The Blackhawks Banter crew is back after taking last week off and we have some interesting topics to cover. The team extended their best defenseman over the past couple of seasons. Plus, The Hockey Writers released two in-depth prospects lists, neither of which were very kind to the Blackhawks.
Our Blackhawks writing crew of Greg Boysen, Brooke LoFurno, Shaun Filippelli, and Gail Kauchak will get together to discuss all these topics and more on the latest episode of Blackhawks Banter. Today, we are giving you a little sneak peek of the discussion, which should be a memorable one.
Connor Murphy Gets Well-Earned Contract Extension
The biggest news to break since we last got together was a brand-new contract for defenseman Connor Murphy. The Blackhawks gave the 28-year-old blueliner a four-year extension with a $4.4 million salary-cap hit per season. He is now signed through 2025-26. What do you think of this deal and what are your expectations for Murphy going forward?
I love the deal for Murphy. It’s a great value that doesn’t handcuff the Blackhawks in all the wrong ways. It’s perfect for where Murphy is in this stage of his career. I don’t have many expectations for him. I think he will continue to be the steady, reliable defenseman that he has always been since joining the team- which is great!
I’m very pleased with this extension. Obviously, it’s a nice bump for Murphy from his current salary of $3.85 million. But it’s also not an exorbitant amount of money for the Blackhawks, considering the kind of big dollars other defensemen have been fetching this offseason. It also gives Murphy security for the next five seasons, and in his words “his prime years.”
But the thing I like most about it is the organization doing a solid by Murphy. As he expressed in his recent press conference, he was excited to get the deal done now instead of waiting until his current contract expired at the end of the season. The Blackhawks doubled down on acquiring Seth Jones. But they felt the need to give Murphy some extra love as well.
Now Murphy can relax about his future and put his full focus into being an integral member of the Blackhawks defensive group, and a veteran leader on the team.
Murphy was put into a tough situation when he was acquired for Niklas Hjalmarsson; a beloved and important player from three Stanley Cup championship teams. However, in hindsight, that trade has been a huge victory for the Blackhawks.
There is a lot to be said of not having your contract status on your mind heading into a new season. With his future set, Murphy can focus a continuing to play at a top level. I think he and Jones have great complementary skills and will form one heck of a top pairing for years to come.
I love this deal, for both sides. Murphy gets a healthy raise and commitment through the next five seasons, while the Blackhawks expediting the negotiation before his current term is up was strategic in a number of ways.
Not flashy, yet he does all the little things right. Murphy brings a necessary physical presence to Chicago’s blue line while sprinkling in some bonus offense. He continues to achieve personal progress, year in and year out, including managing his highest average ice time of over 22:00 through 2020-21. Locking him up as he continues to climb to his peak made a lot of sense, especially if the Blackhawks hope to continue furthering their plans faster than originally outlined. He’ll be a key contributor to any future success they achieve.
Lukas Reichel Cracks the Top 100
Our prospect staff here at The Hockey Writers has been busy of late. First, we released our NHL’s Top 100 Prospects – Preseason Rankings. The Blackhawks just one player on the list and that was Lukas Reichel checking in at No. 36. Do you agree that he is the top NHL prospect in the Blackhawks pipeline right now?
I absolutely think that he is the top prospect in the Blackhawks’ pipeline right now simply because we haven’t seen many players come out of their system that is considered to be a point producer like him. It’s unclear how he will produce at the NHL level, but for where he is right now as a prospect, I think it is more than fair to say he is the best in the organization…by a long shot at the moment.
You bet, and I’m excited to see Reichel fight for a spot during training camp and preseason. I’ve heard nothing but positive things about his progression with his team in Germany, the Eisbaren Berlin. He looks to be a very versatile player with a high hockey IQ. And let’s remember he’s only 19 years old, so he has plenty of room to grow.
Reichel is in Chicago training with other Blackhawks’ players, and he’s already talking about playing with his childhood idol, Patrick Kane. Let’s see if he can make it happen.
There is little doubt that Reichel is the Blackhawks’ top prospect heading into the 2021-22 season. Of all the talent in the pipeline, he’s the readiest to take that next jump and has a very good shot at making the NHL roster right out of training camp. However, they may want to practice patience with him. Developing young talent has been a struggle in recent years and some of that has to do with rushing prospects to the big club and giving up on them too early. Regardless if he starts the season in Chicago or down in Rockford, Reichel’s progress is one of the top storylines for the new season.
It’s hard to argue with the spotlight Reichel already demands, before even playing in his first NHL game. For good reason, though. This is a 19-year-old who’s played alongside grown men for years and heads into next season as a recent winner of the DEL Championship.
Fair to say the sky’s the limit for Reichel, given the progress he’s already shown and the reality that he’s far from fully developed. Getting to fine tune his skillset alongside players like Kane and DeBrincat will only propel his progress. It’s easy to see why his arrival in Chicago is so highly anticipated at this point and he’s certainly the rookie exciting me the most at the moment.
Blackhawks Farm System Needs a Boost
THW’s preseason rankings for the NHL’s best farm systems recently were revealed, as well. The Blackhawks prospect pool ranked 28th out of 32 teams, dropping five slots. Part of the reason for the move downward was having a couple of former prospects graduate to full-time NHL players and a rather weak 2021 draft class. Do you think this is a fair assessment of the Blackhawks’ prospects, or are you more optimistic than this?
Yes, I think that assessment is more than fair. Most of the prospects that the Blackhawks have right now are considered to be “fair”. They can produce somewhat, but won’t be superstars. They don’t have any prospects that stick out as some that could be the next Cale Makar or Kirill Kaprizov. It’s a big dent in the organization right now that needs tending to.
Well. I certainly don’t like to see the St. Louis Blues ranked higher than the Blackhawks in anything. Say it isn’t so!
But seriously. As a Blackhawks fan I’m a bit biased. We already discussed Reichel as a top prospect, and I have high hopes for Colton Dach as well. Evan Barratt and MacKenzie Entwistle show some promise.
On the defensive side, let’s remember it takes defensemen longer to develop. I believe Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin and Wyatt Kalynuk will all develop into serviceable blueliners if not much more. All in all, I’d rank the Blackhawks a few slots higher on this list.
I think the 28th ranking is valid. Part of the drop is having guys like Brandon Hagel and Philip Kurashev graduate from prospects to full-time NHL players. The 2021 draft class didn’t do much to bolster their overall standings either. There were some big reaches made, especially in the first round, that will take some time to see if they pan out.
When you look at the teams at the top of the rankings like the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings, and Carolina Hurricanes, there is no comparison to the Blackhawks. Those prospect pools are chock full of players who are not only talented enough to be NHL players but have multiple potential difference-makers and stars. The Blackhawks don’t have any of those guys in their pool just yet. That may change between now and the end of the season, but if this is a team trying to rebuild, they need to stockpile more high-end talent.
I think it’s somewhat misleading to claim that their prospect pool is currently that weak, in that it suggests a lack of youth talent. While I can understand the technicalities at play in making such an assessment, we can’t overlook the impressive showing by so many of their potential stars that stepped up through 2020-21.
That alone overshadows any concern I have for a supposed lack of talent lined up to break through in the coming years. The reality is that those that may have otherwise had been granted more time to gradually climb up the ranks have already proven they belong in the pros. If having given such prospects the chance to earn and keep their spots meant it depleted their pool in the meantime, I can accept that tradeoff.
Tune in Tuesday morning for an expanded discussion on these topics and much more. 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.
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Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.