After an impossibly busy two-week period, the Blackhawks’ hyperactive offseason has reached a waiting period.
Seth Jones, Caleb Jones, Jake McCabe, Tyler Johnson, Jujhar Khaira, Lukas Reichel and Henrik Borgstrom already have been brought in. Duncan Keith, Adam Boqvist, Nikita Zadorov, Pius Suter, David Kampf, Vinnie Hinostroza and John Quenneville already have left.
But the Hawks’ plans for the remainder of the summer largely depend on Marc-Andre Fleury, the former Golden Knights goalie deciding whether he’ll play for the Hawks, request a trade to the Penguins or retire.
If Fleury decides to play, Hawks general manager Stan Bowman will have one kind of to-do list. If Fleury decides not to play, Bowman will have an entirely different list. There are only a few things left to determine independent of Fleury’s decision.
Here’s Bowman’s remaining offseason checklist:
Re-sign Hagel, Nylander
It’s a given the Hawks will get restricted free-agent forwards Brandon Hagel and Alex Nylander signed to new contracts, but there’s no rush to do it promptly. Neither hold arbitration rights nor will attract an offer sheet.
Rough contract estimates that make sense are two years at $2 million per year for Hagel and one year at $1 million — a prove-yourself deal — for Nylander.
If Fleury comes: Resolve cap jam
Including Fleury’s hefty $7 million cap hit, the Hawks’ payroll totals about $82.2 million, which is $700,000 over the cap — although teams can exceed the cap by up to 10%, or about $8 million, during the offseason. Adding Hagel and Nylander’s estimated cap hits, the Hawks would be $3.7 million over the cap.
Moving Andrew Shaw’s $3.9 million cap hit to long-term injured reserve theoretically would make the math work.
While Bowman will have to decide between offseason LTIR and in-season LTIR — two different types with complicated math that somewhat limit roster flexibility despite providing cap relief — he’d prefer not to enter October that close to the cap. It essentially would prevent the Hawks from making any call-ups when players are injured.
The most obvious solution would be to trade Calvin de Haan ($4.55 million), whose name has been in rumors all summer. But de Haan’s departure would leave a hole on the left side of the defense. Neither Caleb Jones nor Riley Stillman seems ready for a second-pairing role.
Dylan Strome ($3 million), whose spot in the overcrowded forward group remains uncertain, could be an alternative trade option. Or Bowman could trade de Haan, then trade Strome for de Haan’s replacement.
Trading Malcolm Subban ($850,000) wouldn’t solve the cap jam, but it would be smarter than losing him on waivers during training camp — an inevitability if Fleury and Kevin Lankinen are the Hawks’ two NHL goalies. With several teams left in the cold during Wednesday’s chaotic goalie shuffle, Subban will have value.
All in all, Fleury’s arrival would require intense shuffling by Bowman — but it’d be worth it for the reigning Vezina Trophy winner.
If Fleury doesn’t come: Final touches
If Fleury retires (or is traded), his $7 million hit will be negated, and the Hawks will have a decent amount of flexibility again.
They could use a little of it on a veteran goalie, which clearly is a target despite the Lankinen-Subban tandem’s unexpected competency in 2021. The unrestricted goalie market is bare: Devan Dubnyk, basically the only guy left, isn’t an upgrade. But a trade with a goalie-flush team such as the Stars could happen.
Bowman still will need to determine Shaw’s LTIR. Strome might remain in trade discussions, too, with so many forwards on the roster. Hagel and Nylander’s re-signings will give the Hawks 15 or 16, more than they can carry.
And the Hawks could peek at the remaining unrestricted left-handed, veteran defensemen. Christian Djoos, Ben Hutton and Jordie Benn are options.