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Blackhawks enter make-or-break week with free agency looming

DALLAS — The fireworks never materialized in Dallas over draft weekend. The big moves that would rock the foundation of the Blackhawks and -underline the urgency the franchise feels after missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade never came.

Not yet, at least.

Other than a big deal between the Hurricanes and Flames, the draft was unusually devoid of drama. But that doesn’t mean the deals won’t come. There are dominos that have yet to fall, no-trade clauses yet to expire, and one very important free agent yet to determine his fate. New York Islanders superstar John Tavares can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
And until he and a few other free agents decide where they will be playing next season, the trade market is at a virtual standstill.

“I don’t really know why, but that’s probably a pretty good theory on why it’s happening,” Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said. “There hasn’t really been much activity at all. I guess we’ll find out over the next few days, when the [free agent] interview period opens up. Teams are able to talk to players and get a better feel for whether they can land that player. And if they can’t, maybe they’ll be turning toward trades a little more. It makes sense.”

John Tavares is the biggest prize of the free-agent class this summer. (AP Photo)

The biggest shockwave from Day 2 of the draft Saturday might not have been the swap that sent Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm to Calgary and Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox to Carolina, but the revelation that Tavares was going to meet with five unnamed teams when the interview period opens Sunday.

Are the Hawks, who have more than $10 million of cap space to play with, one of those teams? Bowman played it coy.

“I don’t want to get into that,” he said, with a bit of a smirk.

So we wait. The big moves came on draft day last year, with Niklas Hjalmarsson and Artemi Panarin sent packing. This year, they might come closer to or on July 1, when free agency officially opens. The Hawks still have interest in Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk, who became more expendable when the team picked up Hamilton, another right-shooting defenseman. James van Riemsdyk is a 36-goal scorer who’s available in free agency. Goaltender Philipp Grubauer is off the market, traded to the Avalanche on Friday, but the Hawks still can look into signing Carter Hutton or Robin Lehner or trading for one of the Hurricanes’ tandem of Scott Darling and Cam Ward for a Corey Crawford contingency plan.

Meanwhile, Artem Anisimov’s no-movement clause becomes a partial one on July 1, meaning the Hawks can ask him to submit a list of 10 teams to which he could be traded.

Just about anything can happen over the next eight or nine days. The only thing that can’t happen is the Hawks standing pat. After a dreadful last-place season — Crawford’s 47-game -absence greatly exacerbated by a porous defense and awful goaltending — the Hawks simply can’t show up at training camp in September with the same defensive corps, the same goaltending competition, the same top nine.

And Bowman, for better and for worse, rarely has been gushy.

“There’s going to be a lot happening,” Bowman said.

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The first order of business is deciding whether to re-sign restricted free agents Anthony Duclair and Tomas Jurco. Then come the more important conversations — with fellow general managers; with the agents for free agents such as van Riemsdyk, Calvin de Haan, Ian Cole and others; and yes, maybe with Tavares himself.

“It’s our job to have a lot of talks over the next few days, and I can’t really predict where it’s going to go,” Bowman said. “We have to wait and see what the agents have in mind. But we’re going to certainly talk a lot, and it’ll all play -itself out over the next week or so.”

The fate of the 2018-19 season might already hang in the balance.