In a normal NHL timeline, the opening of free agency July 1 would be less than two weeks away.
That normally would mean new contracts — or new teams — for the annual class of free agents, which this year includes several notable Blackhawks: Corey Crawford (unrestricted), Dylan Strome (restricted), Dominik Kubalik (restricted) and Drake Caggiula (restricted).
This year, however, the Hawks’ pending free agents are going to have to wait a lot longer before negotiating their next deals.
General manager Stan Bowman said during a Zoom call this month that he hasn’t begun talking with any of his free agents-to-be.
‘‘I’ve told their agents that, at this point, it’s premature,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘There’s too many uncertainties to know what the salary cap or what the format for the future will be. So we’re just going to wait until we have more information.’’
Most, if not all, pending free agents around the league are stuck in the same waiting game, Bowman said.
‘‘In my conversations with other managers around the league, everyone’s taking the same approach,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s really difficult to be signing contracts for the future when we haven’t even finished this season yet and we don’t know what next year’s going to look like.
‘‘So I imagine that’s all going to happen in the offseason, whenever that will be. It looks like it’s going to happen in the fall now.’’
With the expanded playoffs not expected to determine a Stanley Cup champion until early October, free agency might not open until late October, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported Thursday.
The NHL also will have to squeeze the draft into the window between the end of the postseason and the start of free agency. In fact, Bowman said the Hawks’ hockey operations staff has spent most of the pandemic preparing for the draft.
So Crawford, Strome, Kubalik and Caggiula — plus lower-profile players such as Slater Koekkoek and Malcolm Subban and minor-leaguers Ian McCoshen, Joni Tuulola, Alexandre Fortin and Joseph Cramarossa — likely will have to wait four months longer than anticipated to determine their fates for 2020-21 and beyond.
Making the situation even more interesting is that almost all of those players are restricted free agents, which means the Hawks will retain control over them even when free agency arrives. They’ll have very little leverage because their only option to re-signing with the Hawks will be holding out, rather than signing with another team.
Even Crawford, despite technically being an unrestricted free agent, likely will prefer to re-sign with the Hawks, if possible, given his history with them.
So the players will be, to some extent, at the whims of the to-be-determined salary cap. If the cap stays flat instead of increasing by the customary few million next season, it likely will be the players without locked-in 2020-21 salaries who bear the brunt of the financial fallout.
That possibility will put significant pressure on their agents: Gilles Lupien for Crawford, Mark Guy for Strome, Jiri Hamal for Kubalik and Justin Duberman for Caggiula.
But there’s only so much even their agents will be able to do. The timeline of the offseason is completely out of their control. One could argue it’s even largely out of the NHL’s hands, at least as long as COVID-19 continues to rage in various hot spots across the continent.
This year, July 1 will be just another day in the long wait for the NHL’s return — and, in the case of the Hawks’ pending free agents, for the eventual offseason.