CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks hope to reclaim the Stanley Cup in 2011-12 by adding a splash of physical and experienced players to a core of younger and highly skilled stars.
And the look of the Blackhawks’ new lineup came into focus Friday as the team opened its sold-out annual convention at a downtown Chicago hotel.
Chicago held on to restricted free-agent left wing Michael Frolik by signing him to a US$7-million, three-year contract, then signed unrestricted free-agent defenceman Sami Lepisto to a $750,000, one-year deal.
Frolik, 23, had three goals and six assists in 28 games with Chicago last season after being acquired from Florida in February. Lepisto, 26, had four goals and 12 assists in 70 games with Phoenix and Columbus.
Meanwhile, general manager Stan Bowman said the team would no longer attempt to re-sign restricted free agent defenceman Chris Campoli, who played well for Chicago after being acquired from Ottawa on Feb. 28.
Bowman had said he wanted to keep Campoli, a smooth-skating 26-year-old who had a goal and six assists in 19 games after arriving in Chicago. But Campoli wanted more money than the Blackhawks were willing to pay him in his role.
“It was apparent from the beginning that their salary demands were just not in concert with where we see him fitting in with our team,” Bowman said. “He’s not going to be back with us.”
The Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years in 2010 with a quick, slick, high-scoring team. But they slipped badly last season and squeaked into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.
Bowman began shaking up the team at the NHL draft late last month. He dealt defenceman Brian Campbell—and his $7.1 million annual salary—to Florida for forward Rostislav Olesz, and traded forward Troy Brouwer to Washington for a 2011 first-round draft pick.
A week later, Bowman acquired rugged, 31-year-old defenceman Steve Montador from Buffalo, then signed him to a four-year contract. Montador, who was set to become a free agent, had a career-best plus-16 rating with the Sabres, along with give goals and 21 assists.
When free agency opened on July 1, Bowman signed forwards Andrew Brunette, Jamal Mayers, Dan Carcillo and Brett McLean and defenceman Sean O’Donnell.
Brunette, 37, has 706 points in 1,032 NHL games and could end up playing with some of the Blackhawks stars—including Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa—on one of the team’s top two lines.
Kane will have surgery on his left wrist but expects to be ready for the start of the season.
Mayers, Carcillo and O’Donnell are role players known for their physical styles. Carcillo, who earned the nickname “Car Bomb” with Philadelphia, also carries the tag of “agitator.”
Bowman said his goal has been to make the Blackhawks “harder to play against,” as well as a team that can alter the flow of a game with more than just offensive bursts.
“It seemed like if we scored a goal, we would be able to change the momentum of games, but it was our only mechanism to get going when things weren’t working from the start (last season),” Bowman said. “Sometimes you need to have other players that contribute different things.
“You need to be able to change the momentum, and that’s usually with guys who play a certain (physical) style. That’s why we’ve added all those payers while we’ve kept all our top guys.”
Coach Joel Quenneville says he’s looking forward to deploying new options this season.
“We got some experience, some size, some toughness,” he said. “We got a lot of guys with motivation behind as well.
“We’ve got a great core, and those (new) guys should complement our team and the game we’re looking to play.”
The 39-year-old O’Donnell said he’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the Blackhawks back to the Cup.
“Anyway I can help the team do that, and get this team back on top, I would be happy to do,” he said.