As a shortened and hectic offseason approaches, Last Word on Hockey is looking ahead towards how teams will deal with the reality of a flat salary cap. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make. We’ll operate going from worst to best. Today’s piece focuses on the Chicago Blackhawks offseason.
Chicago Blackhawks Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
The Blackhawks have eight free agents currently on their books. Of the group, six of them are restricted free agents. They are: Pius Suter, Brandon Hagel, Adam Gaudette, David Kampf, Nikita Zadorov, and Alexander Nylander. Everyone except Nylander, who sat on LTIR all season, played significant minutes for the team this season. Heading into year two of a rebuild, keeping your top-end young talent, many of whom are on this list, is crucial to taking the next step as a team. General manager Stan Bowman is going to need to find the perfect balance between holding onto talent and getting the most out of his tradable assets.
The unrestricted free agents are a much smaller, less significant list than the former. Zack Smith is old, injured, and very likely will not re-sign with Chicago. The 33 year old forward spent all of last season on LTIR and made no progress towards playing any significant ice time in the near future. In his lone season playing for Chicago he played 50 games and scored four goals and seven assists. The other UFA, Vinnie Hinostroza, could snag a slight raise from his current $1 million contract. At 27 years old he’ll likely be looking to sign a more stable contract with Chicago, or whoever he signs with this summer.
Salary Cap Outlook
Capfriendly currently lists the team as having just over $6 million in cap space available. With the Seattle expansion draft, a good free agent class, and the rebuild, that number could fluctuate. Bowman has to make tough decisions about what players he wants to re-sign and which ones he’ll use as bait this summer. With the ever growing list of NHL ready talent in the team’s development pool, making room for them is important. With the cap leeway that the offseason brings, and all the potential moves, that $6 million could increase rather quickly. Bowman has been showing strong signs of re-organizing, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he increased their cap space.
Major Likely Departures
There aren’t a lot of players that could be leaving this summer that would be considered “major” departures. Considering the rebuild, any player not named Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, and Kevin Lankinen could be moved for the right price. Rumored to be on the trade block is centre David Kampf. Kampf is a solid bottom-six forward. He plays the shutdown role well and has fit into Chicago’s offence really nicely.
Losing him wouldn’t be a huge blow to the team, but it would leave a hole on the fourth line for a period of time. Similarly, defenceman Calvin de Haan seems to be on the bottom half of the list for defenders to keep this summer. Despite being a solid top-four guy for the team, he is easily replaceable with someone younger and with a higher ceiling that Chicago has in their system.
Major Likely Re-Signings
There are a few guys who could fetch a nice bonus from Chicago this offseason. Nikita Zadorov is currently in discussions for an extension with Chicago. Bowman has made it known that he likes the 26 year old being in Chicago, and he could fetch at least a four-year deal worth about $3 million. Forward Brandon Hagel showed a lot of promise this season with his play on the third line. As an RFA, and a very skilled player, Bowman should prioritize locking him down for the foreseeable future for a contract somewhere in the $1-2 million range. Rookie Pius Suter will catch a hefty raise this summer as well after putting up a good campaign this season.
Potential Free Agent Additions
With a slightly limited cap situation, Chicago can’t go after too many major players on the open market. There have been stirrings linking the team to trying to sign a top defenceman piece this summer, such as Dougie Hamilton or Marc Staal. Similarly there is room in the locker room for a veteran goalie presence to be filled to mentor Kevin Lankinen. Overall, there aren’t many free agent signings that the team would likely make that would constitute mentioning. The potential depth forward or bottom pairing defenceman, like Sam Gagner or Ian Cole, makes more sense to Bowman and his front office. All in all, however, Chicago will likely be silent but effective with any free agent signings they make this summer. That wraps up the Chicago Blackhawks offseason primer.