The Chicago Blackhawks have signed three players immediately after free agency began, inking Chris Kunitz, Cam Ward and Brandon Manning. Kunitz and Ward will get one-year deals, while Manning has signed a two-year contract. Ward’s deal will pay $3MM and include a full no-trade clause.
Kunitz, who spent last season with Tampa Bay Lightning on their shutdown line, provides the Blackhawks with a veteran defensive presence, who still seems to be successful even at age 38. He, along with Ryan Callahan and Cedric Paquette, were responsible for shutting down teams’ top lines and were quite successful at it. The line was also adept at scoring as well as Kunitz scored 13 goals and totaled 29 points last season with Tampa Bay. The veteran also has lots of playoff success with his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins as he played for the franchise for nine years, winning three Stanley Cup titles.
Ward was less of a secret as the team had been rumored to be close to a deal with him for a few days already. The 13-year veteran, who played all his years in Carolina, moved into a backup role last year as he helped mentor former Blackhawk Scott Darling. However, despite that role, he still managed to play 43 games for the Hurricanes. The 34-year-old didn’t thrive as he finished with a 2.73 GAA and a .906 save percentage, but his experience and ability to handle a big load was critical for the Blackhawks who struggled after starter Corey Crawford went down for the season with a head injury in December last year. The team attempted to move forward with Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass as their two goaltenders, but couldn’t make that work. Ward should provide more stability for the Blackhawks now.
Manning adds more defensive depth for the Blackhawks as the former Philadelphia Flyers defenseman has continued to increase his production over the course of his career as he scored seven goals and 19 points last season in 65 games and even played a more safety-conscious game this past season. However, his numbers also indicate that he’s just an adequate defender and is likely to fill the team’s need for bottom-six defenders.