Blackhawks offseason preview: Rebuild plans will become clear during draft, free agency
The Hawks hold eight picks in the 2022 NHL Draft (set for July 7-8) and employ 14 players who could become free agents come July 13.
The Blackhawks’ 2022 offseason will be hard-pressed to match the eventfulness of their 2021 offseason.
Two earth-shaking trades, one franchise-changing lawsuit and a flurry of other moves kept last summer delivering surprises around every turn. But with new general manager Kyle Davidson expected to plunge the Hawks into a rebuild, this summer likely won’t lack movement or news, either.
Here’s a guide to what this NHL offseason will bring for the Hawks:
With their first-round pick going to the Blue Jackets, the Hawks enter the final month of preparation for the draft — set for July 7-8 in Montreal — without a first-rounder.
They do, however, own five picks in the second and third rounds combined. They’ll pick 38th and 57th overall in the second round, the latter of those coming from the Wild in the Marc-Andre Fleury trade. They’ll pick 81st and 90th overall in the third round, holding the Golden Knights’ and Maple Leafs’ picks.
They’ll also pick either 64th or 65th in the second round or 94th or 95th in the third round as a result of an unresolved condition in the Duncan Keith trade. They’ll pick in the second round if the Oilers beat the Avalanche in the Western Conference final.
The Hawks don’t own a fourth- or fifth-round pick but do own two sixth-round picks (167th and 173rd overall) and one seventh-round pick (199th overall).
It’s nearly impossible to predict whom the Hawks’ scouting staff — now led by new associate GM Norm Maciver — might target with the second- and third-round picks. They’re simply too deep into the order to forecast.
But the Hawks at least should be able to add a large quantity of decent prospects, playing the numbers game and hoping that one or two will evolve into impact players. Forwards should be the priority.
It’s possible the Hawks could acquire a first-round pick in the weeks, days or hours before the draft. That’s a common period for trades in general, and every contending team will have Davidson on speed-dial this summer.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are the names that’ll be talked about the most, but they hold all the cards in their hands. The Hawks can’t and won’t trade either of them unless they request it. The aggressiveness of Davidson’s other moves could influence their decisions, though, considering how strongly they lobbied at season’s end for a quicker rebuild.
Alex DeBrincat is unlikely to be traded, but it’s conceivable — and if it happens, it would send shockwaves through Chicago. He is entering the last year of his current contract. The Devils — holding the second overall pick — could make a play, although that pick alone wouldn’t be enough.
Other than DeBrincat, the Hawks don’t have much of significant value to dangle on the market, other than perhaps veteran defensemen Connor Murphy and Jake McCabe.
Henrik Borgstrom and Nicolas Beaudin, the 2018 first-round pick who was a healthy scratch for all but one game of Rockford’s AHL playoff run, could be given changes of scenery.
Coach and front office
Davidson plans to have a permanent head coach in place by early-to-mid July. There are plenty of candidates of all types on the market, although the Hawks haven’t made their interests known yet. This search will surely produce lots of news over the coming month.
Maciver and Jeff Greenberg will be Davidson’s top front-office hirings, but many more positions at lower rungs of the latter still need to be filled. Tight Davidson confidant Brian Campbell still needs an official role and title, too.
Unrestricted free agents: Calvin de Haan, Erik Gustafsson, Kevin Lankinen, Collin Delia, Kurtis Gabriel.
Restricted free agents: Kirby Dach, Dylan Strome, Dominik Kubalik, Philipp Kurashev, Caleb Jones, Andrei Altybarmakyan, Cam Morrison, Wyatt Kalynuk, Cale Morris.
The first free-agency-related deadline was Wednesday, when the Hawks allowed their draft rights to Niklas Nordgren (2018 third-round pick) and Chad Yetman (2020 seventh-round pick) expire, making them UFAs.
The next notable date is July 11, the deadline for RFA qualifying offers. Any of the aforementioned RFAs who don’t receive an offer will become a UFA. Those who do among Strome, Kubalik, Jones, Altybarmakyan, Kalynuk and Morris can elect salary arbitration before the deadline July 17. Dach, Kurashev and Morrison can’t.
Unrestricted free agency begins July 13. The Hawks have an estimated $20.1 million in salary-cap space, according to Capfriendly. If Kane or Toews (who count $10.5 million each against the cap) depart, they’d have a lot more. But they’re not expected to spend heavily regardless.
As good as Strome was down the stretch and as popular as he is among fans, he doesn’t seem to be in Davidson’s plans, although the door hasn’t closed. Kubalik is coming off a very disappointing year and doesn’t seem to be in the plans, either. The Hawks could try to trade their RFA rights for mid-round picks.
Dach’s next contract shouldn’t cost more than $3 million or so, depending on its length, because of his disappointing growth. Jones said in April there had been “a little talk” already regarding his contract negotiations. He was “optimistic” he’d be re-signed. Kurashev should come cheap.
Among the UFAs, de Haan and Gustafsson almost certainly won’t be brought back. Sam Lafferty, originally part of that list, has already been re-signed. Lankinen, Delia and the murky goalie situation is interesting, as Davidson analyzed in May.
“We definitely need to bring some NHL contracts in,” he said. “Kevin and Collin are part of that discussion — they’re not out of that candidate list — but there [are] some players that we’ll look at in free agency and see which direction we want to go. [I’m] not ruling out the trade market, either.”
Davidson added it’s “very unlikely” he’ll sign any UFAs at any position to long-term contracts, then clarified they still could “fill some spots in the UFA market if the right opportunity presents itself.”
Assuming the Hawks don’t try to orchestrate Fleury’s return or shell out big money for Darcy Kuemper, the notable UFA goalie options will be Ville Husso, Jack Campbell, Mikko Koskinen, Braden Holtby and Casey DeSmith. The Hawks could get some capital for taking Petr Mrazek’s or Anton Khudobin’s contract off the Leafs’ or Stars’ hands, if they pursue that route.