending over the Senators and hence the Sens pulled out. So now they’re left with the same problematic squad Jim Nill has built over the years. The return of Nichushkin at least raises some eyebrows, because he flashed being a dominant power forward in his first go-around. It was just drowned in a sea of confused faces the rest of the time. Still, this remains a great top line with Jason Spezza trying not to disintegrate behind it and Martin Hanzal gasping for air. And that hasn’t been addressed. They brought in Roman Polak, which I’m basically out of words for, and he’ll kill Julius Honka’s will to live by December 1st. Ditto Marc Methot and Stephen Johns. Also whatever’s left of Ben Bishop is claiming to still play goal, though Khudobin is not a bad insurance policy.

So if you want to feel better, other than the Blues this is a division full of teams that have stood still. Except the Hawks were worse than all of them last year, and right now you can only see them topping Dallas and Colorado with the second being a real stretch. If Dubnyk finally goes off the boil the Wild actually have a chance to be real bad, but Boudreau never has teams that are real bad in the regular season.

So it’s an even bigger shame the Hawks didn’t do anything to try and jump up in the standings, because it was there to be done.

 

Everything Else

The Rockford IceHogs are set to be comprised primarily of prospects for the second straight season. With several defensive prospects signed to contracts this spring and a slew of returning forward prospects, there isn’t much room for veteran contracts.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a need for them, however.

It was very apparent that the injection of experienced talent provided the kick in the pants required for the piglets to go on a successful run this spring. Every organization can use skaters that can provide leadership and excel at the AHL level. Even Rockford, although that hasn’t always been a top priority.

A lot of teams obtain talent that won’t show up in an NHL rink for more than a cup of coffee, yet can shine in the AHL. Many of Rockford’s Central Division rivals utilize this strategy and keep these players around season after season. Again, that hasn’t been the IceHogs strategy of late.

First and foremost, the Blackhawks use their AHL affiliate to develop prospects. Totally legit practice, though it doesn’t hurt to support the prospects with players from whom they can learn and with whom they can win.

Last season, the roster was light on veterans. Right now, that will again be the case unless the Hawks/Hogs do one or more of the following:

  1. Chicago can sign a veteran (a defenseman would be nice) who will play the role of mentor. Preferably, he’d be able to take some of the pressure off of the kids on the blueline as well as the goalies.
  2. The Hawks could obtain such a veteran in a trade, much like they did in obtaining Jordan Schoeder last week.
  3. Rockford could bring in a veteran on an AHL contract.

There are a slew of players that fit the bill. Just for kicks and giggles, last week I compiled a list of players who could be available via free agency as either an NHL depth signing or an AHL contract Rockford could offer. It is a true “wish list” as most of Rockford’s AHL deals go to young, unproven players and the Blackhawks haven’t been stacking a lot of top-end AHL level players at the BMO the last few seasons.

Even though many of the players on my list are now unavailable after signing with other organizations (for good reason), I thought I’d go ahead and share my list with you this week. If Chicago or Rockford announce the acquisition of any of these players, it’s a good thing for the IceHogs.

 

NHL Depth Signings

Eric Tangradi-LW (Signed by New Jersey 7/25, one year, 650 K)

At 6’4″ and 225 pounds, Hogs fans have gotten to see quite a bit of Tangradi while a member of the Grand Rapids Griffins the past three seasons. In 2017-18, he set career highs with 64 points (31 G, 33 A) while serving as an alternate captain.

The 29-year-old power forward has 143 games of NHL experience in stops with Pittsburgh, Winnipeg, Montreal and Detroit. Most of his last four seasons have been spent as an AHL player; he lacks the skating ability to stick at the NHL level at this point of his career.

In the AHL, Tangradi has been a very consistent goal scorer. In a full season of action, pencil him in for 40-50 points. The only question I’d have is if Tangradi would be able to play at the pace Jeremy Colliton wants to push. He seems to have kept up in Grand Rapids.

 

Chris Terry-LW (Signed by Detroit 7/1, two-years, $635 K per)

An example of a player who isn’t quite big or fast enough to find steady NHL work but dominates offensively at the AHL level. The 5’10, 195-pounder does have 22 goals in 152 games (mostly with Carolina), but Terry has really excelled at lighting AHL lamps.

The 29-year-old paced the league in scoring with 71 points (32 G, 39 A). He has the savvy to get to scoring opportunities and the skill to convert. Terry has potted at least 25 goals in each of his last five full AHL campaigns. That includes 30 goals in 58 games with St. Johns in 2016-17.

Terry is a hard-working player who has worn an “A” on his sweater with the Charlotte Checkers as well as with Montreal’s affiliates in St. John and Laval.

 

Kenny Agostino-LW (Signed by Montreal 7/1, one-year, $700 K)

Another forward with high AHL upside, Agostino led the league in scoring in 2016-17 with 83 points when with the Chicago Wolves. His numbers were down this season playing in Providence as a member of the Bruins organization (53 points), but Agostino would be a great fit for Rockford.

The 26-year-old has decent size (6’0″, 202) plus the wheels to play the up-tempo game preferred by Colliton. Agostino would look mighty fine on the Hogs top line.

 

Michael Mersch-LW (Signed by Dallas 7/1, two-years, $675 K per)

A native of Park Ridge IL, Mersch starred at Wisconsin for four seasons. He is a power forward-type that has been a 20-goal scorer in three of his four AHL campaigns.

Mersch may lack the skating ability to entrench himself in the NHL, but has plenty of skill as a shooter of the puck. He also had 22 points (13 G, 9 A) on Manchester’s 2014-15 Calder Cup champs.

 

Pat Cannone-C (Signed by ELC Ingolstadt of the DEL 7/19)

Supplies a wealth of experience to what will likely be another young bunch in Rockford. Cannone is 31 with plenty of AHL credentials. He was up with Minnesota for three games in 2016-17, but has spent the remainder of his seven-year pro career playing for Binghampton, Chicago and Iowa.

Cannone isn’t a real big guy (5’11”, 198) but he’s a solid player at both ends and is good for a 15-20 goal, 35-50 point season even at his advanced age.

 

Brian Flynn-C (Signed by St. Louis 7/1, one-year, $650 K)

Flynn has 275 NHL games under his belt playing for Buffalo and Montreal. He spent this past season in Texas, scoring 47 points (18 G, 29 A) with the Stars and helped them get past Rockford on the way to the Calder Cup Final this spring.

Flynn is a versatile two-way forward who can play at center or wing and is a solid penalty killer to boot. He turns 30 this month and could be a veteran mentor to the piglets.

 

Zach Palmquist-D

The 27-year-old has spent his pro career with Minnesota, having signed there after a college career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He has spent three seasons with the Iowa Wild.

Palmquist had career-best numbers for Iowa last season, with six goals and 28 helpers. He’s a hard-working puck-mover who could bring AHL experience to the back end.

 

Brent Regner-D (Signed by EC Red Bull Salzburg of the Austrian League 7/19)

Another player the Hogs saw a lot of in the playoffs, Regner is 29 and has nine AHL seasons under his belt. This season, it was with Texas, where he recorded 10 goals and 21 assists for the Stars.

Regner has also played for the Wolves as well as the Peoria Rivermen back when they were an AHL franchise. Count tours with Syracuse and Springfield for the veteran.

Regner can handle power-play duties and can get the puck out of his zone and up the ice. He could take on the role Adam Clendening played for the Hogs this spring.

 

Others On My List

Ben Street-C, Detroit/Grand Rapids (signed by Anaheim 7/2)

Matt Lorito-RW, Detroit/Grand Rapids (signed by the Islanders 7/1)

Buddy Robinson-RW, Winnipeg/Manitoba (signed by Calgary 7/2)

Wade Megan-C, St. Louis/Chicago (signed by Detroit 7/1).

 

AHL Contracts To Consider

Patrice Cormier-C (Signed 7/2 with Barys Astana of the KHL)

22 goals in his second year of captaincy for Manitoba. Physical, checking-type player with size who is a steady 20-30 point scorer in the AHL.

 

Chris Bourque-LW (Signed 7/9 to an AHL deal with Brideport)

Long-time AHL point producer. Great hands, still has good skating speed and can still find the net at age 32. A member of three Calder Cup winners with Hershey. Also defends pretty well.

 

Bobby Butler-RW (Signed 7/2 to an AHL deal with Hartford)

Butler came back to the AHL from Europe with Milwaukee and scored 24 goals with 21 assists in 67 games. He also played on the U.S. Olympic team. At 31, still can skate and score.

 

Sheldon Dries-C (Signed 7/2 to an NHL deal by Colorado)

Western Michigan grad who signed an AHL contract with Texas and put up 30 points in the regular season, then ten goals in the playoffs. Little guy, big motor.

 

T.J. Hensick-C/RW

At 32, has been around the league for awhile. Five 60-plus seasons with Lake Erie, Peoria, and several other teams. 45 points (11 G, 34 A) for Ontario last season.

 

Travis Morin-C

Long time AHL scorer for the Texas Stars. Is 34 and his goals were down this past year but still recorded 61 points. Re-upped with the Stars on an AHL deal last week and will play his tenth season in Texas.

 

Other AHL Possibilities

Dave Gust-RW

Brett Sutter-C/RW (Remains with Ontario of the AHL)

Brody Sutter-C/RW

 

The IceHogs have a number of players under AHL contracts for the coming season. Forwards William Pelletier and Henrik Samuelsson both return for another season, as well as Radovon Bondra, who was injured for most of 2017-18. Defenseman Josh McArdle, a Rockton, Illinois native, signed an AHL contract with the team last week. Goalie Matt Tomkins is also under contract with Rockford.

I wouldn’t expect more than a player or two to be signed by Rockford this summer. Same goes for NHL depth signings by the Blackhawks. I crossed a lot of these guys off my list Sunday and expect to cross off a bunch more this week. Maybe, however, one of those names gets brought into the organizational orbit.

 

 

Everything Else

There’s little point in talking about anyone else on the Islanders right now than John Tavares and whether he will stay on Long Island (whenever the Isles actually get there) or flea to much, much greener pastures this summer. In his hands he’ll hold the futures and presents of two franchises, with the power to change the dynamic of a division or conference as well.

Money isn’t going to be an issue. The Islanders certainly have to be prepared to throw $12 million or more a year at Tavares, whatever the limit is when the new cap is set. If the cap does reach $82 million as has been suggested  you could even chuck somewhere around $16 million per year at Tavares if you were so inclined. That might be a bit much, but Connor McDavid’s $12.5 million hit is probably the target, if not starting point. And just about everyone will offer that who’s going to chase Tavares. And it could be a crowded field.

So we’ll start with the case for Tavares to stay. And you can throw that loyalty crap out the window. Players want to cash in and they want to win, and while Tavares may like his teammates and grown attached to whichever community the Isles are playing in this week, it’s just not going to be that big of a factor.

So what is? Well, the Islanders do have a new home locked up, at Belmont Park. This should be better received by their fans on the Island, as it’s still accessible by the same train that goes to Brooklyn but is still on the Island, which appears to be a big deal for them. The problem is it’s three seasons away, and in the meantime the Islanders appear poised to split their home games between Barclays Center and a refurbished, if not tiny, Nassau Coliseum (where they come to see ’em). This not ideal, but it might not be the headache you imagine. The Islanders’ practice facility is still in Nassau Co., and hence the players had to make the same trip in for games that their fans found to be such a headache. Cutting out half of those trips is probably something that the players will like. Still, it’s something of a vagabond team for three seasons, and that might not appeal at all.

As for the team, there’s hope. With a rise in the cap and a clearing out of some deadweight like Nikolai Kulemin, Calvin de Haan and his missing capital letter, Jaro Halak, maybe Thomas Hickey and maybe a trade of a veteran or two like Clusterfuck or Casey Cizikas, the Isles should have the room to sign Tavares and keep their young-ish core of him, Barzal, Bailey, Lee, Nelson, Beauvillier around.

Couple problems there None of them are defensemen and none of them are goalies. With the Islanders having a historically (and hilariously) bad defense this year, that’s an issue. There doesn’t appear to be a ton of help on the way either, as Josh Ho-Sang and Kiefer Bellows are also forwards. The Isles are going to have to solve this from the outside, and as we’ve discussed for the Hawks, the options are not very appetizing in the least.

So who will the Islanders compete against to be the apple of JT’s eyes? About half the league at least, you’d expect. The Canadiens desperately need a #1 center and a turnaround. But they’re getting old in a hurry, and Tavares might not want to put up with all the bullshit of playing in Montreal. Really, who does? While every Leafs fan is under the impression that every Ontario born NHL-er secretly wants to come home and play for the Leafs and have Steve Simmons insult their entire family, the Leafs won’t have the space and have their own players to re-sign. Tampa has been mentioned as Tavares is close with Steven Stamkos, and if they could find a way to make it work next season they have a ton of money coming off the books in the summer of 2019. Which is nice, because they’re going to have to give Kucherov $10 million or more then. They could have even more if they moved Tyler Johnson along, and he would be a touch superfluous with the arrival of Tavares. And clearly, that team would be a favorite for a while. We’ve talked about the Hawks, who should seriously think about it. Another team that should think about it is San Jose, in that they’re going to have to move on from Thornton at some point and Couture and Pavelski are up after next season. Fuck, the Avs need another center and have all the cap space in the world. The Panthers are making noise now and if they could slot Barkov in as a #2? The Hurricanes probably don’t have the budget but are screaming out for this.  The Blues seem to be clearing the decks for something. This list could go on forever.

It’s an awful lot of competition for New York, a team that can’t promise everything. The future is uncertain for them, and they’ll be bouncing between two arenas. Seems less and less likely the more you think about it, doesn’t it? If Tavares were to bolt, they have Barzal ready to step in as a #1 center and those forwards already mentioned. Still no defense or goalie but all the money earmarked for Tavares would be free. They might suck to high heaven next year when there’s no reasonable targets to spend it on, but hey look at the summer of 2019 and you have Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Sergei Bobrovsky all possibly on the market. It rarely works out like that but you never know.

It might not be death for the Isles, but it wouldn’t be a pleasant recovery either.

 

 

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