For a team heading into year-two of a rebuild, the Chicago Blackhawks offseason has been busy so far. From trading away franchise defenceman Duncan Keith to acquiring young blue liner Seth Jones, the Blackhawks have been all over hockey headlines in recent weeks. As of today the roster that’s set to play for them on October 13 is drastically different than the one they had to start last season. With all that’s happened so far this summer and plenty of offseason ahead, it’s a good time to break down the Chicago Blackhawks offseason so far.
Analyzing The 2021 Chicago Blackhawks Offseason
General manager Stan Bowman has been busy on the phones this summer. On July 12, not too long after Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup, Bowman made a major splash to start the summer. Trading Duncan Keith to the Edmonton Oilers was an inevitable part of the rebuild, however it still took the hockey world, and Blackhawks’ fans, by surprise. Being shipped out along with prospect Tim Soderlund, the Blackhawks received Caleb Jones and a 2022 draft pick in return. Caleb is a capable defenceman with a lot of upside given his age and shutdown play style.
Aside from the player acquisition, trading Keith freed up over $5 million in cap space. At the time of the trade many believed this was a prelude to a bigger trade that Bowman had been working on for Caleb’s brother, Seth Jones. We’ll get back to that trade a little later.
The two-time Stanley Cup champion isn’t coming off of the most productive of seasons. However, a 30-point third line centre with a winning pedigree is a valued asset to a rebuilding team. Johnson, who recently turned 31, is an above average two-way centre. At his best he can crack the 45-point mark, but he hasn’t done that since 2018. If Johnson is able to harness his best point production with his disciplined defensive game, he could be the depth centre Chicago’s needed for a long time.
A potential lineman in 2020 first round pick Lukas Reichel could be the perfect scenario for both parties as well. Johnson as the mentor, while also playing with a young, dynamic winger like Reichel could boost his production in Chicago.
If you told the average Blackhawks fan that they’d have the reigning Vezina Trophy winner as their starting goaltender, they’d likely laugh in your face. Yet here we are, as Fleury gets ready to play for his third team in his career. When the trade was announced, many weren’t even sure if the future hall of fame goalie would play for Chicago. Considering the controversy around the deal, Fleury had himself a tough choice to make. Whether or not he wanted to retire was a major question coming out of Chicago after the trade was made.
When the news became official that Fleury would sport Chicago red, black, and white, many across the hockey community labeled Chicago as a sneaky candidate for the playoffs this upcoming season. With a Vezina winner and rising star in Kevin Lankinen, Chicago’s net looks surprisingly strong. For a rebuilding team the goaltending tandem is certainly playoff caliber.
Acquiring Seth Jones might be the highlight of Chicago’s summer. The 26-year-old defenceman has the makings to be the next franchise defenceman for the Blackhawks. He’s fast, has a great offensive side to his game, and can play meaningful minutes. The toughest part of this deal isn’t losing former eighth overall pick Adam Boqvist. Despite 580 games under his belt, Jones is still a relatively unproven defenceman in today’s NHL. After a few seasons of poor play, receiving a $9.5 million extension immediately after being traded for seems drastic.
For a team in a rebuild grabbing a young, fast, moldable defenceman is key. But locking him down for long-term and even higher cap is a huge gamble. At the end of the day, however, Jones is a top pairing defenceman and those are hard to come by. Replacing Duncan Keith’s role in Chicago won’t be easy, but that’s the challenge that’s presented to Jones as he enters year-one in Chicago. This news along with the acquisition of Marc-Andre Fleury, has to make this perhaps the best Chicago Blackhawks offseason in recent memory.
Chicago Blackhawks Offseason Free Agency
Aside from being active on the trade market, Stan Bowman has made a few major signings from the open market. Similarly he has re-signed some key restricted free agents as well. Winger Brandon Hagel just signed a three-year extension worth $1.5 million each season. He proved his worth last season scoring 24 points in 52 games in the team’s bottom-six. The young two-way forward will certainly improve on his rookie season and factor heavily into the lineup. Similarly Adam Gaudette signed a one-year extension to stay in Chicago for next season. Bowman has yet to sign winger Alexander Nylander, who spent all of last season on LTIR with an injury.
Out on the open market Bowman has signed two players, so far. The biggest signing of the two comes in defenceman Jake McCabe. He signed a four-year deal worth $4 million each year. McCabe will be coming off of an injury when the season starts this October, but he’s a quality top-four defenceman that will add some much needed stability to the blue line.
McCabe isn’t a young player by any means, something Bowman emphasized priority towards at the start of last season. However, his shutdown style of game will pair nicely with the handful of young offensive defenceman Chicago has in their pipeline. The left-shot defenceman will play a mentor-type role to them, as well as be relied upon to play big minutes for the team.
Stan Bowman also went out and signed depth winger Jujhar Khaira. Khaira played last season playing in Edmonton. He’s not the most offensively skilled, and his play in the defensive end isn’t anything to write him about. As the role player that he is, however, he has success. He’s a big-bodied grinder who can rough up the opponent and can play the penalty kill. With how poor the team’s penalty kill and defensive play was last season, having a player like Khaira at their disposal will add a needed level of grit to the team’s overall defensive play.
Bowman might still be sticking to his rebuild, but the roster looks far from it. With major trade acquisitions and big-name players on the team, there is a higher expectation among Blackhawks’ fans going into this season. Similarly the team’s free agent signings fit well enough into their current roster that they bring up the overall ceiling of the current roster. Is a Stanley Cup in this lineup’s future? Probably not. However will this team be competitive and possibly make a run at a Western Conference wild card spot? This is more likely the case.