Blackhawks trade Bolland, Frolik; Re-sign Bickell
In June of 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. Not even a week later, GM Stan Bowman hosted the first fire sale of his young career by trading away (and in Antti Niemi’s case, walking away from) a number of valuable championship pieces and role players, namely Kris Versteeg, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel, Andrew Ladd, and fan-favorite Dustin Byfuglien, in order to free up major salary cap space and maintain the core the future. It was a tough pill to swallow at first, but there was no way around it. Players of Byfuglien’s caliber deserve to be paid and, unfortunately, it was next to impossible for the Blackhawks to sign his next pay check. The NHL is a business; we get hurt, we pick ourselves up, and we move on. That’s the nature of all sports.
Just three years later, Bowman’s plan proved to pay off royally. The Blackhawks were crowned 2013 Stanley Cup Champions, but as evidenced by the aforementioned summer just three short years ago, Bowman wasted no time getting back to work and proved, yet again, that he simply does not dick around. Merely six days after winning the Cup, Bowman simultaneously shipped half of the “17 Second Duo”, Dave Bolland, to his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs for three future draft picks, and Michael Frolik to the Winnipeg Jets for two draft picks in Sunday night’s draft.
Bolland will be entering the final year of a five-year, $16.8 million contract that carries an annual average value of $3.3 million, while Frolik has one year and $1.9 million left on his contract. These two trades got the Blackhawks to just over $11.2 million under the salary cap, giving them more than enough cap leeway to bring back the other half of the “17 Second Duo” and postseason hero Bryan Bickell at a team-friendly four-year, $16 million contract. Fresh off his coming-of-age season, Bickell ranked second on the team (post-season) in goals (9) and points (17), first amongst forwards in +/- (+11), first in hits (85) and first in shot percentage (18.4%). The 27-year-old left wing was absolutely huge, literally and figuratively, down the stretch, and given the home town discount that he was willing to take, it’s impossible to find any glaring downsides associated with this contract. After losing that monstrous front-of-the-net presence in Dustin Byfuglien after the first Cup run, Bowman saw the true value in maintaining a brutally hard-hitting wing in Bickell and chose not to let him walk for nothing. A+ for him.
Bolland and Frolik will be missed, but they are certainly not irreplaceable. Bolland gave it a great 7+ year run in Chicago, having scored 70 goals and recording 98 assists in 332 regular season games. He will forever be remembered and cherished by fans for his fantastic play throughout the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs (eight goals and eight assists, three of each coming in the Stanley Cup against Philadelphia) and for his Cup-clinching goal in Game 6 against Boston.
The timing to trade Bolland could not have been better, however, as the continuous injuries that have ailed him throughout his career (including throughout the postseason) may have been over-shadowed by the defining moment of his career last Monday night. Bolland is a good player, but those injuries have significantly prevented him from becoming great, as his average time on ice during the regular season decreased by well over a full minute since 2011 (17:39 to 16:20) and stood at a career low 13:30 during the 2013 postseason. He also proved to be one of, if not the, worst at winning faceoffs on the team (39.3% in 2010 playoffs, 42.5% in 2013 playoffs). Hockey enthusiasts will always appreciate the playoff memories he brought to fans around the country, but Stan Bowman made the right decision to move his expiring contract now and get assets in return. We can only wish him nothing but the best as he looks to improve an up-and-coming Maple Leafs team up north.
Frolik, whom Bowman acquired near the trade deadline back in February 2011, had a major impact on the Blackhawks’ success over the past two and a half seasons, specifically on the penalty kill and in this past playoff run. After a down year in 2011-12, the 25-year-old bounced back to identify himself as a central part of the third-ranked penalty kill in the league. Frolik helped that unit kill an incredible 62-of-70 power plays in 23 postseason games, good for 90.8%. On top of that, he recorded a very solid ten playoff points (three goals, seven assists), including the game winning goal on the road in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semis against Detroit to keep the Blackhawks’ playoff hopes alive, as well as four assists against Boston in the Cup. The positive impact Frolik had over the past couple of months cannot be understated; unfortunately, the young talent that the Blackhawks have in the pipeline has made Frolik expendable, as they are grooming some of that talent (and even Brandon Saad) to step in for him and take over on the PK as we speak. Winnipeg has picked up yet another great piece in Frolik from one of the two Blackhawk Stanley Cup teams (Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd) to add to their ever-improving squad and help improve their 24th ranked penalty-killing unit.
None of us can say right now what other moves Stan Bowman has left up his sleeve, but there are a plethora of decisions that have yet to be made. Michal Handzus and Michal Rozsival are amongst the unrestricted free agents who have expressed interest in staying in Chicago. Marcus Kruger and Nick Leddy are young, restricted free agents but coming off somewhat disappointing postseasons. UFA Viktor Stalberg, twice benched by Joel Quenneville during the post season, is eyeing major minutes with a chance to play as a top-six forward and will likely not be back. Ray Emery, despite his fantastic 17-1-0 season, will surely not be coming back either after the Hawks came to terms on a one-year deal with Finnish goaltender Antti Raanta, who led the Finnish league in goals-against average and save percentage this past season. Highly touted youngsters Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Pirri, Jeremy Morin and Ben Smith are all waiting in the wings and pushing for a spot in the lineup next season. Trading Bolland and Frolik in order to re-sign Bickell was the first of what should be many smart decisions to come, as Bowman has proven time and again that he knows what it takes to build a consistent winner in the NHL. Only time will tell whether those decisions will increase or decrease the Blackhawks’ chances of winning yet another Stanley Cup.