Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman wasn't kidding when he said his plan for free agency was to add more toughness, grit, character and veteran leadership to a dressing room in need of it all.
Bowman loaded up on it Friday, signing forwards Andrew Brunette, Jamal Mayers, Dan Carcillo and defenseman Sean O'Donnell each to one-year contracts for a combined $4.7 million.
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"Our objective was to find some players who play a certain style and also bring some experience, and I think it's a nice mixture," Bowman said. "We're very confident with our key guys that are playing up top in terms of offensive production and we think we can bring a different element to compliment that."
Add Brunette, Mayers, Carcillo and O'Donnell to Thursday's get of rugged defenseman Steve Montador and the Hawks have addressed their biggest need of being a tougher team to play against. And Bowman still has about $7 million of cap space leftover to sign his own restricted free agents, Michael Frolik, Chris Campoli and Viktor Stalberg.
Nobody is going to be able to call the Hawks soft now.
"We wanted to have some very clear roles for players so that when you come to line up against the Blackhawks you know what you're going to get," Bowman said. "We're going to come to play, we're going to be difficult to play against, but we're also going to play hockey.
"All these guys are very good hockey players and not just tough guys that are willing to fight. When we drop the puck we're out there to make it hard on the opponent and to try to score goals. If you've got to mix it up to do that, that's fine, but these guys can all make plays and skate. That's important to us because we like to roll four lines; we like to change the momentum of the game with our third and fourth lines."
Getting Brunette was Bowman's biggest move. Brunette will be 38 in August but has missed only two games over the last eight seasons. He had 18 goals and 46 points for Minnesota and is considered a strong finisher around the net who can play on the top two lines.
"There was a few different teams, but Chicago was at the top of my list," Brunette said. "When they were interested it didn't take too much probing on my side to know I wanted to play here. It almost was a no-brainer at one point."
Mayers will be 37 in October while O'Donnell is about to turn 40.
But a lack of veteran leadership was an issue last season when the Hawks struggled and O'Donnell is a guy with a large dressing room presence, a leader and Stanley Cup champion with Anaheim.
"I think it's something they wanted to get back to," O'Donnell said. "Every team, especially after you win, goes through some problems with trying to keep all their players. Unfortunately some of the guys that maybe they had to let go because of cap reasons, they wanted to try and get some of that identity back."
There still appears to be a hole at center on the second or third line, depending on where Dave Bolland is slotted, but Bowman still has some money and assets to address that issue between now and training camp.
Mayers has played center before and could be the middle man on the fourth line.
"I've probably played about 200 games at center and I grew up a center and played center in college," Mayers said. "It's something I'm comfortable with and if that's what they expect of me, then certainly I can do that.
"I know what's expected of me. I'm going to try and bring energy, kill penalties and knock some bodies around. These are things I've done most of my career."
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