Blackhawks offseason preview: Plenty of draft picks, free-agent decisions to make as rebuild continues

After drafting Connor Bedard next Wednesday — the easiest decision possible — the Hawks will still have 10 additional picks to make, plus trades to consider and free agents to sign. Here’s a guide to what this summer will bring

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The Blackhawks will need to negotiate new contracts with a number of free agents this summer, including Philipp Kurashev (middle).

The Blackhawks will need to negotiate new contracts with a number of free agents this summer, including Philipp Kurashev (middle).

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP

The biggest news of the Blackhawks’ offseason likely has happened already.

It will be difficult for anything to match the importance and shock of the Hawks’ draft-lottery victory in May, giving them the No. 1 pick they’ll use to select Connor Bedard on Wednesday.

It also will be difficult for the Hawks’ 2023 offseason overall to match — or even come close to matching — the chaos and craziness of their 2021 and 2022 offseasons.

But general manager Kyle Davidson still has plenty of items on his to-do list over the next two weeks. Here’s a guide to what this summer will bring for the Hawks:

Draft

The Nashville crowd will be booing, but the Hawks’ watch party at the Salt Shed will be cheering around 6 p.m. Wednesday when the Hawks officially pick Bedard.

That will be a transformational but predictable moment for the franchise. The same can’t be said, however, for the rest of the draft, stretching into Thursday.

The Hawks own the 19th overall pick from the Lightning, four picks in the second round (35th, 44th, 51st and 55th), two picks in the third round (67th and 93rd), one fourth-round pick (99th), one fifth-round pick (131st) and one seventh-round pick (195th).

Davidson is monitoring the trade market for options to move up from 19th, with the Canucks at 11th, the Penguins at 14th and the Flames at 16th being the most plausible partners.

But it’s also very possible no team proves willing to trade down, given the strength of this year’s draft class.

If the Hawks stick at 19th, they’ll likely look for another forward. Brayden Yager (a dynamic but undersized Canadian center), Daniil But (a larger, crafty Russian winger), Samuel Honzek (a smooth-skating Slovakian winger) and Colby Barlow (a physical, shoot-first Canadian winger) are the best bets. Gabriel Perreault, Matthew Wood and Oliver Moore also would be intriguing if they slid that far.

The Hawks haven’t drafted a goalie since Drew Commesso in 2020, a trend they’ll likely look to stop in the second or third round. At some point, defensemen will enter the mix, too.

Trades

The only substantial trades the Hawks could make will involve taking on a bad, oversized contract from another team and receiving additional assets for doing so. They’re still too early in the rebuild to start trading away assets themselves.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of possible bad-contract trades to explore, and Davidson has proved (through the Nikita Zaitsev, Jason Dickinson and Petr Mrazek trades) his expertise in that market.

With the NHL salary cap yet again rising only $1 million (up to $83.5 million) this summer, many teams find themselves in tight quarters. The Hawks, conversely, boast tremendous financial flexibility. Their only concern will be avoiding commitments longer than two years or so.

The Canucks’ decision to buy out Oliver Ekman-Larsson probably reduced their desperation, but they still own three bad contracts they might want to move: Tyler Myers (one year at $6 million), Brock Boeser (two years at $6.65 million per) and Conor Garland (three years at $4.95 million per). Boeser and Garland were still decently productive 55- and 46-point forwards last season, so they would be far from dead weight on the Hawks’ roster.

Other juicy salary-dump targets include Islanders forward Josh Bailey (one year at $5 million), Penguins forward Mikael Granlund (two years at $5 million per) and Capitals forward Anthony Mantha (one year at $5.7 million).

Whether any of those trades come to fruition will depend on how much each team is willing to give up — and how high Davidson’s asking price is.

Meanwhile, Taylor Raddysh is the only Hawk who could appeal significantly to another team (partially due to his cheap $758,000 cap hit) and with whom the Hawks might be willing to part. But it’s unlikely he moves; the offer would need to be above market value.

And speaking of Zaitsev, he’s a candidate for a buyout, which would convert his current one year at $4.5 million into a $2.833 million cap hit in 2023-24 and $833,000 cap hit in 2024-25. But the Hawks also might keep Zaitsev for right-side defensive depth or to bury in the AHL.

Free agency

The Hawks already have re-signed Andreas Athanasiou (two years at $4.25 million per), Jarred Tinordi (one year at $1.25 million) and Joey Anderson (one year at $800,000), but they’re not finished.

Unrestricted free agency leaguewide opens next Saturday.

Hawks’ unrestricted free agents (UFAs): Forwards Jonathan Toews, Jujhar Khaira, Buddy Robinson and Jake Wise; defensemen Andreas Englund and Andy Welinski; goaltenders Alex Stalock and Anton Khudobin.

It’s unlikely the Hawks re-sign any of their remaining UFAs. They’ve already waved goodbye to Toews, although his upcoming decision whether to try to play somewhere next season will be interesting.

Stalock will be a victim of Arvid Soderblom’s imminent promotion. Khaira’s injury-riddled two-year Hawks stint has seemingly reached its end. Englund will head to the open market. Wise’s draft rights will expire in August, and he already has signed an AHL contract in the Panthers’ organization.

Hawks’ restricted free agents (RFAs): Forwards Philipp Kurashev, Anders Bjork, Austin Wagner, Drew Hunter, Maxim Golod and Cameron Hillis; defensemen Caleb Jones, Ian Mitchell, Alec Regula and Jakub Galvas.

The Hawks must give qualifying offers to their RFAs by Friday to withhold their rights. Kurashev is the most notable player in the group and will certainly receive one. He eventually could sign for a couple years with a modest pay bump over his previous $750,000 cap hit.

Jones and Mitchell are up in the air; the Hawks might bring one or both back or might move on. The latter scenario would represent a disappointing conclusion to Mitchell’s once-hyped tenure. Jones looked more comfortable during the latter stages of last season, but he always has battled inconsistency.

The most likely outcome for Regula is he re-signs but starts next season back in Rockford. Bjork won’t receive his requisite $1.8 million qualifying offer and will test the open market, although a return isn’t impossible. Galvas already has signed with a Swedish team.

Open-market free agents: Max Domi headlines the list of UFA forwards around the league the Hawks might look into signing. Davidson doesn’t want to make any long-term commitments, but he will need to get to the cap floor and fill out the forward depth chart somehow.

Domi enjoyed playing for the Hawks, and the Hawks enjoyed having him. The only question is if Domi will accept a two- or three-year deal — shorter than he might receive elsewhere — in exchange for a higher cap hit (possibly in the $6 million range, doubling his salary last season).

Other UFA forwards the Hawks could consider include J.T. Compher (a Northbrook native), Vladimir Tarasenko, Evan Rodrigues, Tyler Bertuzzi, Tomas Tatar, Jason Zucker, Erik Haula, Conor Sheary, Alex Kerfoot, Pierre Engvall and Evgeni Dadonov.

If the Hawks move on from Jones and/or Zaitsev, they also could consider signing a right-handed depth defenseman. Someone like Connor Clifton, Troy Stecher or Michael Stone would fit that description.

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