Emery, Stalberg leave Blackhawks; Rozsival, Handzus return, along with Khabibulin
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org July 5, 2013 8:42PM
Chicago Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery salutes the fans after being named a star of the Blackhawks' 2-0 win over the Calgary Flames after an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 26, 2013 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Updated: August 7, 2013 6:15AM
Both Ray Emery and Viktor Stalberg enjoyed playing in Chicago. But both wanted more playing time. And both knew they had to go somewhere else to get it.
Emery signed with the Philadelphia Flyers and Stalberg signed with the Nashville Predators on Friday, the first day of NHL free agency. Neither move came as much of a surprise, as each player had expressed an interest in playing a bigger role than they had with the Blackhawks.
“[Chicago was] a situation where Corey [Crawford] has one year left… and he’s going to make $5 or $6 million for the next little while, and i felt the writing was on the wall for myself,” Emery said. “In Philly, it’s a new situation and a place where I could play more games.”
To replace Emery, the Hawks went back to the future, signing 40-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin, who spent the past four years in Edmonton after four seasons in Chicago. Stan Bowman said after it became apparent that Emery was looking for something else, he turned his attention to other free-agent goalies around the league. Bowman said Khabibulin, who signed a one-year, $2 million deal, can fill the role Emery did — an experienced, former No. 1 goalie who can lighten Crawford’s load without hurting the team or affecting its style of play.
“It was pretty apparent that Nik was the best candidate for that position,” Bowman said. “We’re really thrilled to add him to our team. … We have a lot of familiarity with Nik, he was a really good goaltender for us, sort of helped us get back on track as a franchise.”
The Hawks also retained two veterans who were key cogs in their run to the Stanley Cup, locking up defenseman Michal Rozsival for two years, and center Michal Handzus for one. Marcus Kruger is the last piece of the 2013-14 puzzle, and Bowman said they were “getting close to the finish line.”
Khabibulin started 11 games for Edmonton last year, posting a 4-6-1 record with a 2.55 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. In his 17-year career, he has a lifetime record of 332-334-38, with a 2.72 GAA and .908 save percentage.
Emery went 17-1 this past season, setting an NHL record by winning his first 12 decisions and even earning a Vezina Trophy vote despite being Crawford’s backup. That earned the 30-year-old veteran a one-year contract worth $1.65 million with the Flyers (he made $1.15 million this past season).
Stalberg’s departure was inevitable after he found himself in coach Joel Quenneville’s doghouse throughout the postseason. After scoring 22 goals in 2011-12 and playing all but one regular-season game this season — scoring nine goals with 14 assists — Stalberg was benched for the first two games of the Detroit series and the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final against Boston.
The speedy winger saw the logjam of right wingers ahead of him — notably Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa — and sought out a spot on a scoring line somewhere else.
“Over the last three years, I showed I deserve to play maybe more than at times I got an opportunity to here,” Stalberg said. “That’s how it is, you’re on one of the best teams and you have some of the best players in the world in front of you. That’s great, but maybe at some point in your career you want to see what else is out there, and what role you can get, and see how good you can allow yourself to be.”
As for who’s staying, the 34-year-old Rozsival, an unheralded signing last summer who expected to be a stay-at-home defenseman, emerged as a surprisingly productive offensive player, with 12 assists in 27 games during the regular season (and a plus-18 rating), and four assists and a plus-9 rating while playing every game in the postseason.
The 36-year-old Handzus, meanwhile, had three goals and eight assists in the postseason after posting just two goals and six assists during the regular season with the Sharks and Hawks. With center Brandon Pirri, among other young players, expected to join the NHL roster next season, the well-liked Handzus can serve as both competition for playing time and a mentor.