Even if the Blackhawks never get to finish it, 2019-20 will go down as the season that everything went right for wing Dominik Kubalik.
Kubalik will have scored the Hawks’ first home goal of the season (Oct. 10 against the Sharks) and their last home goal of the season (Wednesday against the Sharks).
The last one was a one-time rocket that blasted past goalie Aaron Dell, demonstrating the incredible shot that highlights Kubalik’s skill. And it bumped him to the 30-goal plateau and into seventh place on the NHL’s even-strength-goals leaderboard, with his 26 topping Rangers wing Artemi Panarin’s 25.
In a coincidental twist, Panarin’s own 30-goal explosion as a 24-year-old rookie for the Hawks in 2015-16 might be the only thing making Kubalik’s remarkable season seem less remarkable than it is.
Then again, Panarin also had 47 assists that season, whereas Kubalik has only 16. On the whole, they’re certainly not equal. Panarin also had another year left on his contract after his rookie season, and Kubalik will be a restricted free agent this summer.
That means the Hawks will have the unenviable task of determining the fair value of — and of negotiating a fair contract for — a player who is in a nearly unprecedented situation.
Kubalik was having a great rookie season when the league suspended play because of coronavirus concerns — but at age 24, rather than at 19 or 20. His 30 goals were off the charts, but his 46 points were merely solid. And he carries obvious sample-size concerns, too.
He certainly will get a big raise over his restricted $925,000 cap hit this season, but gauging exactly how big a raise will be hard.
Fortunately for Hawks general manager Stan Bowman, Kubalik’s situation is only nearly — not completely — unprecedented.
Here are four recent situations that roughly match Kubalik’s:
• In 2018-19, 24-year-old rookie Andreas Johnsson — after two seasons in the American Hockey League — broke out with 20 goals and 43 points for the Maple Leafs. He signed a four-year contract with a $3.4 million cap hit.
• In 2014-15, 25-year-old Mike Hoffman — after three years in the AHL and one year bouncing back and forth — emerged from the blue with a 27-goal, 48-point season for the Senators. He signed a one-year, $2 million ‘‘do it again’’ contract, then had 29 goals and 60 points in 2015-16. He then signed a four-year contract with a $5.2 million cap hit.
• Also in 2014-15, 24-year-old Anders Lee — after three years at Notre Dame and one year bouncing between pro levels — had 25 goals and 41 points for the Islanders. He signed a four-year contract with a $3.75 million cap hit (equivalent to $4.4 million today with salary-cap inflation).
• In 2013-14, 23-year-old Tyler Johnson — after two years in the AHL — erupted for 24 goals and 50 points for the Lightning. He signed a three-year contract with a $3.3 million cap hit ($4.2 million today).
In three of the four comparable scenarios, the overaged rookie breakout signed for three to four more years for $3 million to $4 million per season.
Hoffman, meanwhile, signed a bridge deal to eliminate the sample-size worries but ended up commanding even more money the next summer. But that doesn’t mean this approach is bad. The Leafs surely wish they had done it with Johnsson, who has only eight goals and 21 points this season.
Bowman presumably will pick one of those two routes to pursue with Kubalik this offseason, so at least he’ll have these blueprints.
That doesn’t mean that nailing down a contract for Kubalik will be easy, however.