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Blackhawks offseason preview: Big decisions await with drafts, trades, free agency

Breaking down the Blackhawks’ outlook for every NHL offseason event, including which players could be affected and what decisions Stan Bowman will have to make.

The Blackhawks will reshape their roster this offseason, and defenseman Nikita Zadorov (right) is one of the biggest question marks.
AP Photos

As the Stanley Cup playoffs march on without them, the Blackhawks are looking ahead to an interesting offseason.

The first notable event of the summer — the draft lottery — will happen Wednesday. But many of general manager Stan Bowman’s big decisions will occur in July, once the offseason calendar fully ramps up.

Here’s a preview of all that’s to come for the Hawks this offseason.

Draft lottery

The Hawks enter the draft lottery drawing technically holding the 12th overall pick, but functionally it’s the 11th pick because the Coyotes are forfeiting the actual 11th pick.

Only the top two spots — held by the Sabres and Ducks — will be determined by lottery this year. The expansion Kraken start with the No. 3 pick.

The Hawks’ odds of drafting in each possible position are as follows: 2.7% in first, 2.9% in second, 81.7% in 12th (functionally 11th), 12.4% in 13th (12th) and 0.3% in 14th (13th).

Re-signings

The Hawks’ pending restricted free-agent list includes a number of notable (but no star) players. Their pending unrestricted free-agent list includes only one notable player, a rarity around the NHL this year.

UFAs: F Vinnie Hinostroza, F Zack Smith, F Brandon Pirri, F John Quenneville, D Anton Lindholm, G Matt Tomkins.

RFAs: F Pius Suter, F Brandon Hagel, F David Kampf, F Adam Gaudette, F Alex Nylander, F Josh Dickinson, D Nikita Zadorov.

Expiring draft rights: D Roope Laavainen, D Josh Ess, D Cole Moberg.

Bowman can get to work at any time, and already has in some cases, negotiating with these players’ agents. He also is expected to sign 2020 first-round pick Lukas Reichel and potentially another prospect or two.

Smith, Pirri, Quenneville and Dickinson won’t be re-signed, and Tomkins already signed in Sweden. Among the players with expiring draft rights, only Moberg might sign.

Suter, Hagel and Nylander definitely will be re-signed. The only questions are for how much and how long.

The most interesting re-signing decisions Bowman will have to make involve Hinostroza, Zadorov, Kampf and Gaudette. Zadorov is a valuable piece, so if he’s not brought back, the Hawks will trade his rights. The other three have value, too, but it’s unclear if they’ll fit into the Hawks’ forward logjam next season.

Toews, Seabrook and Shaw

The looming question of the Hawks’ offseason is whether Jonathan Toews will return next season, and that answer has no specific date or timeline.

NHL insider Darren Dreger reported in April that Toews “should be healthy and ready to return ... next season.” Bowman said earlier in May the Hawks are “hopeful he’ll be back” but will “let it play out.”

Bowman also will have to decide what to do with Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw, who have respective cap hits of $6.9 million and $3.9 million.

The NHL’s long-term injured-reserve rules are plentiful and complicated. One plausible option entails putting Seabrook’s contract on offseason LTIR, then putting Shaw’s contract on LTIR the day next season begins. If Toews doesn’t return, he also would join the LTIR puzzle.

One way or another, the Hawks should end up with a healthy amount of cap space.

Expansion draft

On July 21, the Kraken will choose one player from each of 30 teams, excluding the Golden Knights.

From the Hawks, automatically exempt are Suter, Reichel, Dominik Kubalik, Kirby Dach, Philipp Kurashev, Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell, Wyatt Kalynuk and other players in the first two years of their first contract.

The Hawks are required to protect Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews because of their no-movement clauses (unless Toews retires). They also will protect Hagel, Alex DeBrincat and Connor Murphy.

Forwards Ryan Carpenter and Brett Connolly and defenseman Calvin de Haan will be exposed to fulfill another requirement.

The players on the borderline are forwards Nylander, Kampf, Gaudette, Dylan Strome and Henrik Borgstrom and defensemen Zadorov and Riley Stillman.

The Hawks could protect three of those five forwards and one of those two defensemen, or none of the forwards but both defensemen. Those decisions partly will depend on Bowman’s aforementioned re-signing plans.

The Hawks will lose just one player regardless. The final protection list is due July 17.

NHL Draft

If the Hawks land a top-two pick, they’ll choose among franchise-altering players such as Owen Power, Dylan Guenther, Luke Hughes and Kent Johnson during the draft July 23-24.

If they stick in 12th (actually 11th), as is most likely, their pick will be less predictable and less momentous — but still a top-grade prospect.

The middle of the first round lacks defensemen, but Corson Ceulemans and Carson Lambos are viable options. Last year’s second-round selection of Drew Commesso makes it unlikely the Hawks will pick a goalie, but this year’s top two netminders — Jesper Wallstedt and Sebastian Cossa — will go near 12th.

The Hawks probably will look for a forward, and there are plenty. Aatu Raty, formerly considered this year’s top prospect, has fallen dramatically but could be a buy-low option — and would generate buzz. Harvard-bound Matthew Coronato might be a reach at No. 12 but was prolific with the Chicago Steel this season, posting 85 points in 51 games.

Other forwards in play at No. 12 include Chaz Lucius, Cole Sillinger, Xavier Bourgault, Brennan Othmann, Fabian Lysell and Daniil Chayka.

The Hawks also hold two picks in each of the second, fourth and seventh rounds, plus one sixth-round pick — but no third- or fifth-round picks — for a total of eight picks.

Meanwhile, trades will be possible anytime, but the draft is an especially likely time for them.

As of now, the Hawks are on track to have too many NHL-caliber players on one-way contracts next season but not enough elite players to contend. Bowman will look to remedy the former issue, and potentially also the latter, with trades. Strome and Zadorov headline the bait list.

Free agency

This year’s UFA class is loaded. Alex Ovechkin, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Dougie Hamilton, Tyson Barrie and Tuukka Rask are just some of the top players who will be available July 28. As usual, there are plenty of lower-tier players to be found, too.

But because of the Hawks’ aforementioned surplus of NHL-caliber players — in addition to their ongoing youth movement — they probably won’t sign many free agents.

Bowman likely will call Hamilton and Barrie, the top two UFA defensemen. He might inquire about ex-Hawk Phillip Danault, who grew into one of the league’s best defensive forwards in Montreal. And a veteran backup goalie such as Jonathan Bernier, Jaroslav Halak or James Reimer could be worth considering.

But the free-agency period should be relatively quiet for the Hawks overall.