The first surprise came Sunday afternoon, when the Blackhawks announced the return of forward Andrew Shaw, a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the franchise, in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a trio of picks, including a second-round selection in the 2020 draft.
Shaw, 27, is coming off a career-best 47-point season and carries a $3.9-million cap hit. In Shaw, the Blackhawks are addressing several of their needs. He can play center or wing. He can play on the power play and penalty kill. He's a right-handed shot. He plays physically. He scores "ugly" or "greasy" goals. While he may not be an ideal fit on a top-six forward unit, he’s capable of filling the role in a pinch.
The Blackhawks did kick the tires on some other free agents but quickly shifted their attention to Shaw once they saw the asking prices of some of the better players available. Former Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, 35, was an option, but he signed a three-year, $21-million deal with the Stars. Islanders captain Anders Lee was on the Hawks' radar but returned to Long Island on a seven-year, $49-million deal, which was his preference all along. Journeyman Gustav Nyquist was another player Chicago checked in on, but he signed in Columbus for four years and $22 million.
The Hawks were just getting started.
They signed former Golden Knights center Ryan Carpenter to a three-year, $3-million contract Monday morning. Carpenter is a fourth-line center who should take some defensive pressure off Jonathan Toews. He can kill penalties, win faceoffs (52.6 percent) and is another right-handed shot. He’s also a decent driver of possession, though he doesn’t have the offensive numbers to show for it (18 points in 68 games in 2018-'19). It’s a solid-if-unspectacular depth signing.
Then late Monday afternoon, the 12-6 curveball came from Bowman.
It was then that the Blackhawks' signing of former Islanders goalie Robin Lehner on a one-year, $5-million deal was announced. Lehner is coming off a spectacular season, posting a 2.13 goals against average (third in the NHL) and a .930 save percentage (second). He also won a career-high 25 games and recorded six shutouts. Those are elite numbers, and while they did happen in coach Barry Trotz’s defensive-minded system, poo-pooing those numbers would be foolish.
Lehner was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy (awarded to the league’s best goaltender). He and his Islanders teammate Thomas Greiss won the Jennings Trophy (awarded to the goaltending tandem that allowed the fewest goals), and Lehner won the Masterton Memorial Trophy (awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey).
After the addition of Lehner, the next question naturally becomes, what does this mean for Corey Crawford? Honestly, it’s a great question that I’m not sure anyone can answer just yet. Lehner's signing is just an insurance policy should Crawford go down, one trusted source told me. The Blackhawks don’t want to have another season fall by the wayside because of a goalie injury.
That’s all well and good, but $11 million invested in goal for a team with another hole or two feels like a luxury. As it stands now, the Blackhawks have around $1 million of cap space, and that doesn’t include a contract for restricted free-agent winger Brendan Perlini. It’s long been assumed the Blackhawks will trade center Artem Anisimov, and that still may happen, but the Lehner signing seems like an incomplete story at this moment.
The Blackhawks are a much better and deeper team than they were at the end of last season, but Bowman still has some work to do before anyone can call them contenders.