Realistic expectations a must for Blackhawks front office - FOX 32 News Chicago

Realistic expectations a must for Blackhawks front office

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Blackhawk rosters before the good fortune of selecting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in the NHL Entry Draft had a few things in common. The clubs were not equipped with a strong enough core and too many players were asked to be something they were not capable of being. A roster short of high end talent and players being slotted over their head is a recipe for disaster. In the NHL that translates into a club which continually misses the playoffs and a balance sheet full of red ink.

Today the Hawks possess a much stronger core, although some would say the most talented players haven't been as consistent as needed in the past two seasons. That point could be debated but what has been true is too many players since the Stanley Cup season have been asked to be something they haven't been in the past.

Too much has been expected of too many which led to barely qualifying for post season play in 2010-2011 and then losing in the first round. Last season was an up and down campaign and in the end another first round playoff defeat came about.

Over the weekend the Blackhawks inked forward Jamal Mayers to a one year contract extension. It was announced on Monday GM Stan Bowman also locked up defenseman Johnny Oduya for the next three years. Oduya will be a $3.375 annual cap hit and with a three year deal he can enjoy some security.

Judging from feedback from many Blackhawk fans these two signings have not been overwhelmingly accepted. There seems to be a fear in the air the Hawks front office will look for small fixes to patch holes. That thinking could turn out to be correct although it is still too early to tell. There is trepidation GM Bowman will not build the correct roster and another long summer awaits Hawk fans next year as well.

So what does the Mayers and Oduya signings mean?

At first blush I have mixed feelings, because there are so many variables. If the salary cap limit goes up to $69 or $72 million Bowman will still have the ability to sign a solid addition or two. If the cap limit stays at this season's $64.3 million the Hawks will only have around $2 million in cap space left. If the cap doesn't go up it is likely a trade would have to happen for a significant player to be added.

Mayers is a good fourth line player and a solid locker room presence. It is a bit concerning in the past two season Mayers hasn't dressed in every playoff game. If the Hawks use Mayers on the wing rather than at center it could be more beneficial. He might then have more gas left in later stages of the season.

Mayers shouldn't be viewed as a power play participant. At 37 years of age, he is what he is. At this point in his career playing wing rather than center makes a lot of sense. Mayers should be able to pitch in on the penalty killing unit and also share his NHL experiences with younger players.

Oduya has a similar profile to last season's UFA signing Steve Montador, although a better skater. Both players can move the puck and aren't usually considered great special team players. On a top playoff team both wouldn't be penciled in as an automatic top four defender. With Oduya's salary one would think he would be used on the second pairing but that might be risky. Once again the Hawks could be asking too much of Oduya as the same appeared to happen last season to Montador.

Oduya performed well right after being acquired but as time went on his play slipped. Oduya like Montador would probably be more effective over the long haul by playing 15 minutes a night rather than 20. The Hawks could begin the season with Oduya and Montador as the third pairing. My assumption is Montador will return 100 percent healthy from his concussion issues.

The issue is twofold.

Do the Hawks want to commit about $6 million in cap space to a third pairing of Montador and Oduya? Would the Hawks use a third pairing defensive unit enough to justify the hefty cap commitment?

My thinking is the answer to both questions is probably no and a change will take place on the blue line.

Another factor is the Hawks have committed a lot of ice time over the past one and a half seasons to Nick Leddy. So he is a top four defender unless the Hawks want him to take a step backwards. That's probably unlikely so there is another option.

The Hawks could decide their best chance for success is for the number five and six defensemen to play about 15 minutes a game. Then they may feel the cost of Montador and Oduya can be justified especially if they can pitch in on special teams. On paper a third pairing tandem of Montador and Oduya would be a vast improvement over last season.

The fact is the Hawks don't usually play their number five and six defensemen an average of 15 minutes each game. So the overriding question could be if Hjalmarsson will hold his spot on the roster or be traded. His cap hit could be too large for him to be used as a number five defenseman.

There are a couple of reasons to deal Hjalmarsson but doing so could leave a void. Right now Hjalmarsson is a better penalty killer than either Montador or Oduya. The Hawks need help in that area even if Hjalmarsson stays put, so Bowman has work to do.

By dealing Hjalmarsson, the Blackhawks could free up some cap space and try to land free agent Ryan Suter. If not Suter the additional cap space saved could be utilized in other areas. A third pairing defender with a modest contract could be acquired for $2 million or less and Oduya could partner with Leddy. Then the Hawks would still have an extra $1.5 million or so in cap space available.

The unknown for now is how much the salary cap limit will be for next season. It is possible it could go up to $72 million which would enable the Hawks to have roughly $10 million in available cap space without trading Hjalmarsson.

More questions than answers for now but there is still over one month until July 1 and many things could change. Bowman has time, although the NHL draft weekend isn't as far away and that has been a time for trades to come together.

Blackhawk fans are anxious and hopefully expectations from the front office will be in line with reality.

Al's Shots

The Stanley Cup Finals begin Wednesday night in New Jersey. The Devils and Kings play a similar game and hopefully the series will go the limit.

New Jersey has the older squad with a younger head coach. Personally my choice would be for former Hawk Darryl Sutter and the Kings to win the Cup. In many ways they have an edge but no one should discount the job Peter DeBoer has done with the Devils.

Both clubs have found the correct balance between playing tight defense and being able to score when needed. In my view, a significant advantage for the Devils is a better fourth line.

The Kings have put themselves in great shape entering the Finals as they have played only 14 playoff games thus far. They have taken a shorter road to Lord Stanley than the Devils. In the end that may be the difference as long as the Kings aren't stale and drop the opening two games in New Jersey.

Next week we look at news coming out of the GM meetings which are happening over the next couple of days in New Jersey.

We will also look at the strong possibility of a Rick Nash trade and how it may have an effect on the Hawks summer.

There have been persistent trade rumors of Kane going to Columbus and I will weigh in with my thoughts.

Stan Bowman commented Tuesday he was disappointed in Kane's behavior in Madison at the beginning of May. He also indicated the matter would be handled internally, whatever that means.

Follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia

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