At the top, it’s important to remember that it makes no sense to judge fully the three signings the Hawks made today until they make their big splash via trade, which appears will be the only way they do so. Or until they don’t make that splash. Needless to say, a team that missed the playoffs by 19 points and currently can’t figure out if they’re starting goalie is just a gaseous form at this point choosing to just tinker would be…abstract.
The good news: The Hawks didn’t tie themselves into anything here. Cam Ward and Chris Kunitz got one-year deals, Kunitz for barely the minimum, and Brandon Manning got two. Essentially, all these roster spots will open up soon for either another promising kid or a bigger addition down the road. The Hawks have kept their salary cap powder dry, as it were. And just because you have cap space doesn’t mean you have to use it just for the sake of using it. So all fair enough.
Now let’s complain.
First off, Ward. We’ve been down this road. He sucks. The idea that he could flourish in a new city and with a new team is simply built on baseless hope. There has been nothing in seven years to suggest he can even be a representative goalie. If he’s just a backup, that still can kill you because you still need points in those 25-30 games unless you really think Crawford is healthy and going to go 55-0-0. Those points matter. And as we’ve already pointed out, the Canes were actually a better defensive team than the Hawks last year, and the Hawks, so far, have done nothing to address that. The fact that Ward signed for the same money as Steve Bernier, a proven NHL goalie still, is a complete farce. Were the Hawks scared off by the three years Bernier got? Why? Do they really think Collin Delia and his superfluous L are going to develop into a capable backup/replacement for Crawford? Okayyyyy…..
Let’s move to Kunitz. I really wouldn’t have anything to say about it if I were confident he would live in the bottom six all season and be a side contributor. He potted 13 goals last year basically playing on Tampa’s 4th line with Pacquette and Callahan, and if that’s all he was asked to do here with some combination of Hinostroza/Kampf/Sikura/Ejdsell/Some Bozo, fine. But this is Joel Quenneville we’re talking about, and you know that Opening Night in Ottawa Kunitz will be up there with Kane and Schmaltz, or worse yet Kane and Anisimov, due to “veteran presence.” It’ll be nearly impossible to crowbar him out of the top six unless DeBrincat scores 27 goals in preseason. Oh wait, he did that basically last year and still ended up on the third line on the right side.
Brandon Manning is slightly intriguing. He has positive metrics for a stay-at-home guy, and that’s truly surprising because he spent the past two years playing with mutant weasel Radko Gudas. What’s strange is that Manning is a left-sided, stay-at-home guy, and the Hawks don’t have any right-sided get-it-the-fuck-up-there guys. As of right now, all the puck-movers are on the left in Keith, Gustafsson, Jokiharju, Forsling. The Hawks still haven’t addressed who is playing with Keith or who is on the second pairing. Are they going to sign Manning and make him play the right side when he’s never done it? And if Jordan Oesterle is still somehow included in this equation, don’t worry about your playoff invoices. It seems an odd fit, though not necessarily a bad one.
If the Hawks can move Hossa’s contract, they’ll still have $8-$9 million to play with. Remember as we go forward here to take them at their word of the past two seasons. This was unacceptable. Changes are coming. We expect better. None of these signings do that. It’s tinkering on the edges, which is fine if you get the middle right.
We’re still waiting on the middle.