The Chicago Blackhawks’ season has been nothing short of confusing. While there have been some significant improvements on the coaching and goaltending sides of play, there are still holes in the Blackhawks’ structure that continue to cause issues. With the season around halfway completed, questions for the offseason are beginning to be asked.
The Blackhawks have a lot of contracts expiring soon.
The salary cap has never been a friend to the Blackhawks. Unfortunately, it looks as if this offseason will be no different. Numerous contracts are reaching their expiration date when the season ends. Will the Blackhawks be able to afford them all with the already tight cap?
Restricted Free Agents
Around half of the expiring contracts on the Blackhawks are players who will become restricted free agents (RFAs). Despite the crunched salary, the club will be able to retain the rights of these players, even if no deal is immediately reached. However, while some players will be easily renewed, some other RFAs will likely cause cap space issues.
Reese Johnson and Caleb Jones will reach the end of their contracts in the offseason. Neither player has had outstanding performances this season, so their new contracts will likely be on the cheap end. Next season, Jones has a decent chance of staying full-time on the Blackhawks roster. Johnson is more of a toss-up, but it would be surprising to see him leave the organization.
Dylan Strome’s situation with the Blackhawks is much more confusing than Jones’ or Johnson’s. He has been in a constant battle with consistency. Under Jeremy Colliton, Strome fought for ice time often, and he often lost that battle towards the end of Colliton’s tenure as head coach. Under Derek King, there was a considerable increase in production before he stagnated once again.
Strome is currently making a $3 million annual average value (AAV), but whether or not his contract will change much financially is up for debate. Arguing for more or less money is a complex debate to agree on due to his consistency issues. Of course, whether or not Strome is even a member of the Blackhawks by the end of the year is another question that has to be considered.
Similar to Strome, Philipp Kurashev has looked like the hardest-working Blackhawk at some times and a struggling young player at others. The Blackhawks have been trying to do whatever they can to produce on the ice, and young players have often been the answer they’ve gone for. However, what separates Strome and Kurashev is their future with the team.
Kurashev is 22 years old. He has some time to form into the player he was expected to become. His point totals have been nothing spectacular during his time in the NHL, but that does not mean anything other than needing more development time. The Blackhawks would be foolish to give up on him this early into his career.
While Kurashev has age on his side, Dominik Kubalik does not. The 26-year-old Czech forward has had a dismal year, to say the least. His point totals have been trending in the wrong direction. Some of his play could be attributed to the quality of the roster around him, but there are still major inconsistencies.
Similar to Strome, there is a decent chance that Kubalik is sent packing at the trade deadline. His status as an RFA at the end of the season will be more enticing to teams than a player who has a chance of leaving for nothing once the playoffs conclude.
However, the Hawks could attempt to resign him. He was a former Calder finalist, after all. Management could use that knowledge to make their decision in the offseason.
Their final pending RFA is quite possibly their most important one. The former third overall pick, Kirby Dach, will be needing a new contract this offseason. He has been massively struggling to find his game this season. Last year, Dach scored at a pace that would have resulted in around 46 points in an entire season. However, he is on pace for only about 28 points this season.
Dach still has a long way to go development-wise. The massive issues with Blackhawks’ management have impacted how Dach has developed. However, while there have been some issues with his development, the Blackhawks would be unwise to give up on him. He has a lot of potential; they just need to find the right way to help him develop.
Unrestricted Free Agents
On the unrestricted free agent (UFA) side of things, the Blackhawks have a few decisions they need to make. Many of their expiring contracts are older players with uncertain futures on the team. In addition, Andrew Shaw’s contract will be expiring at the end of this season, which will clear up long-term injured reserve space for the Blackhawks.
Sam Lafferty and Ryan Carpenter’s contracts will expire this offseason. While both of these players mostly fill depth roles, the chances are that they will be resigned. Carpenter has been excellent in a bottom-six position since he joined the Blackhawks, and Lafferty was just recently acquired in exchange for Alex Nylander. They both make sense to keep on a Blackhawks team that needs some help on the back end.
Defensively, Calvin de Haan and Erik Gustafsson will be searching for new contracts at the end of this season. Unfortunately, these two players have less-than-guaranteed futures on the Hawks, and the direction management ends up going will largely reflect their plans for the future. The Blackhawks need defense badly, but Gustafsson and de Haan may not be anything other than a short-term answer.
Where the big questions for pending UFAs come in is with the goaltenders. Kevin Lankinen will become a free agent when the offseason rolls around. Lankinen was the bright spot of the goaltending conundrum in the 2019-20 season. He has proven that he belongs in the NHL over the course of the last year.
Lankinen will undoubtedly receive a contract. He is the definition of a perfect tandem goaltender. He will hold down the fort while the Blackhawks have goaltending prospects developing in the system to take over. He has earned his stay in Chicago, and the Blackhawks would be making a huge mistake letting him go.
However, Lankinen is not the only goaltender who will need a new contract. Marc-Andre Fleury will also need a new contract this offseason. Fleury was acquired in the 2021 offseason, and he has been amazing for the Blackhawks. He is the Vezina-winning goaltender that he was advertised to be.
Luckily for the Blackhawks, Fleury has an interest in returning to Chicago. However, whether or not he will is largely up for debate. He is an amazing goaltender, but he wants to win. Unfortunately, it does not seem like the Blackhawks will be in the market for winning anytime soon.
Perhaps Fleury will return to the Hawks if the team can get their act together. However, whether or not that happens will result from the new general manager’s plan of action.
This offseason will be interesting for the Blackhawks. They have a lot of contracts to handle, on top of numerous questions about the team’s direction. Regardless of what they plan to do with their pending free agents, they need to figure out what their plan is for the future. Once they have a general manager, they can begin to get contract negotiations underway.