And with one gutsy swoop from Doug Wilson on Friday afternoon, the Blackhawks off-season has been completely thrown on its head. After an early cap-cleansing with the predictable names becoming ex-Hawks, the Hawks are now faced with the un-enviable position of having to make some real difficult decisions.
Stan Bowman is facing the most important week of his general managing tenure to date. A couple weeks after foolishly blabbing to the press that no one signs players to offer sheets, his words came back to bite him. Oh, the irony. (Whatever ends up happening in this whole thing, those quotes from Bowman will be what the majority of fans remember. While it’s one thing for us to tell you no one signs anyone to offer sheets; it’s quite another when a general manager blabs about it to the press. Stuff like that tends to bite you in the keyster.)
After three years of Dale Tallon’s nasty habit of overpaying his own restricted free agents in fear of an incoming offer sheet, the opposite reaction has almost turned out to be worse. Now, the Hawks are faced with a near-impossible decision.
Either match the offer and deal with the consequences after or let Sandwich walk, collect two low picks, and likely avoid a cap-dance summer next off-season.
While everyone will be quick to point out the Hawks gaining $4 million in cap space next off-season, they still only have 9 players currently signed. If you factor in Ham Sandwich’s cap hit of 3.5, they’re operating with about $12 million of space with 11 players in need of a contract including Brent Seabrook. And, essentially the Hawks will be in the same mess next summer as this one.
Unless, of course you bite the bullet on Sandwich’s contract, hope nothing happens to diminish his trade value and then unload his contract next summer after guys like Shawn Lalonde and Dylan Olsen become more seasoned for regular roles.
All of this is without taking into account what’s going on in the Blackhawks net.
If Bowman chooses Sandwich over Niemi, it opens up a whole other world of opportunities. If there’s one thing that fans won’t ever forget, it’s letting that franchise goalie get away. I’m not convinced Niemi is anything special, but goalies are wildly unpredictable and if he becomes the next Dominik Hasek, it will be the decision that will never be forgiven.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Hawks using the Detroit model for their goaltending, which is to build from the defense back. What people seem to forget is the Wings only won the Cup with one goalie who fit that so-called model (Osgood). Mike Vernon and Dominik Hasek weren’t exactly glorified shooter tutors.
That model blew up in their face just as many times as it helped them win it all as Curtis Joseph, Bill Ranford, and Manny Legace all took turns continuously crapping on themselves in big games.
Basically, I have no idea what the right move is. Whatever Bowman ultimately chooses, it’s going to piss off a ton of people.
If he matches the offer sheet, Antti Niemi will very likely become an ex-Blackhawk and next summer, he’ll have to do the same kind of cap dance in late June as well as trying to find someone to play goalie. The thing known as Hannu Toivonen is currently not a realistic option.
If Bowman declines the offer, then he’ll have more than enough room to re-sign Antti Niemi and there shouldn’t be as big of a crunch for next summer. Of course, he’s also down a 3rd/4th defensemen with no one really waiting in the wings, organizationally-speaking, at least for this upcoming season. So whatever money he ends up saving for Ham Sandwich, he’ll have to give out to someone who probably won’t be worth it.
Like I said, not really the easiest decision to make.
–While we’re discussing this Sandwich situation, now seems to be the perfect time to finally cut through the JWoww Kool-Aid crap. Since he took over, the Hawks have made every effort to tell everyone how great their locker room is and how much everybody loves each other.
Well, guess what, they may all like each other, but you know what they like more: Money. If the Hawks were such a tremondous locker room and such a lovable place to be, why would anyone want to willingly leave and/or put his organization through the ringer?
Because that’s exactly what Niklas Hjalmarsson did when he signed that offer sheet from San Jose.
So next time you read a story about how Colin Fraser and Brent Sopel used to tickle fight each other while Adam Burish and Hjalmarsson played Mario Kart Wii, don’t read into it more than what it is.
In the end, the mighty dollar controls us all.