Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman will face a number of questions this summer.
Will Artem Anisimov be traded to free up even more salary cap space? And how aggressive will Bowman be once free agency begins July 1?
One of the impending decisions Bowman is confronted with is what he plans to do with Chicago’s three unrestricted free agents: forwards Chris Kunitz and Marcus Kruger and goaltender Cam Ward.
UFAs were able to start meeting with potential new teams at 11:01 p.m. Saturday, but may not sign until July 1.
Here’s a look at the players and questions facing the team’s front office in regards the team’s UFAs:
Chris Kunitz, LW: 56 GP, 10 PTS (5G, 5A)
Kunitz is likely heading to retirement as he’ll turn 40 years old in September and eclipsed the 1,000-game milestone this past season. The four-time Stanley Cup champion signed a one-year deal with Chicago, so he was able to play his final season in front of his family as Maureen Pfeiffer, whom he married, is a Chicagoland native.
The mid-season addition of left winger Drake Caggiula and newly-signed Dominik Kubalik also push Kunitz off the roster.
Marcus Kruger, C/W: 74 GP, 12 PTS (4G, 8A)
It seems like Kruger’s second stint with the Blackhawks is over. David Kampf, who is a 24-year-old restricted free agent that saw some time on the second line, seems to be the next Kruger in the bottom-six playing a more defensive role.
Kampf had the second lowest offensive zone starts frequency (oZS%) at 36.4-percent this past season. Kruger was the only forward with more than 30 games played that had a lower oZS%. Kampf’s expected goals for the opponent when he’s on the ice and Corsi-against, were also slightly better than Kruger. One main area Kruger outperformed Kampf was at the faceoff dot, with Kruger winning 50.5 percent of his draws while Kampf was at 45.3 percent. Kampf was 53 percent at the dot during the 2017-18 season when he split time between the NHL and AHL. Kruger averages 50.5 percent for his career with a career-high 56.6 in 2013-14.
Kruger’s experience and ability to win faceoffs could be a reason for the Blackhawks to bring him back, but it appears Kampf will assume his role going forward.
Cam Ward, G: 16-12, 3.67 GAA, .897 SV%
Ward like Kunitz appeared to sign a one-year swan song contract with the Blackhawks. But at times, Ward proved to still be a quality goaltender Chicago could count on in front of its dismal defensive effort. With that said, Collin Delia appears to be penciled in as Corey Crawford’s backup for next season after signing a three-year contract worth $1 million per season. The 35-year-old Ward could leap into another backup role somewhere in the league.
Chicago’s four minor-league UFAs in defensemen Andrew Campbell and Brandon Davidson and wingers Andreas Martinsen and Tyler Sikura are all unlikely to be brought back as the Blackhawks make room for prospects.
Forwards MacKenzie Entwistle, Mikael Hakkarainen and Tim Soderlund will take up three spots up front, while defensemen Nicolas Beaudin and potentially Adam Boqvist will be new faces on the blue line.
In addition to Entwistle, Hakkarainen and Soderlund, Rockford will have Brandon Hagel, Reese Johnson and Philipp Kurashev manning spots after joining the IceHogs once their junior seasons ended late last season.
Along with Beaudin and Boqvist, Chicago has four AHL defensemen on entry-level deals: Lucas Carlsson, Chad Krys, Dennis Gilbert and Joni Tuulola (all lefties) and two righties on AHL contracts with Josh McArdle and Dmitri Osipov.
Rockford will replace the leadership from Campbell with Kris Versteeg, who is a two-time Stanley Cup champion with Chicago and signed an AHL contract after playing overseas in Sweden and Russia this past season.