UFA Options: Chicago Blackhawks

UFA Options is a continuing series that gives a brief run-down of the unrestricted free agent market this summer, team-by-team. Our next team for consideration is the Chicago Blackhawks.

With a successful season in the books (regardless of how their series against Detroit works out) the Chicago Blackhawks will have some significant decisions to make in the offseason. Nikolai Khabibulin, who was signed to a massive contract after winning the Stanley Cup in 2004, returned to form this year after a pair of disappointing seasons and the Blackhawks are apparently interested in retaining him. Oft-injured scoring star Martin Havlat and other skaters will also need new contracts.


  • Age is calculated based on how old the player will be during the 2009-10 season.
  • QualComp/QualTeam are the Quality of Competition/Teammates rankings from Behind the Net; the number appearing is each player’s ranking by position (forward/defense) on his own team.
  • Def/Off Faceoffs is a comparison of the total number of shifts starting in the defensive and offensive zones, courtesy of Vic Ferrari’s Time On Ice. A positive number indicates starting more in the defensive zone, a negative number the opposite.
  • All advanced statistics are courtesy of Behind the Net.

Martin Havlat

Vital Stats: 29 years old, 6’1”, 204lbs
2008-09 Cap Hit: 6,000,000 US$
2008-09 Basic Stats: 81GP – 29G – 48A – 77PTS, +29
2008-09 Contextual: 4th QualComp, 3rd QualTeam, -19 Def/Off Faceoffs
2008-09 Advanced Stats: +15.8 Corsi/60, 2.89 EVPTS/60, 3.77 GFON/60, 2.57 GAON/60

Young stars Toews and Kane get all the press, but the simple fact of the matter is that Martin Havlat was Chicago’s best forward this season. Havlat’s been a very good player for years now, and the kind of guy who would get a lot more credit if he could just stay healthy; this season was the first time in his 8-year NHL career that he’s hit the 80-game mark, and just the third time that he’s played in more than seventy contests. He’s a complete player who has an extensive history of groin and shoulder injuries, and he’ll be a gamble for whoever signs him.

Samuel Pahlsson

Vital Stats: 32 years old, 6’0”, 205lbs
2008-09 Cap Hit: 1,400,000 US$
2008-09 Basic Stats: 65GP – 7G – 11A – 18PTS, -17
2008-09 Contextual: 3rd QualComp, 12th QualTeam, +196 Def/Off Faceoffs
2008-09 Advanced Stats: -10.1 Corsi/60, 1.10 EVPTS/60, 2.49 GFON/60, 2.26 GAON/60

Samuel Pahlsson is a great example of a player that plus/minus does not measure adequately. He has minimal offensive ability (has never cracked the 30-point barrier) but despite that he has value as one of the few great checkers in the game. Most coaches have elected to run power-vs.-power, but Sami Pahlsson’s line in Anaheim has been run up against the big guns for years and was a key part of their 2007 Stanley Cup win. He’s physical without taking an inordinate amount of penalties, and he takes a ton of defensive draws.

Matt Walker

Vital Stats:29 years old, 6’3”, 213lbs
2008-09 Cap Hit: 600,000 US$
2008-09 Basic Stats: 65GP – 1G – 13A – 14PTS, +7
2008-09 Contextual: 7th QualComp, 8th QualTeam, +153 Def/Off Faceoffs
2008-09 Advanced Stats: +8.1 Corsi/60, 0.72 EVPTS/60, 2.54 GFON/60, 1.96 GAON/60

Matt Walker had a great season. For the second year in a row he managed to avoid taking a bus to the minors, and despite his limitations (not a great skater, somewhat limited offensive ability) seems to have solidified an NHL job as a third pairing defenseman. His numbers are truly impressive (likely even unrepeatable) when the volume of defensive draws he takes is considered. He’s got excellent size and adds a physical edge to the backend; he’s the kind of cheap depth blueliner that a team might consider over a prospect for a third-pairing role.

Aaron Johnson

Vital Stats:26 years old, 6’2”, 211lbs
2008-09 Cap Hit: 525,000 US$
2008-09 Basic Stats: 38GP – 3G – 5A – 8PTS, +19
2008-09 Contextual: 8th QualComp, 9th QualTeam, -5 Def/Off Faceoffs
2008-09 Advanced Stats: +4.9 Corsi/60, 0.93 EVPTS/60, 3.45 GFON/60, 1.33 GAON/60

Fun additional numbers: .954 on-ice save percentage, 12.2% on-ice shooting percentage (both numbers led the Blackhawks). I’ve been following Aaron Johnson since his career started in Columbus just before the lockout; he’s got size, offensive ability, and has the traditional “skates well for a big man” line tossed around a lot. It was nice to see his breakout this season, but it isn’t repeatable; both his on-ice shooting and save percentage are through the roof, and the stars just aren’t going to align two years in a row. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s a good depth defenseman.

Nikolai Khabibulin

Predators Blackhawks Hockey

Vital Stats: 28 years old, 6’1”, 210 lbs
2008-09 Cap Hit: 6,750,000 US$
2008-09 Basic Stats: 42GP, 25-8-7, 2.33 GAA, .919 SV%

Nikolai Khabibulin had a remarkable season after some very poor years post-lockout. His .919 SV% is his best (by a lot) since 2000-01, and he hasn’t maintained it through 15 playoff games (.898 SV%). His numbers since the lockout are .909, .902, and .886, and I tend to think he’ll drop back around the .910 range going forward (which was what he did in Tampa Bay). He has the ability to get hot and has won a Stanley Cup, but after what happened in Chicago (the Blackhawks even acquired Cristobal Huet over the summer because they had no confidence in Khabibulin) I’d be very leery about signing him to the kind of contract he’s likely to get. Chicago is reportedly interested in retaining his services; if that’s the case I’d think a smart GM would be better off pursuing Cristobal Huet (.909, .920, .916, and .929 since the lockout) via trade.

  • RCN

    I'd rather pursue a cheap "1B" type guy like Anderson/Clemmenson, but should we strike out there, and the Hawks go with Bulin, a deal centerd around Nilsson for Huet would be ok.

  • RCN

    "Samuel Pahlsson is a great example of a player that plus/minus does not measure adequately"

    What can his awful +/- be attributed to?

    I find it odd that some people like that stat when it confirms there belief about a certain player but when it contradicts that belief then it's the stat that "doesn't measure adequately". I'm not specifically meaning you JW, but just in general.

  • RCN

    Chicago actually has many of the players that would fill holes for the Oil.

    1 LW: havlat. A top flight goal scorer, who can also play in his own end. injuries are a concern, but he'd fit perfectly with hemsky, and not to mention he's also entered his prime years (age 28).

    3 C: Pahlsson: solid 3rd line checker. Perfect fit at 3C, but might be too pricey for the Oil unless we dump salary.

    5/6D: Walker. Kind of player a team like the Oil could slide into the bottom pair for cheap (under $1 mill) and is the kind of player you could use if you move Staios and need a veteran stay at home player.

    G: Huet. I would consider Huet as an option, especially if the Blackhawks took back some salary we don't want in order to help them stay under the cap. As much as I want to see what he could do this year, would anyone do a Penner for Huet deal (saves Chicago more then $1 mill).

  • RCN

    Ya, who doesn't wanna spend 6+ mil on a guy with a cheese head and bum knee like Martin Havlat. Was Tambellini chasing his ambulance to the hospital after that hit in Game 3? Seriously though, the last thing the Oilers need is another band aid. Not really sure I'd be going after any of those guys seriously although Walker is a bargain at 600K and has proven that even though he can't skate he can keep up in the Western Conf.

  • RCN

    I think you're off on Khabibulin's age: Wikipedia states that he was born in 1973, putting him at 36 (rather than 28). This seems more likely given how long he's been around in the league.

  • RCN

    The day I'm elected king of the Oilers (assuming it happens on July 1), I'd give Havlat and Pahlsson a call to see what it would take to get them wearing copper and blue.

    Khabibulin is a good goaltender, but he's a little overpriced for what he'll bring until probably his next contract year. He had great numbers in Phoenix and Tampa Bay, but he hasn't been the same guy post lockout. He had a great year this year, but I have to wonder if that's what you'll get from him going forward. Plus, he'll be 36, not 28. I'd try to find other options first.

    Matt Walker is exactly the type of player we need more of. He's a young vetran who won't cost a tonne, provides depth on the blueline, and he's not affraid to get his hands dirty. He's the kind of guy Lowe probably thought/hoped we were getting last year when we brought in Strudwick. If we move Staios in the offseason, Walker would be a good guy to have as his replacement on the 3rd pair.

  • RCN

    Peckham will be the bottom pairing cheap, tough Dman. Don't need those guys. Are they really any better than Strudwick?

    As for the rest, Pahlsson might be good, but if is going to cost $2 million per season, no thanks.

    Havlatt is too expensive, too injury prone (especially after Detroit just gave him two concussions) and his skills are duplicated by many of the Oilers. More grit please (And no Mcquire, Havlat is not a Monster because Cammaleri crossed checked him in the face – we need some guys who will be doing the cross checking)

  • RCN

    @ Ducey:

    Ducey wrote:

    Havlatt is too expensive, too injury prone (especially after Detroit just gave him two concussions) and his skills are duplicated by many of the Oilers.

    You're either severely under-rating Havlat's skill, over-rating the skills of many Oilers' forwards, or both. Outside of Hemsky, there's nobody on the Oilers' roster who's even close to Havlat's abilities.

    You are right about his high risk for injury, though. I'd peg both Havlat and Gaborik in the same category: tons of skill but way too vulnerable to injury to sign to large contracts.

  • RCN

    I have a checklist that I use to fill these out and missed Khabibulin's age. Sorry about that.

    As for Peckham, I think in a lot of cases the veteran route is a better way to go; you don't want Peckham playing as the #7 guy with a bunch of pressbox time. If he's ready for #6, fair enough, but it certainly doesn't hurt to put some obstacles in front of him. Matt Walker would be a great fit in the #6/7 role.

    As for Pahlsson, specifically the +/- question above, he a) plays the best opponents b) generally with poor linemates c) generally in the defensive zone. That kills +/- awfully fast and needs to be accounted for. He's quite a good player, and the fact that he's physical but clean just adds to his value. He'd be a great fit in Edmonton, perhaps on a line with Moreau and Pisani.