The Chicago Blackhawks are bound for an eventful offseason. General manager (GM) Kyle Davidson officially started the team’s rebuild after trading Marc-Andre Fleury, Brandon Hagel, and Ryan Carpenter before the deadline. Although we could see more veterans shipped out, that doesn’t mean that the team won’t be active during free agency. When it comes to the center position, there are some very appealing pending unrestricted free agents (UFA) that they should consider. Here’s a look.
Nick Paul is exactly the kind of player who the Blackhawks should be targeting this offseason. The 27-year-old is a middle-six forward who already has experience playing for a rebuilding club, and that shouldn’t be overlooked. He spent seven seasons with the Ottawa Senators before he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning before this year’s deadline. He was also an alternate captain for Ottawa, so he brings leadership.
Paul would fit in beautifully in the Blackhawks’ middle six. This is especially true if they end up trading Dylan Strome or even Jonathan Toews during the summer. At worst, he would be a very good third-line center in Chicago, and that would be excellent for the rebuilding squad. He would also be an immediate addition to their penalty kill, as he is well-known for his solid defensive play.
In 77 games this campaign between the Senators and Lightning, Paul has 16 goals and 15 assists. Yet, he has thrived since being traded, with five goals and eight assists in 18 contests. Thus, he will end the regular season on a high note, which should add to his overall value. At the end of the day, the Mississauga-native could be a perfect fit for a rebuilding team like the Blackhawks.
Now that the Blackhawks have traded Ryan Carpenter and Sam Lafferty as a pending UFA, they could be in the market for a new fourth-line center. One player who stands out as a potential fit is Curtis Lazar of the Boston Bruins. Boston has to re-sign Patrice Bergeron and has limited cap space, so it seems inevitable that the 2013 first-round pick will be sporting a new jersey next season.
Lazar has quietly put up a strong season with the Bruins, so they will miss him if he walks. Offensively he hasn’t been dominant, with eight goals and eight assists in 67 games. However, he brings a lot to the table with his physical play and defensive skill. He has a career-high 177 hits on the year and 17 takeaways. Overall, he could bring a bit more grit to the fourth line while also being a solid addition to the Blackhawks’ penalty kill.
Although Lazar is not a star, he has the potential to be a solid addition to the Blackhawks during their rebuild. He also can be utilized on the right-wing, offering the versatility that every team covets. He is young enough that he still could improve, too, so he’s definitely worth considering.
As a rebuilding club, the Blackhawks are in a position to take on struggling players. Chris Tierney of the Senators fits this description. This season has been another hard one for the 27-year-old center, with six goals and 12 assists in 67 games. He even has been a healthy scratch at times. Yet, in the past, he worked well as a middle-six center. Perhaps a change of scenery could help spark his offensive game.
Tierney is just two seasons removed from a 37-point campaign (in 71 games). Before then, he had at least 40 points in back-to-back seasons, so there is reason to believe that he could find his old form. He is still in his prime, and if he signs with a team that would give him more opportunities, it might help him regroup. The Blackhawks have a fairly weak forward group, so he could slot in their middle-six if he impresses at camp. Furthermore, he has the potential to be used on both special teams.
If the Blackhawks sign Tierney to a one-year deal and he bounces back, he would be an excellent trading asset at next year’s deadline. Although it isn’t a guarantee that he will produce at the same rate he used to, there’s no harm in Chicago giving him a chance. Overall, he has the potential to be a very good under-the-radar signing.
Alas, we have to wait and see if the Blackhawks decide to pursue any of these three centers. Of the bunch, Paul would likely have the biggest impact, but he would also be the most expensive. As for Lazar and Tierney, they would provide the team with more depth down the middle at a minimum.
Michael DeRosa is a contributor who covers the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks for The Hockey Writers. Since 2017, he’s written and edited for numerous websites. Besides his work for THW, you can also find him on NHLTradeRumors.me, BBallRumors.com, BaseballRumors.me, FootballRumors.me and The Rat Trick.