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Blackhawks

Blackhawks add 3 players on 1st day of NHL free agency

New Blackhawks goalie Cam Ward looks for the puck during a game with the Carolina Hurricanes last season.
New Blackhawks goalie Cam Ward looks for the puck during a game with the Carolina Hurricanes last season.

CHICAGO – The Blackhawks agreed to contracts with free agents Chris Kunitz, Cam Ward and Brandon Manning on Sunday, addressing their depth in every position group after missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

Kunitz got a one-year deal worth
$1 million, and Ward’s one-year contract is for $3 million. Manning received a two-year deal.

The 38-year-old Kunitz gives the Hawks another experienced forward, Ward adds to the Hawks’ depth in goal after Corey Crawford missed most of last season, and Manning joins a mix of aging veterans and intriguing prospects on defense.

“The main thing for us is that we’ve been able in the past couple of years to accumulate a lot of really good young players who are on the cusp of breakout status,” general manager Stan Bowman said in a conference call with reporters. “In the process of turning it over to the young guys, you still have to mentor those young guys.”

Kunitz had 13 goals and 16 assists in 82 games with Tampa Bay last season. He also had an assist in 17 playoff games with the Lightning. The four-time Stanley Cup champion – with Anaheim in 2007 and Pittsburgh in 2009, 2016 and 2017 – also won gold with Canada at the 2014 Olympics.

“The goal from an organizational standpoint is to win a Stanley Cup,” Kunitz said. “That’s what they’re looking to do every single year.”

He joins a Hawks team looking for a comeback after finishing last in the Central Division. Crawford was hurt in December, and the Hawks tumbled to 33 wins and 76 points, their lowest totals since they went 31-42-9 during the 2006-07 season.

Upgrading its situation in net was one of the Hawks’ top offseason priorities. Bowman said last month he expects Crawford “to be back and ready to go in training camp,” and the goaltender is among the listed players who will attend Blackhawks Convention from July 27 to July 29.

Anton Forsberg was acquired in the Artemi Panarin trade with Columbus in June 2017, but he struggled in his first year as Crawford’s backup, and his status is up in the air with the addition of Ward.

“We felt that was an area we wanted to get better at,” Bowman said. “Anton had a great season for us the first few months when he was getting his feet under him as a NHL goalie, with Corey sort of carrying the load. ... I think Anton can work his way to [being the No. 1 guy] over time, but Cam has the long-time pedigree of being able to handle that.”

The 34-year-old Ward was selected by Carolina in the first round of the 2002 draft and spent his first 13 seasons with the Hurricanes. He went 23-14-4 last year with two shutouts, a 2.73 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage.

The 28-year-old Manning set career highs with seven goals and 12 assists in 65 games last season with Philadelphia. He also played in six postseason games.

Ward also has 41 career playoff appearances. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2006 as playoff MVP when Carolina beat Edmonton for its only Stanley Cup title.

Ward noted the Hurricanes did not contact him during the week leading to the start of free agency.

“I understand they’re going in a different direction, and that’s their idea,” he said. “I always imagined myself retiring as a Hurricane and playing my whole career there. That being said, this has opened the door for a new opportunity and a new challenge for me. I’m excited to see what comes out of it.”

The Hawks also announced it had agreed to a three-year contract with defenseman Adam Boqvist. The Hawks selected the 17-year-old Boqvist with the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft.

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