Photo: Chicago Tribune

When the Blackhawks signed veteran winger Jamal Mayers in the off-season, I thought it was the best acquisition they made. 12-year veteran, decent size, decent speed, enough grit and gristle to be useful. Sure, past his prime. But for the price we signed him at, he might chip in for 10 goals and 15 assists and provide some veteran leadership on the 3rd or 4th lines.

Those totals didn’t materialize (6G + 9A, and zippo in the playoffs), but we got a healthy dose of what Mayers was made of in the first 15 games of the season. Before the campaign was a month old he had 2 goals, including a game-winner, plus 2 helpers; and was getting an average of one shot on goal each night. He also took it upon himself to beat the crap out of no fewer than 5 guys. He was the only Blackhawk who registered a fighting major until Daniel “CarBomb” Carcillo went nuts during the Vancouver game on November 6th. Mayers was doing all of this while logging an average of only 10 minutes of ice time a night.

So now the season is over, and Mayers is a free agent. He was, arguably, the best investment Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman made — dollar for dollar — in the 2011 off-season. Hard not to pass on that kind of success again…

Mayers is a work-horse, missing only 5 games in the last two seasons combined. He shows up every night, you know exactly what you are going to get from him, and he’s a solid influence on a Blackhawks team that is about to get younger. He’s never been an offensive juggernaut, and frankly his defensive numbers aren’t setting any records either. But he delivers on his promise: hard work, some straight-ahead speed, a few goals here and there; and most importantly, when he checks somebody into the boards, it measures on the Richter scale.

Not bad for $550,000 — just a well-equipped Toyota above league minimum.

But do you invest that money again on an asset that will be 38 years old before the 2012-13 season is a month old? Will he lose that 100 yards of full-blast speed that you need from him? Will his 15 points drop to 10 points? Will he become just a curious antique in the dressing room, instead of the respected veteran we need him to be?

And with the big, young and fast talent that Stan has been preparing in Rockford, is there room for him on the roster anymore? With hard-nosed players like Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Bollig, and Andrew Shaw showing their ability to crack the lineup and stay with the team, and talented goal-scorers like Brandon Saad and Mark McNeill waiting for their shot as well, is there room for Mayers anywhere but in the press box on next year’s Blackhawks?

And that’s the question Stan has to answer before July 1. In addition to the five players mentioned above, the Blackhawks will have another 10 established roster forwards returning to the team next season. With only 2 jobs to fill, and 5 young, hungry guys duking it out for the chance to fill them, is shelling out another half-million dollars going to be worth it if all it does is keep a seat warm in the rafters?

It’s unfortunate, but ultimately I think the answer is ‘no.’ Mayers did a great job this year as far as I could see, and was well worth the money Stan spent to bring him in. I think he set the tone for the season early on with his work ethic and his sledgehammer style of play. He also stepped up and taught a few guys a lesson or two about manners when the time arose.

But like Toronto, Calgary, and San Jose before them, I think the Blackhawks will say goodbye to Jamal Mayers in the off-season. If the cupboard was dry in Rockford, this would be a no-brainer — Mayers would already be re-signed. And I fully expect him to catch on with another team come July 1. But as it stands, the Chicago brass will have to do some wheeling and dealing just to make room for the talented players they already have in the system. Keeping a spot open for Jamal Mayers just doesn’t make sense.

Nice to have had you aboard, sir; and good luck with free-agency. Just don’t beat on our guys too hard when you run into them next year.

TOMORROW: Jim takes a look at Bryan Bickell as our end-of-season reviews continue.

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