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Blackhawks Thu Jul 02 2009

Free Agent Frenzy Nets Hossa for Hawks

After making a splash in last year's market by signing Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet to pricey (or, more accurately, overpriced) contracts, Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon pulled off another shocker today by adding top free agent forward Marian Hossa to the Hawks. The move was out of left field as the majority of fans were waiting to hear whether the team would resign Martin Havlat and Nicolai Khabibulin (Havlat is headed to the Minnesota Wild, Khabi has moved on to Edmonton); even more shocking was the contract itself: 12 years, $62.8 million dollars!

The Blackhawks also signed Hossa's Red Wing teammate and friend, center Tomas Kopecky, to a 2-year, $2.4 million deal, and inked center John Madden from the Devils for a 1-year, $2.75 contract. During his afternoon press conference for the Hossa deal, Tallon also mentioned having tendered offers to the five restricted free agents to which the team holds the rights. Though none of these deals have been finalized, the Hawks will have the right to match any offers made to these players.

What Hossa's signing and the other deals mean for the Hawks next season and beyond after the jump.

Marian Hossa's a four-time All-Star who averages nearly a point per game over his career. After joining the Red Wings last season for a one-time shot at the Stanley Cup (his teams have now lost two straight finals), he was looking for a long-term, stable deal. Martin Havlat, after leading the Hawks last season and setting a career high in points, was looking for a similar contract. So why Hossa?

No doubt the decision came down to health. Hossa's two years older, but has yet to have a significant injury in his career, whereas last season was Havlat's only healthy year for the Hawks. Given that Havlat signed a six-year deal at $5 million a year, the price-tag seemed to be similar, and Tallon intimated that negotiations with Havlat broke down over length, which would back up that reasoning. While Havlat and Hossa are both prolific scorers, Hossa's energy and back-checking skills give him an all-around edge. Given the two for the same price, Hossa is a much better deal, strictly on a hockey level, but the financials could be an issue come next summer.

But could they have signed Havlat for less? Looking at Hossa's contract, the deal's immensely front-loaded, giving him almost $56 million in the first seven years. The extra five years help bring the salary cap number down to an average of $5.2 million, which is a steal for a player of his caliber. However, with Patrick Kane, Jonathon Toews and Duncan Keith all up for big raises next season, that number could tie the hands of Tallon in being able to resign all three without making significant cuts elsewhere. Granted, Hossa at $5.2 isn't the problem as much as Tallon's previous deals like Brian Campbell's $7.1 million, Cristobal Huet's $5.6 million, Dustin Byfuglien's $3 million, and Brent Sopel's $2.3 million. Tallon claims the deal gives him the needed flexibility to lock up his core players, but I can't see how that's going to happen without losing some of the unheralded role players that helped the Hawks rise so far so fast.

Knowing that Havlat wanted a long-term deal, there's no reason to think the Hawks couldn't have tacked on an extra couple years at a lower rate as they did Hossa to make the salary cap hit a more palatable number; say $3 million averaged. The extra millions saved would have been a huge help come next July for Chicago, and allowed the team to keep the chemistry of Havlat, Dave Bolland and Andrew Ladd together as a potent second line. But the risk of injury may have outweighed any long-term deal, and I can't help but feel that Nicolas Kronwall's crushing hit that knocked Havlat cold in the playoffs was the deciding factor. Though he was able to play sparingly the next game, the concussion symptoms may have made a long-term signing too risky. I have to admit to being a bit conflicted on the events of the day. If a team gets a chance to sign a player of Hossa's skill level, it has to jump at it, but Havlat could have provided more flexibility next offseason and ended up a steal if he was able to stay off injured reserve.

As for the other signings, both Kopecky and Madden help bolster the team's weakness at the center position. Madden's age could be a factor, as he struggled through one of his worst outings last year, but he has a ton of playoff experience and is a great penalty killer. Also, by signing a one-year deal, he won't lead to any cap issues come next summer. Kopecky is a servicable fourth-line center, and is a cheaper alternative to the Blackhawks resigning Samuel Pahlsson. He probably won't provide a ton of scoring, but adds depth to a position the team was struggling to fill all last season.

After making the Western Conference finals last season, exceeding everyone's expectations, the Blackhawks have the belief they're ready to contend for a Stanley Cup this year. And while the deals struck give them a great chance of competing, it feels like Tallon may have abandonded some of his long-term planning to reach for the grail this year. If they fail, the next offseason could become a mess.

 
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