On Monday, we published two articles that detailed how the Blackhawks have slowly slid away from the top of the NHL standings to contending — again — for a lottery spot in the 2019 NHL draft. With the past explained, we turn our attention to the present:
As of Tuesday, the Blackhawks have seven defensemen and two goaltenders on the active roster. Defenseman Gustav Forsling (upper-torso) and goaltender Corey Crawford (concussion) are on injured reserve. With the team in a state of flux, several players likely won’t be around by the start of the 2019-20 season — or maybe even by the trade deadline in February. Let’s examine the Blackhawks present and short-term future for the defensemen and goaltenders on the roster, as detailed by Cap Friendly:
Virtual certainties to remain with the team
Collin Delia: The 24-year-old goaltender has rapidly ascended the ranks in the Blackhawks system from the ECHL all the way up to the NHL. After being called up in December on an “emergency basis,” Delia has shown he’s NHL-ready by going 4-2-3 with a .923 save percentage in 10 games. He’s routinely keeping the Blackhawks in games and been a bright spot in a lost season. The Blackhawks are expected to re-sign him before he becomes a restricted free agent this summer.
Henri Jokiharju: The Blackhawks have invested their future on the blue line through the draft, and Jokiharju is the first player to make it to the NHL. It wasn’t clear where the 2017 first-rounder would play this season, but he made the team’s opening-night roster. Aside from winning gold with the Finnish men’s national junior team at the World Junior Championship, he’s stayed with the Blackhawks. The 19-year-old has 12 assists in 37 games, and is in the first year of his three-year entry-level contract with a $925K salary cap hit.
Duncan Keith: The 35-year-old veteran has five years remaining on his contract with a $5.53 million cap hit that carries a no-movement clause (NMC). He’s not playing at the level he once was, but it’d be shocking to see the two-time Norris Trophy winner shipped out of Chicago.
Brent Seabrook: The veteran blue liner, who turns 34 in April, carries a higher cap hit than Keith at $6.875 million. His offensive production is better than his longtime teammate with five goals and 14 assists, but he struggles in his own zone.
Question marks and expiring contracts
Corey Crawford: The 34-year-old is working his way back from his second concussion in less than a year. He’s made one public appearance, skating prior to practice but has yet to participate in a full team practice since December, when the head injury occurred. After this season, he’ll have one year left on his contract that includes a modified no-trade clause and NMC with a $6 million cap hit. He falls in this tier based on the question marks surrounding his playing future.
Carl Dahlstrom: The 24-year-old made his NHL debut last season, and has found his way back to the NHL on a more permanent basis in a third-pairing role with Connor Murphy. Dahlstrom only has a $750,833 cap hit and is in the final year of his entry-level deal. He could be a fit for the future, or be included in a trade to create roster space for a free agent signing or prospects (Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell) next season.
Gustav Forsling: The 21-year-old was acquired in a trade with Vancouver in Jan. 2015, and has split time between the AHL and NHL since coming over to North America from Linkoping HC in the Swedish Hockey League. In 19 NHL games this season, he has two goals and six points since returning from an offseason surgery on his right wrist. He’s a RFA after this season, and his future in the organization is unknown, given the prospects coming in.
Slater Koekkoek: The Blackhawks acquired him earlier this month, and he has shown many positives in his three appearances. Koekkoek, who was drafted No. 10 overall in 2012, doesn’t appear to be in the franchise’s future plans.
Connor Murphy: The 25-year-old has done well while being paired with Dahlstrom. Murphy missed the majority of the first half as he was recovering from back surgery, and has one goal and five points in 21 games. He’s signed through 2022 with a $3.85 million cap hit.
Cam Ward: The veteran netminder, who leaps into age 35 at some point in 30 or so days (Leap Day birthdays are complicated), is a fine backup option with Crawford out and Delia up from the AHL. Ward’s $3 million cap hit is a lot, but it’s only for the rest of this season. If a team in playoff contention wants a veteran backup option, Ward could opt to waive his NMC to make a run for another Stanley Cup.
Erik Gustafsson: The defenseman is only in his first full NHL season after splitting time between the AHL and the Blackhawks last season. He has plenty of offensive upside with 30 points (eight goals, 22 assists) in 48 games, but he’s been caught out of position on defense too many times. The Blackhawks re-signed the 26-year-old to a two-year deal with a $1.2 million cap hit last March. Moving him would hurt the red-hot power play, but the return could net a decent return given what the Los Angeles-Toronto Jake Muzzin trade set the market for.