Things are starting to take shape, Chicago.
Earlier this morning, numerous media outlets reported that Jordan Hendry has re-signed with the Chicago Blackhawks for one year and $600K. Hendry saw ample time in the 2009-10 regular season and 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Interestingly enough, CapGeek is also currently showing that veteran defenseman Nick Boynton is signed to a new deal with the 'Hawks, the contract being a one-year deal worth $500K. While CapGeek is certainly not official, the site did report the Hendry deal late last week with the correct years and dollar amount. Thus, I think this report certainly does warrant some serious attention.
Assuming that the report is accurate, bringing back Boynton solidifies the Blackhawks' back-end. Boynton will likely be paired with Hendry on the third defensive pairing, which until recently, had been a serious question mark. Boynton also helps cinch up the second PK unit, and will likely fill the shoes of puck-magnet Brent Sopel alongside Niklas Hjalmarsson.
The more intriguing part of this reported contract is the low dollar amount, and the implications it has on the remainder of the Chicago roster.
According to CapGeek, (excluding Cristobal Huet) the Blackhawks currently have 20 players under contract - 11 forwards, 7 defensemen, 2 goaltenders. This leaves them with two or three more players to add in order to fill out the roster, and - again excluding the Huet deal - roughly $2M to spend. The wiggle room under the cap has suddenly become surprisingly comfortable.
So what might he Blackhawks do with this new-found financial flexibility?
Possibilities: Kyle Beach
After crunching the numbers, my first conclusion was that the 'Hawks have now made it possible for Kyle Beach and his $1.17M cap hit to earn a significant (if not permanent) part of the 2010-11 roster. Of course, this is predicated on the coaching staff deeming him ready for a full-time NHL gig, which is questionable. Beach, a former first-round pick in 2008, was a scoring machine in the WHL last season, tallying 52 goals and 34 assists in 68 games. His discipline is - and always has been - a huge question mark, as he also racked up 186 PIM's in those same 68 games. More recently, Beach injured fellow 'Hawks prospect Mathis Olimb during a fight in prospect camp, an injury that is likely to sideline Olimb for the better part of four months.
Still, if Beach does impress at training camp, he would be an interesting addition to the third or fourth line. He is nothing if not high energy, and would possibly provide decent scoring depth, something that the 'Hawks must find if they hope to duplicate last season's magic. Beach's raw offensive talent indicates possible top-six potential at some point in his career, but if he does make the lineup, I would expect to see him start out on the bottom half.
Possibilities: Young Defensemen
The cap room created by Boynton's cheap contract could also help greenhorn blueliners Shawn Lalonde and/or Ivan Vishnevskiy see some time with the big boys this season.
Both have cap hits right around the $800K range (including bonuses) , and there has been ample buzz that these two are approaching NHL-ready status. Both are offensive-minded puck movers, and thus it may behoove the 'Hawks to get them some ice-time, seeing as how likely some pieces *cough - Brian Campbell - cough* might need to be moved next off-season in order to re-sign Brent Seabrook.
The only thing really working against Lalonde's and Vishnevskiy's NHL debut this season is the fact that the 'Hawks already have seven defensemen on the roster. And seeing as how Chicago is following the Red Wings' blueprint of building around defense, it may not be feasible for rookie defensemen to see significant time this season barring injury, particularly down the stretch toward the playoffs.
This entire thought process might end up being moot if the CapGeek report is incorrect or inaccurate. However, I think that it is borderline safe to say that things have all but fallen to place for the 'Hawks, and they have come out this painful off-season looking like a legitimate playoff contender - at least on paper. We won't be able to tell for sure until the puck drops in October...