Blackhawks report card, part 2: RFAs and UFAs

Yesterday, we looked at those players whose contracts extend through the 2011-12 season or beyond. Today, we're going to look at the RFAs and UFAs currently on the Blackhawks roster, and rate their chances for returning next season. Notes in parenthesis are the player's 2010-11 salary cap hit, and RFA or UFA status.

EXPECT TO RETURN - THE RFAs

Corey Crawford, goalie ($800K/RFA) - Corey Crawford has quietly bided his time in the Blackhawks system. Drafted 52nd overall and the Blackhawks second pick of the 2003 Draft (the same draft where Ryan Kesler was picked 23rd and Corey Perry 28th), he played two seasons for the Norfolk Admirals when the Admirals were still the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate, and three seasons for the Rockford IceHogs. He was occasionally called up to Chicago, and the difference between him and Antti Niemi in the backup position for the 2009-10 team was the fact that Niemi would have had to pass through waivers for callups. Crawford went back to Rockford and patiently waited his turn, which came this year. Behind a defense that was Swiss cheese in comparison to last year's, Crawford still turned out a highly respectable 33-18-6 record with 4 shutouts, .917 save %, and just 2.30 GAA, putting him on par with goalies like Marc-Andre Fluery (36-20-5/.918/2.32/3 SO), Jonathan Quick (35-22-3/.918/2.24/6 SO), and yes, Antti Niemi (35-18-6/.920/2.38/6 SO). Although Crawford's record put him firmly into the league as a rookie, his play is mature, focused, solid and dependable. He put up a 3-4 record in the first round of the playoffs with a .927 sv %, 2.21 GAA, and 1 shut out - not to mention 2 assists along the way. Committed to him for eight years already, with six seasons directly invested in his development at the AHL/NHL level, and a solid performance throughout the season, there is zero reason to think anything except that the Blackhawks have found their franchise goalie. GM Stan Bowman has stated that re-signing Crawford is their top priority; Crawford has stated he wants to stay in Chicago -- so now the Blackhawks just need to get the deal done before July 1st, so they do not find themselves at the mercy of what happened to them last year with the Sharks. Based on the Blackhawks history and the current goalie market, expect Crawford to be signed to a 3-5 year deal somewhere in the neighborhood of a $2.25-$2.5M/year cap hit.

Chris Campoli, defense ($1.4M/RFA) - Chris Campoli was a trade-deadline acquisition for the Blackhawks. The 26-year-old blue liner spent six seasons split between the Islanders and Senators before arriving in Chicago, but from his style of play and the speedy ease with which he fit into the Blackhawks system, you would hardly guess he'd played anywhere else. In 19 games, he collected 1 G, 6 assists and a +3 while taking just one penalty. He also had 1 assist and a +3 in the first round of the playoffs, but unfortunately for him, what fans will most remember for him this year is the clearing attempt in OT of game 7 that led directly to a turnover and the GWG for the Canucks. Calling for a ride out of town for him after that play is a bit hasty, however. From the day he arrived in Chicago, Campoli practically visibly oozed excitement over his change of fortunes. He's shown a constant willingness to block shots; and he put together nearly as many points (1G, 6A) in 19 games as Niklas Hjalmarsson did (3G, 7A) in four times as many games. He's also shown a willingness to be physical, to fight for the puck, and to protect his teammates - especially the goalie. He is still relatively new to the team, having just five weeks on the team as the regular season closed out, but although he was new to the team, he did well under the Blackhawks system. If he can be re-signed for close to his current salary, it would be very likely for him to return.

Michael Frolik, left wing/center ($1.275M/RFA) - For most, the late-season trade that sent Jack Skille to the Florida Panthers and brought back Michael Frolik in return was a surprise. Stan Bowman sang the praises of the 23-year-old Czech, stating that the team had had its eye on Frolik for some time. After two relatively decent, 40+ point seasons with the Panthers, Frolik's production dropped in this season, so fans grumbled about his acquisition. Although his production was near-nonexistant upon his arrival to Chicago, once it started up, it really got going - his breakout game on March 2nd included 1 G and 2 assists. Although his point-scoring has been streaky at times, he has shown an increasing ability to score and make plays - not to mention his willingness to get to the net, dig in the corners, put the puck on the net, and block shots. Frolik also has very few giveaways - just 8 total between 28 regular season and 7 playoff games. (His takeaway-to-giveaway ratio has been consistently 3-to-1.) Frolik is relatively inexpensive with huge potential, plus the ability to play both wing and center, although he prefers to be on wing. If he can be locked in for a few years at around $1.4-$1.6M/yr, he brings a lot of long-term potential to the team.

THE QUESTION MARKS - THE RFAs

Troy Brouwer, winger ($1.025M/RFA) - Troy Brouwer had a 40-point season last year, and he was a big, physical body for the team. This year, Brouwer has continued to be physical - he led the team with 262 hits (5th overall in the league), which was 35 more than Brent Seabrook. Unfortunately, he was also one of the more inconsistent players on the ice for much of the first half of the season and there were stretches when it seemed like he disappeared. Brouwer needs to get more consistency in his game, and get more pucks on the net, while keep the physicality. Brouwer's price tag is still relatively cheap enough that he could be brought back as a known quality on the front lines; but he's also an attractive enough player to be used in trade for the holes in the Blackhawks lineup.

Jake Dowell, center ($525K/RFA) - Jake Dowell is another player who has been in the Blackhawks system for some time - drafted in 2004, Dowell spent four years at the University of Wisconsin, then 3-1/2 seasons with the Blackhawks AHL affiliates. Dowell is generally a solid, consistent, fourth-line center who knows his role. He's gritty, willing to dig in corners or to drop the gloves if need be, willing to block shots, and gets more takeaways than giveaways. Unfortunately he's just not quite as speedy as those he's often shared a line with. When it came down to the final days of the season, and the playoffs, however, he ended up being benched in favor of other centers. If resigned close to current salary cap, there's a chance he could return, but he is probably one of the bigger question marks about returning.

Viktor Stalberg, left wing ($850K/RFA) - Viktor Stalberg came to Chicago in the trade that sent Kris Versteeg to Toronto. In his first full year in the NHL, his point production has not come along as hoped, but he does have several positives going for him: he's incredibly fast, he's a big guy and willing to be physical (5th overall on the team for hits), he gets to the crease, and he's constantly throwing the puck on the net. While his aim leaves something to be desired (he has just an 8.9 s%), there's enough raw talent there to believe that he can be molded into something better. Perhaps he will be like Patrick Sharp, modest production for a couple seasons and then coming into his own as he nears 30. His price tag is low enough that the team might be tempted to bring him back for at least one more year - or resign him and use as trade bait.

THE UFAs

Ryan Johnson, center ($500K/UFA) - Ryan Johnson was a mid-season free agent acquisition - and, as it turned out, a bargain of a pick up for his PK ability, puck blocking, and his talent in the faceoff circle. The gritty center has played on several teams - most recently, the Canucks - and added a solid presence in the center. His 63.1% FOW was the best on the team among players who had taken at least 100 faceoffs (Toews was second best, at 56.7% over 1,653 FOs), and that was an important part for the Hawks puck-possession play. Although he played less than half of the season, he impressed with his solid, consistent, physical play. If his price tag remains low, it would be worth bringing him back next season.

Tomas Kopecky, right wing ($1.2M/UFA) - Tomas Kopecky had a career year with 15 G and 27 A. But his -13 rating points - far and away the worst +/- on the team - gives an indication of how frustrating of a player he has been this year. While his production has been high, he has also frequently been paired on the top or second line for the team, and was the beneficiary of being linemates with the likes of Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. Kopecky also has a knack for taking the dumbest penalties at the worst possible time; his 60 PIM would be second-highest on the team, but John Scott collected a few 10-minute-majors simply for being John Scott, so Kopecky is third for PIM. (Jake Dowell is 2nd). Still, he was one of those "sandpaper" players on a team that had been in sore need of grit. Probably not going to be back.

Marty Turco, goalie ($1.3M/UFA) - Marty Turco signed a bargain contract to come play for a winning team. Unfortunately for him, the season didn't work out quite like either he or the team imagined, and after the team floundered its way through the first two months of the season, Turco saw his starting goalie job transitioned over to Corey Crawford. However, the team's spotty first two months cannot be blamed entirely on Turco. The team was used to a far different style of goalie, and while there were moments when Turco's aggressively puck-moving style led directly to some "Wow!" plays, there were also moments when it led directly to bad goals against the Hawks. Still, the whole team was at fault in October and November, and the goalie can only bail the rest of the team out so much. It was probably never expected that Turco would play the majority of games for the season, and it is far more likely that he was meant to be exactly what he turned out to be: an excellent mentor for Corey Crawford as Chicago's home-grown goalie grew the confidence to take the reins full-time. Turco also remained what he has been known for throughout his career: a solid, positive, veteran presence in the locker room, and fantastic with the fan base. If he ever had any complaints about how his year turned out, he never showed it in public. Turco was the ultimate professional this year, and while it's extremely unlikely for him to return, he deserves more praise than he received this year.

Jordan Hendry, defense ($600K/UFA) - As a bottom-pairing defenseman, Jordan Hendry wasn't awful - but he also wasn't particularly noteworthy. At best, you could say he was solid enough, and did his job, with minimal penalties (just 2 in 37 games), and enough flexibility to have been put on the forward lines for a few games during a desperate point of the season. Hendry suffered an ACL tear, and surgery ended his season early. It's unlikely he'll return.

Fernando Pisani, right wing ($500K/UFA) - Pisani was brought in for inexpensive veteran presence. He missed 22 games this season, primarily due to injury, and was modestly produtive (16 pts). Even when he played, he had low TOI (avg 12:34), and seemed to disappear on the ice at times. Solid enough, decent enough, but didn't add anything particularly noteworthy. Doubtful to return; too many wingers in the system who can bring far more to the table for close to the same price.

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Part three of the Blackhawks report card will take a look at prospects currently in the system for Chicago.

2 Comments

George Prax's picture

Great job, love these posts. IMO the Hawks need to bolster their 3rd and 4th lines. The fact that they lost three players last year who ended up being top six players (or in Buff's case a top defenseman) on their new teams speaks for itself. Curious to see your post about the prospect as I have a feeling that could answer what I'm talking about here.

charlesofcamden's picture

Informative, well-considered article.
I agree with your assessment of Turco. I'd bet him $5 he's not back next season.