Day 2 of the NHL free agency period was pretty quiet compared to the first day and especially so for the Blackhawks. More changes are for certain to happen as the offseason rolls along and the Hawks continue shaping the roster for the 2021-22 season and beyond.
Marc-Andre Fleury's decision on whether or not to report to Chicago or retire is stalling general manager Stan Bowman from making additional transactions such as re-signing Brandon Hagel and Alex Nylander, signing other free agents, or making more trades.
As this waiting period endures, here's an early look at what the Blackhawks roster looks like at this moment in time:
DeBrincat - Dach - Kane
Nylander - Toews - Kubalik
Johnson - Strome - Hagel
Gaudette - Borgstrom - Kurashev
Connolly - Khaira - Carpenter
McCabe - S Jones
de Haan - Murphy
Stillman - C Jones
Several notable prospects who are likely to start the new season in Rockford:
* Forwards: Entwistle, Hardman, Reichel
* Defensemen: Beaudin, Mitchell
* Goalies: Soderblom and either or both of Delia and Subban
There's still a glut at forward and arguably in net, too. Also, Henrik Borgstrom isn't waiver exempt so there's a risk to send him to the AHL and get claimed by another team rather than give him a chance to be an NHL starter. Wyatt Kalynuk doesn't need to clear waivers, though.
The above roster would let the youngsters -- particularly those listed as likely to start with the IceHogs -- marinate as long as needed in the minors so they're much stronger, seasoned, and improved in the long run once they are promoted full time to the parent club.
All other prospects on the Hogs roster are still at least a year away from knocking on the NHL door so there's not much change there. Besides the aforementioned prospects who have logged at least one NHL game, the other prospects who could push for a cup of coffee in 2021-22 include:
* Andrei Altybarmakian (W)
* Evan Barratt (C/W)
* Josiah Slavin (W)
* Chad Krys (D)
There's a chance at least one youngster -- not counting Riley Stillman and Caleb Jones who are roughly the same age as Kalynuk -- will be a starter on the blueline especially if Calvin de Haan is shipped out. The top choice would be Kalynuk due to his balance and poise.
Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin, and the forward prospects would benefit from playing on the top D pair and top forward lines to develop more in the AHL. It behooves the Hawks to learn from the mistake of rushing former Hawks and 1st rounders Henri Jokiharju and Adam Boqvist.
Regardless of how the final roster looks by training camp, the new additions of Seth and Caleb Jones, Jake McCabe, Tyler Johnson, and Jujhar Khaira point towards a new direction for the team by amping up experience level and becoming tougher to play against.
So if the Hawks are changing the composition of the roster to go from rebuilding to fast tracking toward a playoff berth and contention, why stop there? Why not make other modifications to how the team plays on the ice like systems, schemes, and strategies?
For example, look at how the Hawks defend. Wouldn't it be nice if the Hawks stopped giving up the blueline, getting hypnotized by the puck, having more than one of them chasing the puck carrier, abandoning the net, and allowing the opposition to take liberties on their goalie?
On the other end is how the team generates offense. Finesse and skill are fine when there's adequate room to operate. But opponents that institute a suffocating defense that mucks up the ice requires more dump and chase, more board battles, and more garbage goals.
Then there are the special teams. Think about the greater PP yield if there was more player movement and innovative deception to open up prime scoring chances for the Hawks. On the PK, think about a tighter formation that gives little to no time and space to cash in.
Can the coaching staff be more bold and creative by changing up the systems, schemes, and strategies? And can the Hawks player personnel execute more productively and consistently in all zones at even strength, on the power play, and on the penalty kill?
It's clear with the roster evolution that management wants significant changes. The onus doesn't rest on just the players, however, and perhaps it's time for the way the team is coached and performs fundamentally in all game situations to change as well.
Blackhawks D prospect Isaak Phillips was honored yesterday by the OHL for their Class of 2021. As can be seen in the highlight reel, Phillips loves to activate on offense. What's not evident in the video is his defensive engagement that he paid attention to as an AHL rookie.
Phillips may be at least two years away from emerging in the mix in Blackhawks training camp to push for an NHL spot but he's on solid footing so far as a lanky but strong teenager. He's one to watch as an all-around defender who could fit in as a dependable 3rd pair option.
See you on the boards!