photo credit: National Post/Getty
By Jon Fromi
The Chicago Blackhawks thought they were picking up a certain type of player when they dealt Jack Skille to the Florida Panthers in exchange for winger Michael Frolik back on February 9th.
The two players were at the heart of a five-player swap back in February that served as a bit of organizational house cleaning for both teams. GM Stan Bowman thought Frolik could snap out of a scoring funk and provide depth that Skille was not able to provide in Chicago.
At the time, both franchises were sending away players who had failed to live up to expectations. Looking back at the trade, the Blackhawks may have gotten a different player than they bargained for.
In addition to Skille, Chicago’s 2005 first round pick (7th overall), GM Stan Bowman unloaded AHL fodder in Hugh Jessiman. Obtained the previous summer to provide some scoring punch in Rockford, Jessiman (also a high first-rounder for the Rangers in 2003) spent most of the season up to that point on the injured list. David Pacan, a big center prospect, completed the Blackhawks side of the deal.
In return, Chicago received Frolik, himself a first-round pick (10th overall) in 2006, and Alexander Salak, then playing in the Swedish Elite League and now competing for a spot on the Blackhawks roster.
The native of the Czech Republic had entered 2010-11 with two 21-goal campaigns already in Florida but was struggling in his third season. He had dropped like a stone in the Panthers’ lineup. As a result, Dale Tallon jumped at the chance to move Frolik and get a player he originally drafted in return.
Frolik was without a goal in his final 23 games with the Panthers and the change of location did not seem to help open the net. It took Frolik 10 games with the Blackhawks to pick up his first points. Those came when he logged a goal and a pair of assists in a March 2nd victory over Calgary.
If Bowman thought his was picking up a scorer who could snap out of a funk upon arriving, he miscalculated. Frolik’s offensive game actually got worse in Chicago. Even in a down season goals-wise, the 23-year-old Czech was averaging .56 points a game before the trade, right in line with his career average with Florida. In 28 games with the Blackhawks, Frolik had 3 goals and 6 assists, averaging .32 points a contest.
In his defense, Frolik had Tomas Kopecky as his center when he first hit town. Still, he took more shots this season (251) than any of the ‘Hawks other than Patrick Sharp.
His 4.4 percent shooting percentage was pathetic. To put it into perspective, the oft-maligned Jake Dowell hit on 8.4 percent of his shots. Only Ryan Johnson was worse (4.0 percent) of the Chicago forwards who took regular shifts. Even Skille, who always seemed one move short of scoring when he charged into the offensive zone with the puck, found the net at a 5.2 percent clip last season.
So what made Frolik such an upgrade over Skille, who battled an ankle injury and had a goal and an assist in 13 games with the Panthers?
Despite not coming through in the numbers department, Bowman got the best of the trade in the short term for the following reasons:
1. Frolik was able to play bigger minutes that Skille was logging in Chicago. More than four minutes a game to be specific.
2. Frolik was able to play a more rounded game than Skille, especially when the playoffs started.
3. Even though tales of his experience at the position were greatly exaggerated by Bowman, Frolik was able to contribute emergency minutes at center while Dave Bolland was out.
Frolik ended the playoffs as a member of a very effective checking line with Bolland and Bryan Bickell, despite not really clicking with the pair earlier in the season. We just got a taste of this line combination, but the impact they had in Chicago’s rally from a 3-0 deficit offers potential.
Despite having the versatility Bowman desires and Hossa’s preference for a left-shooting center, Frolik provides the best value to the ‘Hawks at wing on the third line, where he proved to be a very responsible defender. He also showed that he can survive against a physical opponent, bouncing up for more time and again in the playoffs.
One thing Frolik can do is shoot the puck. He was 25th in the NHL this season in shots taken. He certainly had no issues launching shots from any and every spot inside the blue line. As a two-way winger, he could get pucks on net. This would create opportunities for rebounds that could be collected by a net-charging line mate.
It’s more than possible that Frolik is capable of being a 40-50 point player in this league again. The ‘Hawks would do well for him to be a two-way wing that can still put up 30-35 points. The question lies in Frolik’s willingness to play that role.
Bowman coming across with three years and $7 million might help him embrace that role on the third line. Chicago gains depth and the potential for some offensive bite on the checking line if Frolik has better luck with his shot.
Frolik may not have turned out to be the player the ‘Hawks thought they obtained at the time of the trade with Florida. However, the two-way potential he showed down the stretch suggests that it’s not necessarily a bad thing.