Hawks expected to lay low as free-agent market opens

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Buffalo Grove native Brett Lebda may interest the Blackhawks, who are looking for some depth on defense.

      Buffalo Grove native Brett Lebda may interest the Blackhawks, who are looking for some depth on defense. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer, 2009

 
 
Posted6/30/2010 12:01 AM

While the Blackhawks have been key players in the last two free-agent markets, that's not expected to be the case Thursday when the NHL's signing period begins.

Because of the Hawks' salary cap issues there won't be any big splashes made such as last July when Marian Hossa signed a 12-year, $62.8 million contract, or as in 2008 when defenseman Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet got a combined $79.3 million to come to Chicago.

 

This time Hawks general manager Stan Bowman figures to lay low, perhaps kicking the tires with third- and fourth-line forwards who have size and toughness, or going after inexpensive defensemen to provide depth.

With Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Eager having been traded to Atlanta, Bowman might be on the prowl for rugged players to offset their losses.

The Hawks have tendered left wing Andrew Ladd a qualifying offer, but that doesn't mean the restricted free agent is going to be easy to sign.

Ladd still could be traded, which would put the Hawks down another rugged forward.

This isn't the greatest or deepest NHL free-agent class particularly at the top end, where there is a big drop off after Ilya Kovalchuk, who isn't expected to re-sign with New Jersey.

There are a few top-notch defensemen available such as Dan Hamhuis, Paul Martin, Sergei Gonchar and Anton Volchenkov, but the Hawks would be looking at the other end of that spectrum.

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The name of veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell has been linked to the Hawks, while shot-blocker Jay McKee could be seen by the Hawks as a possible replacement for Brent Sopel.

Other unrestricted free-agent defensemen who might interest the Hawks are Buffalo Grove's Brett Lebda and Brett Clark, both of whom can play with the puck.

Two defensemen who could supply the Hawks with instant size and muscle are John Scott and Garnet Exelby.

Among the available unrestricted free-agent forwards, Colby Armstrong might be too pricey for the Hawks after earning $2.4 million last season. The same can be said for Raffi Torres.

There are legitimate enforcer-types available at forward in Derek Boogaard, Raitis Ivanans and Zenon Konopka, the NHL penalty minute leader with 265 for Tampa Bay.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

However, Bowman made it a point last week when talking about potential replacements for Byfuglien and Eager that they must be able to play the game and not be just a guy that gets three or four minutes a night.

"You always want to be able to have that mixture of physicality and the ability to play," Bowman said. "If you're big and tough and you can play that's great, but if you're big and tough and you struggle to be able to handle the puck and be able to skate, then you're not of much use to a team like us.

"First and foremost you have to be able to play the game."

Four Hawks set to become unrestricted free agents on Thursday are center John Madden, right wing Adam Burish and defensemen Kim Johnsson and Nick Boynton.

There have been no indications from the Hawks of interest to re-sign any of the four. Reports have suggested that Madden will receive a few offers, including one from New Jersey, his former team.

Among the other familiar names set to become unrestricted free agents on Thursday:

Forwards Mike Modano, Ray Whitney, Lee Stempniak, Paul Kariya, Saku Koivu, Matt Cullen, Jere Lehtinen, Bill Guerin, Marek Svatos, Eric Belanger, Matt Lombardi, Chris Higgine Olli Jokinen, Alex Frolov, Kyle Wellwood, Pavol Demitra, Max Afinogenov, Fredrik Modin, Miro Satan, Mike Comrie, Richard Park and Kirk Maltby.

Defensemen: Henrik Tallinder, Tony Lydman, Zbynek Michalek, Derek Morris, Pavel Kubina and Andy Sutton.

Goalies: Evgeni Nabokov, Marty Turco, Michael Leighton, Martin Biron, Dan Ellis, Chris Mason and Jose Theodore.