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updated: 7/2/2018 10:12 AM

Chicago Blackhawks bring in 3 players but miss out on bigger names

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  • Left wing Chris Kunitz agreed to a one-year deal worth $1 million with the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.

    Left wing Chris Kunitz agreed to a one-year deal worth $1 million with the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.
    Associated Press

  • Brandon Manning agreed to a two-year deal Sunday with the Chicago Blackhawks.

    Brandon Manning agreed to a two-year deal Sunday with the Chicago Blackhawks.
    Associated Press

  • Goalie Cam Ward, who agreed to a one-year deal worth $3 million with the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, is expected to back up Corey Crawford next season.

    Goalie Cam Ward, who agreed to a one-year deal worth $3 million with the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, is expected to back up Corey Crawford next season.
    Associated Press

 
 

Thud.

That's about what Sunday sounded like for many Blackhawks fans who had visions of high-scoring forward James van Riemsdyk signing a deal to play with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. And if not JvR, the Hawks surely would add a top-four defenseman such as Columbus' Ian Cole or the Islanders' Calvin De Haan.

But it was not to be.

Instead, the Hawks signed three lower-tier free agents in 34-year-old goalie Cam Ward, 38-year-old forward Chris Kunitz and 28-year-old defenseman Brandon Manning. Ward's deal is for one year at $3 million; Kunitz's gets one year at $1 million; Manning gets a two-year deal worth $4.5 million.

Elsewhere, van Riemsdyk signed a five-year, $35 million deal with Philadelphia, Cole (3 years, $12.75M) went to Colorado, and De Haan was still undecided. Winnetka native and defenseman John Moore signed a five-year, $13.75 million deal with Boston.

The Hawks were said to be in contact with van Riemsdyk and Cole, but failed to land either one. General manager Stan Bowman, in a teleconference with reporters, likes the experience that Ward, Kunitz and Manning bring with them. As for adding a bigger name, Bowman had to keep restricted free agents Nick Schmaltz, Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Sikura in mind to secure the team's future.

"They're just sort of scratching the surface," Bowman said, "and we're committed to making sure that they're part of this going forward. But we do want to be better next year.

"We look at our team today compared to yesterday and we've definitely filled some holes."

Bowman likes that his new additions offer experience to a roster stacked with plenty of up-and-comers still learning how to win at the NHL level.

His first priority was to find a goaltender that could step in for Corey Crawford in case Crawford is lost for an extended period. Although Ward has posted mediocre numbers the past six seasons (.906, 2.63), Bowman believes he'll do better than untested Anton Forsberg, J-F Berube and Jeff Glass did last season.

Ward was "humbled" by the number of teams that reached out over the past week, but the Hawks' "rich tradition" helped sway him to sign in Chicago.

"What I'm most excited about is probably playing in the United Center," hesaid. "Twenty-plus thousand fans and the opportunity to play for an Original Six team … I can't wait for it to get started there."

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Manning wasn't drafted and slowly worked his way up the Flyers' ranks. He's a stay-at-home defenseman but has added a bit of offense to his game, scoring 7 goals last season after just 4 in 121 games the two previous seasons.

"I've always had to kind of prove myself," Manning said. "It's something I'm really proud of -- the way I've had to come up and change my game and battle for it. It makes me value the little things that much more and appreciate every day."

The Hawks' D corps now consists of Manning, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Connor Murphy, Jan Rutta, Erik Gustafsson and Jordan Oesterle. Gustav Forsling, Blake Hillman, Carl Dahlstrom, Henri Jokiharju and others are in the mix to win a roster spot.

"When we get to training camp and we see how everybody looks, we'll have a better idea if we're going to move any guys out or not," Bowman said. "But that wasn't the motivation (in signing Manning). The motivation was to bring in somebody that can enhance an area of our team that wasn't as strong last year."

Kunitz has seven 20-goal seasons in the NHL, with a career high of 35 in 2013-14. He has won four Stanley Cups -- one with Anaheim in 2007 and three with Pittsburgh in 2009, '16 and '17. After playing with the Penguins from 2008-17, he had 13 goals and 16 assists with Tampa Bay last season.

"He obviously had a very long run there in Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby on the left side," said Bowman, who added that coach Joel Quenneville is excited about Kunitz's versatility. "It's probably too early to tell what line he's going to be on, but he brings a lot of intangibles and intensity to the game."

Contract for Boqvist:

The Hawks signed defenseman Adam Boqvist -- the eighth overall pick in the draft -- to a three-year, entry-level deal Sunday. The 17-year-old is probably 2-3 years away from playing in the NHL, but this gives the Hawks some control over Boqvist's immediate future.

"If he had been unsigned, it would sort of be up to the team in Sweden where he was going to go," said Hawks GM Stan Bowman. "Now we can play a bigger role in that. We want to make sure that he has a really good development year."

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