As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue without the Chicago Blackhawks, we will take this time to look ahead to the offseason and dream about bringing in a big-name free agent. Our Blackhawks writing crew of Greg Boysen, Brooke LoFurno, Shaun Filippelli, and Gail Kauchak are back to discuss some key issues heading into an important summer.
It Starts Down the Middle
We spent a lot of time during the season about the Blackhawks’ depth, or perhaps lack thereof, at the center position. Based on who is on the roster right now and assuming everyone is healthy come October, who are your four centers heading into 2021-22?
I expect big changes to be made at center this offseason, but based on the current roster, I would pick Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach, David Kampf, and Mackenzie Entwistle/Evan Barratt. I think the first three are more generic, but when it comes to Entwistle or Barratt, they are both considered to be high center prospects in the system, so I think there could be a good competition between those two for the fourth line role.
Toews, Dach, I DON’T KNOW!, Kampf
Fingers crossed and prayers sent out to the universe that Toews is healthy and ready to join the team for the 2021-22 season. Man, oh man, the Blackhawks could use the captain’s faceoff success and leadership back on this team.
Dach is the future face of the franchise and Toews’ heir apparent. Hopefully, he’s fully healthy from his wrist surgery and ready to take that next step in his development next season. He’s shown flashes of his potential, especially in the bubble in the 2019-20 play-in playoff series. And it would be ideal if Toews could further mentor him.
I went back and forth for the No. 3 spot before just giving up. I was going to say Strome, but when I started penciling lines together, there were too many names I wanted to keep that pushed him out. I see where the coaching staff is coming from by frequently making him a healthy scratch.
Would Pius Suter or Philipp Kurashev be more effective on the wing? Maybe, but I’m guessing one of them will get this spot. Newcomers Henrik Borgstrom and Lukas Reichel might have centering potential, but why rush them into this responsibility? If they do join the Blackhawks, they would probably be best served on the wing as well. All in all, this position is going to be something to watch heading into next season.
Finally, if you watched last week’s Blackhawks Banter show, you’ll know Kampf is my pick for No. 4 center. He wins faceoffs, holds down the fort defensively, and consistently finds ways to tilt the ice in the offensive direction.
In a perfect world, Toews is healthy and he is back to be a leader among a group of talented young centers. He and Dach can handle the top two lines, while Kampf anchors the fourth line. That leaves the third in need of a center. I don’t think Strome will be back next season and if he is, he will probably be moved to the wing.
That gives us a pair of youngsters in Borgstrom and Reichel, who could be given a shot to earn that third-line spot if they make the team. Having Toews there to work with Dach, Borgstrom and Reichel would be huge. There are still guys like Suter, Kurashev and Barratt that can play down the middle. The bottom line is, no matter who is on the roster on opening night, head coach Jeremy Colliton will have plenty of options.
Based on their lineup at this moment, assuming none of them are in another jersey come the start of the 2021-22 season, I’d go with Suter, Dach, Strome, and Kampf as my four centers.
Suter’s poise illustrated that he could manage that type of responsibility and he should be in a top-six role based on his ability to produce alongside the team’s best. Dach has work to do in strengthening his game (and himself, in general), but as their potential face of the franchise, it’s important to get him comfortable in that type of scenario. Strome’s play dipped near the latter half of the season, but he’s still being paid to do the job and was one of the better face-off takers for this lineup, so that should be recognized. And it seems like a no-brainer to go with Kampf, given his 52.8% at the dot last season leading the entire team in that category.
The Price of Cap Relief
One of the biggest storylines heading into the offseason is whether or not Stan Bowman can trade Brent Seabrook’s contract. If he can find a taker, it would clear $6.875 million off the books and that can make this summer far more eventful. The problem is Bowman will have to give up something more as in picks and/or prospects unload the contract. How much are you willing to give up to clear up all that cap space?
I think everything should be on the table regarding clearing cap space. The Blackhawks don’t have many exciting prospects that teams are clawing to get their hands on. Therefore, parting with some shouldn’t hurt too much. Regarding being competitive again, I don’t think any player should be considered “safe.” If they can package prospects to clear space and possibly get good talent in return, all avenues should be explored.
Ya know, Brett Connolly has a whole lot of untapped potential!
But seriously, folks. If it would free up enough money to go for a true No. 1 defenseman, I’d be willing to give up one of either Ian Mitchell or Nicolas Beaudin. Maybe Adam Boqvist? No, not Boqvist; I take that back. Just don’t take Wyatt Kalynuk or Riley Stillman. Those two are keepers. And if it’s a forward they want, Adam Gaudette or Alex Nylander (if healthy) are probably expendable. Or Strome, of course. But he’s not very marketable after his disappointing season, is he?
Some top draft picks will probably have to be thrown in there as well. I’m no general manager, nor do I want to be. But I’m certainly interested in seeing if/how Bowman can pull it off.
This is going to be tough. With the uncertainty of when the salary cap will be on the rise again, I can’t see too many teams falling over themselves to add more salary, even if it will be put right in the long-term injured reserve (LTIR) category. I wouldn’t go crazy looking to dump the contract. I still have nightmares of giving up Teuvo Teravainen to shed one year of Bryan Bickell’s contract.
It would be ideal if Bowman shed the contracts of both Seabrook and Andrew Shaw. However, it won’t be the end of the world if he doesn’t. He can stash both of their contracts on LTIR, which won’t give him much flexibility during the season. Since we don’t expect the Blackhawks to be serious playoff contenders, that shouldn’t be a huge deal.
Given where they’re at in this rebuild, I don’t see an immediate need to sacrifice what clubs would likely be looking for to make this work, assuming the price would be assets and high-potential players. To that point, that’s exactly the type of talent Chicago needs to be focusing on developing.
While there could be a case made for why clearing up that cap space could beneficial regardless of the cost, I see it more as it had to make perfect sense for the Blackhawks and not just the team that would take it on. If there wasn’t a scenario that saw them benefit in all regards, then keep the contract and continue building with what you have instead of losing out on what could end up being a key piece to your future with letting go of any prospects at this point.
Who’s Your Guy?
Looking ahead to the offseason, let’s play Arm Chair GM. If you could have any one of the unrestricted free agents available this summer, who would it be?
Brooke: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Gail: Dougie Hamilton
Shaun: Mattias Janmark
You will have to tune on Tuesday morning to find out why we want to add these guys to the Blackhawks roster. In the meantime, don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel and like us on Facebook. And for your viewing pleasure, here is our most recent Blackhawks Banter episode.