After missing the playoffs for the first time in nine years the Chicago Blackhawks are not ready to throw in the towel on their core and opened the free agent signing period by adding a couple of veterans to their roster.
The team announced on Sunday, almost exactly at noon, that they have signed goalie Cam Ward and forward Chris Kunitz to one year contracts.
Ward’s deal is reportedly worth $3 million and carries a complete no-trade clause.
That contract is obviously the notable one given the uncertainty surrounding starting goalie Corey Crawford. Crawford missed most of the 2017-18 season due to an unspecific “upper-body injury” and the team has been tight-lipped about his recovery and status for the upcoming season. With Crawford sidelined the team’s revolving door of backups badly struggled and played a significant role in the Blackhawks’ struggles.
Adding another goalie to the mix was a necessity for the Blackhawks this summer.
The big question is going to be whether or not Ward is the right goalie.
On one hand, if Crawford is healthy and able to take on his normal workload Ward should be okay as a backup. Crawford is one of the best goalies in the league when he is on the ice and, if all goes according to plan, should continue to be that.
But if they need to rely on Ward to play an increased role because Crawford is not yet ready to return — or unable to return; or if he gets hurt again — it may not be much of an upgrade given that he has been one of the league’s least productive goalies for several years now.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks also added the 39-year-old Kunitz after he spent the past season as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. During his year in Tampa Bay he finished with 13 goals and 29 total points in 82 games. He’s already started to slow down from where he was in his prime years, but he can still play all over the lineup and can still provide a little offense in a complementary role.
Along with the Ward and Kunitz deals, the Blackhawks also signed defenseman Brandon Manning to a two-year contract.