The Blackhawks miraculously escaped the Seattle Kraken expansion draft without losing any established NHL players.
The Kraken picked forward John Quenneville — a pending unrestricted free agent who spent all of the 2021 season in the AHL — from the Hawks on Wednesday.
The Hawks thought they would most likely lose bruising defenseman Nikita Zadorov, a pending restricted free agent they left exposed Sunday in favor of Riley Stillman and Caleb Jones, to the Kraken. Reliable fourth-line forward Ryan Carpenter, late-arriving forward Adam Gaudette, veteran defenseman Calvin de Haan and well-traveled backup goalie Malcolm Subban were also considered possibilities.
But the Kraken instead prioritized maximizing their available salary-cap space and chose upper-end NHL players from only the juiciest exposed lists. The result was Kraken general manager Ron Francis essentially passing on the Hawks.
Quenneville, now 25, was acquired from the Devils for John Hayden during the 2019 entry draft. He made nine regular-season and two postseason appearances for the Hawks in the 2019-20 season, tallying zero points.
He then spent all of 2021 with the Rockford IceHogs, recording two points in 16 games and falling far down the Hawks’ forward depth chart. His contract expires next week and the Hawks were never expected to re-sign him; the Kraken may not, either.
He’ll likely be remembered in Chicago for three things: being former coach Joel Quenneville’s nephew, being inexplicably inserted into the lineup (and put on the first line) for the Hawks’ season-ending Game 5 loss to the Golden Knights in the 2020 playoff bubble and being equally inexplicably picked by the Kraken.
The Hawks were left relatively unharmed by both recent expansion drafts, having lost only depth defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk to the Knights in 2017. They still have a lot of decisions to make in the coming weeks to clear up next season’s lineup, but the Kraken’s off-the-board decision frees them to make all of those decisions themselves.
Hawks general manager Stan Bowman can now either re-sign Zadorov, maintaining some stability in the defensive unit after sending away Duncan Keith, or trade him for what could be a significant return.
He’ll have a similar decision to make with Gaudette. Gaudette seems like a 2021-22 breakout candidate, based on his resolved digestive issue and late-season surge, but may or may not fit in the Hawks’ crowded forward room as an RFA currently.
In fact, Bowman has a lot of decisions to make in the coming weeks. With Jonathan Toews probably coming back, Lukas Reichel and Henrik Borgstrom definitely coming over and a number of AHL-groomed prospects potentially ready to come up, the Hawks currently own the rights to more NHL-caliber players than can fit on one roster.
Zadorov, Gaudette and fellow RFAs Pius Suter, Brandon Hagel, David Kampf and Alex Nylander — not to mention UFA Vinnie Hinostroza — would all need qualifying offers by Monday and new contracts eventually in order to stick around. There’s also the matter of Dylan Strome, whose future on the Hawks looked uncertain at season’s end even though he does have another year under contract.
How Bowman — who is expected to speak to media Thursday for the first time since allegations he helped cover up Bradley Aldrich’s alleged 2010 sexual assault emerged — whittles down the group will provide plenty of intrigue this offseason.