The responsible thing for me to do right now is to lead this off with a friendly disclaimer to curb your excitement on what to expect from the Blackhawks when the free agent floodgates open tomorrow at noon eastern time.
Basically, because whatever does transpire, will pale in comparison to the sheer, asylum-worthy madness Stan Bowman unleashed upon the hockey world last Friday. In metaphorical equivalence, if the Blackhawks indeed decide to become active tomorrow, it will be like comparing the Adam West Batman flicks from the 1960’s to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. The two simply won’t compare. If the Blackhawks make any move at all, it will likely be a slight splash as opposed to last week’s tidal wave that still has Blackhawks fans treading water trying to figure out just what the hell happened.
That said, if the wheeling and dealing Bowman decides to immerse himself in tomorrow’s frenzy – which would be very unlike him if he didn’t – what names can we expect the Blackhawks to be intrigued by? Also, if you haven’t checked the most up-to-date list on the top available free agents, you can see it here. Bring an air freshener and some toilet paper because there is a whole lotta poopy out there.
It’s hard to think of another guy in free agency whose fortunes have reversed from one year to the next more dramatically than Sam Gagner. Just a year ago the former first round pick found himself clinging to the brittle, remaining fibers of his NHL career. Seemingly no one wanted the pinballing veteran. The Blue Jackets ultimately became the only team to take a flyer on the talented, but perennially underachieving forward and were rewarded with the offensive upside scouts saw in Gagner when he was drafted with the 6th overall pick in 2007. His 50 points ranked fifth on the high-powered, playoff-bound Jackets offense. And for only $650,000, you would have been hard-pressed to find a better bang-for-your-buck option in all of hockey last season. Gagner – if he were to continue this upward trend – to say the least, would be an ideal fit for a Blackhawks team just stripped of a 70-80 point forward in Artemi Panarin. This isn’t to say Gagner will completely fill that void – he won’t – but his presence along with Brandon Saad’s typical 25 goal, 50 point output would at the very least help bridge that gap. Most importantly, which has yet to be mentioned, is Gagner’s rich history with this guy you may or may not have heard of, Patrick Kane. The two were linemates with the OHL’s London Knights during the 2006-2007 season and, my lord – and I know, I know, it was a decade ago – there were enough fireworks between the two that season to ignite the night sky into permanent day. That Kane guy – I think that’s how you spell his name – just so happens to have an opening on his wing as we speak. Get Copernicus on the line because the stars are aligning! But in all seriousness, if Gagner isn’t trying to gambit his single efficient season into a large, overpriced contract in the way Alexander Radulov currently is doing, the guy who once shredded the Blackhawks for 4 goals and 8 points in a single game would be a nice, low-risk, high-reward addition to what is currently a work-in-progress forward grouping.
By the look of him, Karl Alzner is the archetype NHL defenseman. At 6’3, 220 he was considered a can’t-miss asset on the blue-line when the Capitals selected him 5th overall – just one spot ahead of the aforementioned Gagner – in the 2007 NHL draft. While you may not see Alzner’s name frequenting bust lists alongside disappointments like Gagner or more recently, Nail Yakupov, Alzner hasn’t exactly lived up to his billing as a top-5, can’t miss pick, either. In a nutshell, he’s an average NHL defenseman with subpar possession analytics who can eat minutes and is guaranteed to be in your lineup night-in and night-out – his incredible streak of 599 consecutive games played concluded this postseason. The problem here is that while any team in the NHL would love to have a safe play like Alzner on their third defensive pairing, his price tag is likely to mirror that of a first-pairing defender. Needless to say, Alzner is a $2 million defenseman who easily is going to receive $5-$6 million in free agency because this is the unfortunate world we live in today where price-gouging amongst defenseman has become an epidemic. Right now, Alzner is considered by most the second best available unrestricted free agent defenseman on the market behind Kevin Shattenkirk. And for anyone who knows hockey, this is quite a falloff in quality. Someone inevitably is going to give Alzner what he wants and I just hope to dear God it isn’t the Blackhawks. And to be honest, the addition of Alzner wouldn’t add very much to what will likely be an all-around mediocre Blackhawks defense to begin with. You’re probably going to get similar production out of much cheaper names like Kempny and Forsling, anyway – two players with much higher ceilings.
Sign me up. No questions asked. If you were you to try to sell me a timeshare in war-torn Syria right now I’d be 100% on board if Brian Boyle to the Blackhawks was apart of the package. If you’ve read my nonsense or followed me on Twitter in the past you’d be more than aware of my infatuation with this monster of a center. He’s literally everything you want in a bottom-six forward – a facet of the roster the Blackhawks direly must address before entering the season. He’s 6’6, 240lbs, a monster at the face-off dot, extremely efficient on the penalty kill, nasty as all hell, a boil (no pun intended) on the ass of opposing players, capable of chipping in 15-20 goals and, perhaps, most importantly, team success typically follows him everywhere he goes. I’ll literally hand-knit his Indian-head sweater for him if it gets him on the third line between a hypothetical duo like Ryan Hartman and John Hayden. Opposing teams would shit themselves at the sight of such a physically imposing, but deceivingly skilled trio – a mixture of size, skill and grit Blackhawks fan haven’t seen since, well, I can’t even answer that. I wonder if Boyle would compromise in the ballpark of $2 million per year to make my fantasy a reality. Unfortunately, word around town is that Tampa is pulling out all the stops in order to lure him back after dealing him at last year’s deadline.
I would love for the Blackhawks to invent time travel, floor their DeLorean to 88 mph, snatch 2012’s Patrick Sharp and bring him into 2017. Unfortunately, for all you #10 sweater-toting nostalgics out there, basic human anatomy ran its course and Patrick Sharp, while still physical perfection and molded-from-the-Gods, is a shell of his former self when it comes to the hockey aspect of his game. He’s 35, coming off multiple concussions and major hip surgery – which if you consult a medical professional of any sort, normally equates to him being even worse than he was a season ago, which was pretty bad – and he was playing with two of the league’s best in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. 2013 is gone. Accept that. Move on. Find a new, contemporary Blackhawks player to obsess over. There are plenty. The last thing we all want to see this season is the corpse of Patrick Sharp struggling and suffering through 20 more major ailments simply as means to appease you, the nostalgic fan.
There’s only one thing left for Jumbo Joe to do in order to secure his legacy as one of the greatest to ever lace em’ up: pose completely nude alongside fellow wildling Brent Burns on the cover of ESPN Magazine’s “The Body Issue.” I know, I’m a weirdo. But a weirdo with a unique sense of humor. Anyhow, Thornton needs a cup. Plain and simple. Otherwise he’ll always have that Dan Marino-esque cloud lingering over him whenever brought up during “greatest ever” discussions. It’s not even necessary for me to go into detail why he’d be an ideal fit for the Blackhawks. It’s simply up to him whether he wants the money or the glory. Frankly, I don’t see him leaving San Jose. Their window is just as open as the Blackhawks and well, can you imagine Burns and Thornton apart? These are the poster boys of male masculinity we’re talking about here. You saw what happened when Lennon and McCartney split.
Here’s a name I’m particularly intrigued by. The prototypical Stan Bowman target. A former 12th overall pick, still just 23-years of age with great size and upside that is through the roof. So far Buffalo and Colorado have tried and failed to spark what warranted Grigorenko the moniker of being one of Europe’s best prospects coming out of the 2013 draft. To convey this in as simple context as possible, he was never really given a fair shot in Buffalo, falling out with management and spending much of his tenure with Rochester of the AHL and was all but shackled in his first full NHL season by a historically abysmal Avalanche team that even the offspring of Connor McDavid and Amanda Kessel would have struggled to produce for. Those who follow the Hawks closely should be familiar with Grigorenko’s upside as there’s no better moment his potential was on display than when the Avs came to town in late March of this past season. You might remember this as the “3 goals in 34 seconds comeback” game, but prior to that it was “the Mikhail Grigorenko game.” The forward was absolutely dynamite – netting 2 goals, almost setting up multiple others and causing chaos in all three zones. Had I gone into this game with zero prior knowledge as to who Gringorenko was, I’d have sworn he was a superstar. And if I, some jerk who was five IPA’s and Imperial Stouts deep at the time, remember this performance so candidly, I’m willing to bet there’s a good chance Bowman does, too. Just a thought, though. If he’s cheap and motivated, why not take a slight risk on what could pay monumental dividends? At the same time, though, the worst team in hockey is allowing him to walk which might raise some red flags…though there has been plenty of blow-back on the decision.
What do you think? Are there any other names out there that intrigue you that I may have missed? Contract me on Twitter @BforanNHL and feel free to tell me how dumb I am if you must.