The Blackhawks 2019-20 season is officially in the books.
As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, the focus for Chicago and general manager Stan Bowman now shift to the offseason where another battle with an unfriendly salary cap situation awaits.
To understand the task ahead this offseason, here’s a quick rundown of all the relevant pieces Bowman will use to assemble the 2020-21 Blackhawks roster.
The analysis starts with a quintet of players who are close to untradeable assets as the Blackhawks have:
Almost certainly not going anywhere
RW, Patrick Kane ($10.5 million AAV, three seasons remaining)
C, Jonathan Toews ($10.5 million AAV, three seasons remaining)
RH-D, Adam Boqvist ($894,167 AAV, two seasons remaining on entry-level contract)
C, Kirby Dach ($925,000 AAV, two seasons remaining on ELC)
RH-D, Ian Mitchell ($925,000 AAV, two seasons remaining on ELC)
If there was a time to move on from Toews and Kane (both of whom have full no-movement clauses) and dive into a total rebuild, it’s gone now. The Blackhawks plan appears to be an attempt to squeeze one last Cup run out of their careers. Considering everything they’ve meant to the franchise, it’s a worthy cause.
Boqvist and Dach are top-10 picks seen as future cornerstones of the franchise and Mitchell’s arrival in Chicago has been anticipated for multiple years now. He’ll be here.
Probably not going anywhere
F, Ryan Carpenter ($1 million AAV, two seasons remaining)
LW, Alex DeBrincat ($6.4 million AAV, three seasons remaining)
F, David Kampf ($1 million AAV, one season remaining)
RH-D, Connor Murphy ($3.85 million AAV, two seasons remaining)
LW/RW, Brandon Saad ($6 million AAV, one season remaining)
LH-D, Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million AAV, four seasons remaining)
DeBrincat and Saad are locks for Chicago’s top two forward lines, while Murphy is the closest thing the Blackhawks have to a shutdown blue-liner. Carpenter and Kampf provide great value with their two-way game and penalty kill prowess. It would take an enticing offer to pry any of these players away in the offseason.
Seabrook would be in a different category were it not for the difficulties in unloading his contract, which is $6.875 million per season until 2024. The 35-year-old has a full no-movement clause for the next two years and a modified no-trade clause of five and 10 teams for the final two seasons, respectively. He’s almost coming off three season-ending surgeries (both hips/right shoulder) and did not make Chicago’s postseason roster.
Potentially available for right price, but likely not being actively shopped
LH-D, Calvin de Haan ($4.55 million AAV, two seasons remaining)
LW/RW, Matthew Highmore ($725,000 AAV, two seasons remaining)
LH-D, Duncan Keith ($5.538 million AAV, three seasons remaining)
LW/RW, Alex Nylander ($863,333 AAV, one season remaining on ELC)
With all of the defensemen Chicago has in the pipeline, someone will have to move at some point. Keith, 37, can still be a viable NHL defenseman even if his best days are behind him and de Haan is just 29, making them the best pieces Bowman could bring to the bargaining table if he wanted to make a transaction that would yield a legitimate return as opposed to a straight salary dump. Keith, however, would have to waive his full NMC to be moved.
Nylander wasn’t consistent enough in his first season with the Blackhawks to cement his future and, while Highmore had his moments in the postseason with four points (three goals, one assist), but he’s the kind of affordable depth piece that often results in a nomadic NHL career.
LH-D, Olli Maatta ($4.083 million AAV, two seasons remaining)
F, Zack Smith ($3.25 million, one season remaining)
Maatta is only here because his cap hit is just north of $4 million. The 26-year-old scored six points (three goals, three assists) in the postseason but, like de Haan and Keith, the Blackhawks will eventually have to make some room for its young blue liners. The appeal of a Maatta buyout is how much it would help their financial situation, saving $3.4 million for the next two seasons and then cap hits of just $680,567 in the ‘22-23 and ‘23-24 seasons.
If buying out Maatta is what it takes to re-sign left wing Dominik Kubalik and/or forward Dylan Strome, Bowman may opt to go out that route. This debate will likely rage on for the next few months.
Buying out Smith would save the Blackhawks $2.167 million against the cap for the 2020-21 but incur a $1.083 million penalty for the ‘21-22 season. The short-term savings may be worth it.
Uncertain status due to injury
F, Andrew Shaw ($3.9 million, two seasons remaining)
Shaw maintained this summer he’ll be back with the team next season. By the time that season begins, more than a year will have transpired since his latest concussion. His presence cannot be ruled out, but it’s trending more and more toward the believe-it-when-you-see-it category.
Quick mathematical interjection
Adding the salaries of the players above, the Blackhawks have $71,778,962 committed to 18 skaters (10 forwards, eight skaters) and zero goaltenders. Next season’s salary cap is $81.5 million, giving the Blackhawks just under $10 million of cap space to round out its roster. It’s not an ideal position.
Young players battling for roster spots next season
LW/RW, Brandon Hagel ($880,833 AAV, one season remaining on ELC)
LW/C, Philipp Kurashev ($842,500 AAV, two seasons remaining on ELC)
LW/RW, John Quenneville ($750,000, one season remaining)
RW, Dylan Sikura ($750,000, one season remaining)
F, Pius Suter ($925,000, one season remaining on ELC)
LH-D, Nicolas Beaudin ($894,167 AAV, three seasons remaining on ELC)
LH-D, Lucas Carlsson ($792,500 AAV, one season remaining on ELC)
LH-D, Dennis Gilbert ($925,000, one season remaining on ELC)
RH-D, Wyatt Kalynuk ($925,000, two seasons remaining on ELC)
LH-D, Nick Seeler ($725,000 AAV, one season remaining)
G, Collin Delia ($1 million, two seasons remaining)
G, Kevin Lankinen ($800,000, two seasons remaining)
Time is short for older players like Seeler, Sikura and Quenneville to prove they deserve roster looks over younger players. Others like Beaudin, Carlsson, Gilbert and Hagel have tastes of NHL action and could vie for more ice time in the future. Kurashev likely would be in that group if he didn’t miss time because of a concussion. Newcomers like Kalynuk and Suter could also be candidates to break through to the NHL level. Given Chicago’s financial constraints, receiving significant contributions from any of the players in this massive group would provide the kind of value the Blackhawks must have to build a winning team in the short-term.
Delia and Lankinen seem like viable candidates for the backup role in Chicago next season, but Bowman could also decide to bring in another netminder with more NHL experience.
Free agents commanding larger salaries
LW, Dominik Kubalik, restricted free agent
F, Dylan Strome, restricted free agent
G, Corey Crawford, unrestricted free agent
Kubalik’s breakout rookie season (30 goals, 46 points) puts him atop Bowman’s offseason agenda list. Strome could also be a key cog in Chicago’s future, but Dach’s emergence could lead to Strome being dealt. Crawford may find the playing time he wants in Chicago but his UFA status means he could also opt for a team closer to contention than the Blackhawks currently are.
Free agents commanding lesser salaries
LW/RW, Drake Caggiula, restricted free agent
LH-D, Slater Koekkoek, restricted free agent
G, Malcolm Subban, restricted free agent
This trio all pose the same question: will they be worth another season with the team? None of the players will sign huge contracts, but Bowman must decide if bringing any of these players back is a better option than looking for replacement pieces both within and outside the organization.