After a frenzy of free-agent signings, trying to figure out line combinations for the Chicago Blackhawks right now would be like working a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.
Including restricted free agents Viktor Stalberg and Michael Frolik, the Hawks now have no less than 14 legitimate forwards who could make their roster. That includes Ben Smith, Marcus Kruger and the newly acquired Rostislav Olesz.
On defense, the Hawks have seven players under contract and one waiting to be signed in Chris Campoli.
For the record, Bowman reiterated Friday night he expects all three of his restricted free agents to be re-signed. He said unrestricted free agents were the priority right now since players were moving “quickly off the market.” However, just last weekend at the NHL draft, Bowman said this week would be the time to focus on his three unsigned players, so it’s worth noting that none have been inked yet.
In any case, the Hawks could carry the roster maximum of 23 since their salary cap crunch is over for now. There shouldn’t be a need for a player to perform the “Rockford shuffle” as was the case the last two seasons, when guys like Jack Skille and Nick Leddy were sent back and forth between the NHL and AHL to save money.
So let’s assume a 23-man roster. With 14 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies the Hawks are just one man over. Maybe Kruger doesn’t make the roster out of camp, or with the addition of some older players, someone starts on injured reserve. Bowman said they will let it all play out in the fall.
“That’s what training camp is for,” he said. “We’ll come to camp and sort it all out.”
One of the interesting aspects of his shopping spree was the ability to give out one-year deals. That speaks to the city of Chicago and the team the Hawks have built. Maybe there weren’t many multi-year contracts available for aging players, but five one-year deals certainly allows for continued flexibility.
“We are very committed to the future of our franchise with young players but I don’t think you want to hand out jobs in the summer time,” Bowman said. “I think those are jobs to be earned.”
And if they need another year to earn them, there will be openings again in 2012-13. But it doesn’t mean the veterans have anything locked up.
“If those (young) players are better than other players we’ll find a way to get them in the lineup,” Bowman said. “Competition brings out the best in everyone.”
And just to make fans happy, the thought of all those deals coming off the books can only help when the team opens their wallet for popular Patrick Sharp. Then it’s a win-win for everyone.
For now, let the competition begin. That is unless Bowman has more moves up his sleeve.