With the Stanley Cup Finals set between the Stars and Lightning, the official NHL offseason will begin no later than October 1 with Game 7 (if necessary) scheduled for September 30).
While the Blackhawks started the break early after an opening round exit at the defeat of the Golden Knights, their offseason has been relatively quiet so far save for loan announcements and a contract offer.
There will be more in-depth blogs about the Blackhawks free agents, NHL free agency period, entry draft, and prospects between now and training camp in mid-November. This blog serves as a primer to these key features of the offseason.
RFAs & UFAs
* RFAs for the Blackhawks include Drake Caggiula, Dominik Kubalik, Dylan Strome, Slater Koekkoek, and Malcolm Subban.
* The lone UFA for Chicago is Corey Crawford.
The first domino that seems to be in place for the Hawks is Crawford. He still has not made a decision on the $3.5M one-year contract offer on the table.
However, it was reported by Elliotte Friedman from Sportsnet that Crawford and the Hawks have a discrepancy on the contract value but there is no indication if that also means term (i.e. one year or multiple years).
It was also reported that the Hawks are one of several teams kicking the tires on Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper who has 2 years left at $4.5M AAV on his contract. With those figures in mind, does this mean Crawford wants more than $4.5M? Or more than 2 years? Both?
Once a decision is made either way with Crawford, Bowman can move forth with the RFAs. One perspective on the order of priority is Kubalik first, Strome second, then see what cap amount is left for Caggiula, Koekkoek, and Subban.
If Crawford doesn’t re-sign with Chicago, another perspective is to decide on Subban next while also pursuing another netminder via free agency or trade.
Either way, Subban should be considered in the mix to stay unless the organization feels one of Collin Delia or Kevin Lankinen is ready to step in at least as a backup.
Best guess for contract offers to Kubalik, Strome, Caggiula, and Koekkoek:
* Kubalik: 2 years at $3M
* Strome: 2 years at $2.5M
* Caggiula: a year at $1.3M
* Koekkoek: a year at $1M
* The NHL free agency period begins on October 9, 12:00 noon EST.
The Blackhawks aren’t likely to dip into the free agent pool, at least not for any high-priced players like Alex Pietrangelo, Torey Krug, Taylor Hall, Mike Hoffman, or Braden Holtby.
For one thing, they can’t afford to do so with the tight salary cap and greater need to lock in their own free agents while also looking to the future regarding new contracts for youngsters such as Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist once their ELCs expire.
Another reason -- at least for the blueline -- is signing a UFA defenseman would block a path for promising D prospects in Nicolas Beaudin, Ian Mitchell, and Lucas Carlsson who could challenge for a spot as early as 2020-21.
* Round 1 will be October 6, 7:00 pm EST.
* Rounds 2-7 will be October 7, 11:30 am EST.
* All rounds will be held virtually.
The 1st round is deep in forwards. There is a smaller subset of defensemen, especially after top D prospect Jamie Drysdale. And then there’s top goalie prospect Yaroslav Askarov.
The Blackhawks will be selecting 17th in the 1st round of the entry draft. They are unlikely to draft someone who can step into the NHL right away but there is a strong probability of drafting either:
* A forward who has a 3rd line floor and 2nd line ceiling like Dylan Holloway, Connor Zary, Mavrik Bourque, Hendrix Lapierre, Rodion Amirov, Jacob Perreault, or Seth Jarvis.
* A solid 2nd pair defender in one of Jake Sanderson, Braden Schneider, Kaiden Guhle, Helge Grans, Justin Barron, or William Wallinder.
* A potentially elite netminder in Askarov.
After the opening round, my preference would be to draft players who have excellent compete level and dedication to their craft no matter what position they play. Examples of such prospects include:
* Forwards: Jake Neighbours, Brendan Brisson, Thomas Bordeleau, Theo Niederbach, Brett Berard, Luke Evangelista, Ryder Rolston, Colby Ambrosio. Artem Schlaine, Daniel Torgersson, Blake Biondi
* Defensemen: Tyler Kleven, Ethan Edwards, Donovan Sebrango
* Goalie: Drew Commesso, Nicolas Daws
A silver lining of the pandemic shutting leagues down for almost half a year is that many NHL prospects -- mainly in European leagues, not counting Canadian juniors and NCAA -- are playing again before draft day which was never the case before when the draft was in late June.
This can be a boon for those who grew immensely during the hiatus and elevated their games upon coming back. As a result, some prospects will see their stock rise.
The other advantage is scouts have a chance to see the most recent games played rather than relying on past game tape and notes that are many months old by the time draft day arrives.
* Dominik Kubalik, HC Plzen (Czech Republic), practicing only
* Matej Chalupa, Mountfield HK (Czech Republic), loaned
* Michal Teply, BK Mlada Boleslav (Czech Republic), loaned
* Pius Suter, GKC Lions (Switzerland), loaned
* Philipp Kurashev, HC Lugano (Switzerland), loaned
* Tim Soderlund, Almtuna IS (Sweden), loaned
* Joni Tuulola, KooKoo (Finland), signed one-year contract
Having prospects loaned to European teams allow them to get into game shape early and work on areas for improvement in real game situations. The downside is risk of injury if they are not careful.
Also, it remains to be seen whether any of the U.S. and Canadian-born prospects will play overseas on loan or other arrangements to get reps in before training camp or before their primary teams resume their seasons.
It was announced yesterday that forward prospect and Union College student athlete Parker Foo will be playing for the Kunlun Red Stars in the KHL.
* No prospects camp which is typically in early July.
* No prospects tournament at Traverse City which is typically in late-August.
For me at least, prospects camp and the Traverse City tournament were both exciting times to get a glimpse of the future Blackhawks.
But for the organization, one opportunity to have prospects practice together before they parted ways was the bubble where the Black Aces got to practice together and bond in a quarantined environment.
The next time prospects will be reunited again is training camp for the big club in November.
See you on the boards!