When Chicago Blackhawks‘ training camp opened on Sept. 21, general manager (GM) Kyle Davidson met with the media to discuss various topics. One of them that stood out was the salary cap, as he stated that he was open to “weaponizing” salary cap space in a trade if a team wants to unload a bad contract before opening night. The Blackhawks are fifth-best in the league in cap space, with over $7 million to work with. One of the rules is that teams can be 10 percent above it during the offseason but must be compliant before the regular season begins. There are a lot of NHL clubs looking to shed salary, and the Blackhawks have made it clear they want draft capital for the 2023 NHL Draft with their flurry of offseason moves. Here are a few trade candidates they can consider.
Alex Killorn – $4.45 million AAV
The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Blackhawks have some comfortability regarding trades, as the latter traded for Tyler Johnson in July 2021, and the former acquired Brandon Hagel in exchange for Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk in March. So they could find themselves trade partners again in an effort for the Lightning to shed salary. They’re currently $7 million over the cap, and they have players on expiring contracts they hope to re-sign next summer, like Ross Colton and Hagel. Killorn is also on an expiring seven-year, $31.15 million contract, which makes him a good fit for the Blackhawks.
Killorn will enter his 11th season with the Lightning and has played a pivotal role in their back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships. The 33-year-old forward is known as a Swiss Army knife player for the Bolts as he does a bit of everything. He brings depth scoring, plays on the team’s power play and penalty kill, and brings a physical, two-way game to the roster. He was also top-five on the team in goals (25), points (59), shots on goal (164), takeaways (42), and shooting percentage (15.2%). He’s not a player that Tampa wants to part with, but with seven players with contracts longer than five years, something has to give.
During the first two preseason games, the Blackhawks’ special teams struggled, as the power play went 1/7, and the penalty kill went 3/6. Killorn can help with that in the meantime and bring a dependable presence to the bottom six. He can even play top-six if the club struggles to find a rhythm on offense. It’s hard to say how he would perform with a supporting cast of Andreas Athanasiou, Sam Lafferty, and Max Domi compared to Tampa’s elite core of Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov, but he has familiarity with Johnson and chemistry with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews can be explored, too.
From preseason lines, it seems possible that Toews and Johnson could be potential linemates, and Killorn could slide onto the left side. If he doesn’t work out, it’s okay because other teams may want him at the trade deadline for a playoff push. The Lightning have 2023 Draft picks from the third to the seventh round. I think a third-round pick from them could be enough to get a deal done, as Chicago only has one third-round pick in the draft. However, one big question remains: Killorn has a modified no-trade clause with a 16-team no-trade list. It’s unknown if he would accept a trade to Chicago, but both sides should still explore the possibility anyway.
Craig Smith – $3.10 million AAV
Craig Smith may be known to Blackhawks fans because he spent nine years in the Central Division with the Nashville Predators. He signed with the Boston Bruins as a free agent in Oct. 2020 and has had a respectable tenure with the Bruins with 29 goals, 39 assists, and 68 points in 128 career games. The 33-year-old is in the final year of his three-year, $9.3 million contract, and the Bruins are $2 million over the salary cap. Since last season, Smith has been a name in the rumor mill as a potential salary cap dump. A Bruins’ source recently revealed that the team was recently involved in deep trade talks with an unnamed NHL team, but that they have been put on hold. However, they could resume if they find a more suitable match, and the Blackhawks could be one of them. I reached out to my colleague, Bruins and Blackhawks writer Michael DeRosa to ask what Smith could bring to Chicago if they were to trade for him. He stated:
Smith is probably the hardest-working Bruin on the team. Very solid, middle-six/third-line winger who can contribute pretty well offensively. He has become a bit well-known in the Boston area for being streaky, but again, his effort is never in question. I think on Chicago, he’d be placed in a second-line role and he could be a good leader to have around for the season.
From DeRosa’s analysis, Smith sounds a lot like Hagel regarding effort and motor, which are precisely the traits the Blackhawks have been targeting all summer. I could see him being placed on a line with Kane and Domi, as it seems like the left wing spot will be up for grabs on that line. Even though he excelled at right wing on the Bruins, they can interchange him if they wish. The issue with a potential trade package is that Boston doesn’t have many draft picks to offer in return. Like Tampa, they only have third-round picks and beyond for the 2023 NHL Draft. However, I think the Blackhawks could settle for a third or a fourth-round pick alongside Smith.
Jason Dickinson – $2.65 Million AAV
The Vancouver Canucks made a big splash by trading for 27-year-old forward Jason Dickinson from the Dallas Stars in July 2021. He was a restricted free agent then, and they locked him in with a three-year, $7.95 million contract. Unfortunately, his debut season with the Canucks could not have gone worse for him. He had a career-worst season with five goals, six assists, and 11 points in 62 games. Vancouver is $2 million over the cap, and they have been looking for teams to take on Dickinson and Tanner Pearson’s contracts. Pearson would be more difficult for the Blackhawks to acquire because of his no-movement clause, which makes Dickinson the better option.
At Dickinson’s best, he is a solid defensive forward. During the 2020-21 season, his 1.62 expected goals against per 60 was the third-lowest number amongst all forwards who played at least 500 minutes at five on five. He isn’t an offensive dynamo, as his career-high in goals is only nine. Still, he is a good placeholder on the roster while the Blackhawks’ prospects develop with the Rockford Icehogs of the American Hockey League (AHL). He is a center but also plays left wing, so I can see him slotting in a fourth-line center role with Colin Blackwell and MacKenzie Entwistle. Head coach Luke Richardson keeps alluding to the fact that they want speed down the middle, which Dickinson can bring because he is known for his skating abilities (from ‘Blackhawks’ Luke Richardson on the rebuild, Alex DeBrincat, defensive systems: Q&A’, The Athletic, 6/29/22).
Dickinson has two years left on his contract, and it is assumed that the Canucks will have to part with a sweetener for a team to take on his contract. They have draft picks in all rounds except the seventh in 2023. I believe they may have to part with a second-round pick or a prospect such as 22-year-old forward Aiden McDonough. He’s a 2019 NHL Draft pick currently attending Northeastern University with a lot of offensive upside. A positive for the Blackhawks in acquiring Dickinson is that he has the potential to have a bounce-back season. If he does, he can be traded for more assets or simply be a serviceable forward in the bottom six. The return will depend on how desperate GM Patrik Allvin is to move him, but if I’m Davidson, I’m making a call to Vancouver.
If Chicago were to acquire these players, it would not make them automatic playoff contenders, so it won’t interfere with the organization’s five-year rebuild plan. Furthermore, I believe Davidson will take on one contract before the start of the season, and it will likely be a forward because they have plenty of defensemen. Therefore, the Blackhawks can help their rebuild case by acquiring assets for these players. The best part is the team won’t be handcuffed if they take on a contract with less than two years remaining. There are no current forwards on the Hawks’ roster that are signed after the 2023-24 season, so trading for contracts like Killorn, Smith, and Dickinson’s makes the most sense. Then, the Blackhawks can continue to replenish their roster as they see fit in the years to come.
Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.