We’re a week removed from the beginning of the NHL’s free agency period opening. The Blackhawks had previously announced their decision to not bring back Corey Crawford and it didn’t take him long to find a new home, signing a two-year deal with the New Jersey Devils, carrying a $3.9M average annual value per year.
Chicago’s decided, at least in goal, that they’re going to be giving younger players in the system a chance to show what they can do at the NHL level. Colin Delia, Kevin Lankinen, and Malcolm Subban (who was re-signed on the opening day of free agency) will compete for starts in net. If the Blackhawks stay true to their word and choose not to bring in an experienced goaltender, I’d imagine we’ll see a healthy dose of each goaltender over the course of the season as the team tries to evaluate their goaltending going forward.
What is less clear at this time, is Chicago’s plan with their defense and forward groups. As mentioned earlier, it looks as if the Blackhawks are going to be giving their young goaltenders a chance to show their worth in the NHL but what about the rest of the team?
The Hawks did move out Brandon Saad, who’d long been rumored to be traded at some point given his contract was ending after this season and the perceived value he had around the league. Many thought the trade would be futures-orientated, bringing in prospects/picks to Chicago. However, given the market and ongoing economic uncertainty, those waters were muddied. Players left, right and center have been traded for pennies on the dollar as teams try to fit under the flat salary cap and sort out their internal budgets. Players with salary haven’t been commanding what they normally would via trade, throughout the league.
In the end, the Blackhawks received Nikita Zadorov and depth defensemen Anton Lindholm for Saad and defensemen Dennis Gilbert.
Zadorov seems poised to be an upgrade on the departed Olli Maatta, who the team had traded before free agency began. He’s not projected to bring much offense to Chicago but should be a nice compliment to the young players Chicago has in their system on defense.
Which brings us back to the current state of the roster and the potential influx of young players. I say potential because right now, there just doesn’t seem to a lot of room.
At forward you have Kane, Toews, DeBrincat, Kubalik, Dach, Nylander, Shaw, Smith, Carpenter, Kampf and Highmore returning from last years team and signed through at least this season. The Hawks went out and signed a pair of forwards in free agency, Mattias Janmark and Anton Wallmark. Both project to be bottom-six players to add some depth. Back in May, Chicago signed the top-scorer in the Swiss National League, Pius Suter to a one-year deal. He has an out-clause in his contract if he were not to make the team, so you’d imagine he’ll be given every opportunity to be on the opening night roster. Then you have Dylan Strome, Chicago’s last RFA who they are expected to re-sign at some point.
That’s 15 forwards for a team that will likely carry 13 to start the season. For younger players like Philipp Kurashev, Brad Morrison, Evan Barratt and Brandon Hagel, there just isn’t a path to earning a spot on the roster unless other moves are made.
Looking at the defense, Chicago has Keith, Boqvist, Seabrook, Murphy and De Haan returning and the recently acquired Nikita Zadorov as well. Not to mention Nick Seeler, who saw time with the Hawks last year after they claimed him off waivers from the Wild.
That doesn’t leave much room for the likes of Ian Mitchell, Wyatt Kalynuk, Alec Regula or Nicolas Beaudin.
If the organization has indeed committed itself to a rebuild, Blackhawks fans should buckle up for what promises to be a very interesting couple of months ahead. For those young players to play, there needs to be spots available for them to play. It’s not a matter of if they’ll make more moves, it’s a matter of who they’ll trade and when they’ll do it.
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