A far cry from the 2010s, staying under the salary cap shouldn’t be an issue for the Chicago Blackhawks over the next few years. As they begin their rebuild, they currently have a projected cap hit of just under $75 million entering 2022-23, per CapFriendly. Consequentially, the team has approximately $7.5 million worth of cap space right now. With five weeks until the regular season, it would be surprising to see these numbers drastically change, especially for a Chicago club not projected to compete.
Now, even though the Blackhawks are entering their first full season under general manager (GM) Kyle Davidson, that doesn’t mean the effects of the previous regime are removed. Due to their mismanagement of the club and failed attempts to contend, if you look at Chicago’s payroll, many of the team’s veterans are on deals that are far above their market value. However, despite a flawed roster, they still have a handful of players on solid bargain contracts as well, many of whom are young and could be worth more in the near future.
In no particular order, here are the Blackhawks’ three best contracts entering the 2022-23 regular season. Note, that this list does not include players currently on their entry-level contracts (ELC), including forward Lukas Reichel and defenseman Alex Vlasic.
Taylor Raddysh — $758,333 AAV
Given the Blackhawks are entering the first season of their rebuild, it’s tough to project what players will be on their roster the next time they contend, but Taylor Raddysh can’t be ruled out. Davidson acquired him from the Tampa Bay Lightning in March, along with Boris Katchouk. The 24-year-old forward and 2016 second-round pick quickly made a good first impression on his new club, recording 10 points (six goals, four assists) in 21 games as a Blackhawk. He could very well begin the year in Chicago’s top-six, too.
Now, Raddysh is still somewhat young, and he hasn’t exactly proven himself as a reliable top-six forward yet, considering he struggled to find a regular spot with the Lightning and is still relatively new to the Blackhawks. That said, he had an impressive junior career and could thrive in a more consistent role with Chicago. For a player making just over league minimum with an average annual value (AAV) of $758,333, this is a tremendous value for the Blackhawks.
Raddysh has two years left on his current deal before becoming a restricted free agent (RFA) in 2024. At this point in his career, it’s kind of hard to determine his overall ceiling. But, with such a low cap hit, this is a great bargain deal for Chicago, especially if he continues from where he left off last season.
Sam Lafferty — $1.15 Million AAV
Before becoming the permanent GM in March, one of Davidson’s first moves while still holding the interim tag was acquiring Sam Lafferty from the Pittsburgh Penguins last January. The 27-year-old forward and Pennsylvania native was previously set to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) this summer until the Blackhawks re-signed him to a two-year deal with an AAV of $1.15 million in April. Though he didn’t quite dominate the scoresheet last season with the Blackhawks, recording just 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 46 games, he brought great versatility and an element of speed, a trait Davidson has said he wants to be a focal point of the rebuild.
Entering his second year with Chicago, it’s a little hard to imagine Lafferty getting much time in the top-six despite playing there a bit last season. That doesn’t mean he won’t be a valuable contributor, though. You’d think the Blackhawks would welcome his ability to play up and down the lineup and thrive in many situations as a role player, as well as his overall competitiveness.
Because of Lafferty’s reliability, the Blackhawks are getting pretty good value out of his new deal, which carries an AAV of $1.15 million before he becomes an unrestricted free agent (UFA) in 2024. Additionally, this term is perfect for someone like him, and with the cap space the Blackhawks currently have, you could argue he might be worth even a little more to the team. Since many of his strengths are expendable, it would be surprising to see Lafferty on the next competitive Chicago club, but this is a good deal for the Blackhawks with where they are now.
Philipp Kurashev — $750,000 AAV
Entering his third NHL season, Philipp Kurashev is at somewhat of a crossroads in his career. The 2018 fourth-round pick had a solid rookie campaign with the Blackhawks in 2020-21, recording 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in 54 games. In his second season, he posted 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 67 games but faced several inconsistencies and was even a healthy scratch on a handful of occasions. However, the Blackhawks tendered him a qualifying offer on July 11 before eventually signing him to a one-year, “prove it”-type deal in August. He will then become an RFA again next offseason.
At first glance, it might seem strange to include a player like Kurashev on this list. He still has a lot to prove at the NHL level, and although he’s shown flashes of potential, he hasn’t exactly found a regular spot in Chicago’s forward group. The pressure is on for him this season, but if you think about it, the Blackhawks should get pretty decent value out of the 22-year-old. Mind you, Chicago only owes him the league minimum this season, and it’s not as if he is a stranger to the NHL. He’s thrived in the right situations and has some top-six experience.
The Blackhawks were smart to re-sign Kurashev, a skillful player with perhaps some untapped potential. Yes, he could continue struggling, which could lead Chicago to move on from him come the trade deadline or next offseason. For now, however, this is a pretty good value contract for the Blackhawks and one that could pay off in a big way down the road.
Honorable Mentions & Final Thoughts
A few honorable mentions here are Max Domi and Riley Stillman. The Blackhawks signed Domi to a one-year, $3 million deal in July, and while he probably won’t be in Chicago long, this is great value for the veteran forward. Remember, Domi is just three seasons removed from posting 72 points with the Montreal Canadiens in 2018-19, and it’s possible a bounce-back year could be in store for the 27-year-old even while playing on a bad team. Though he almost certainly won’t be on the club after this season, this is another low-risk, high-reward move by Davidson. Domi shouldn’t have much trouble living up to his value.
Stillman, on the other hand, is another intriguing young piece for the Blackhawks along with Raddysh and Kurashev. He is entering the second season of a three-year, $4.05 million contract with an AAV of $1.35 million. Due to injuries, he appeared in just 52 games last season, but he remains young at 24 and brings good physicality. Many had high expectations for Stillman after the Blackhawks acquired him from the Florida Panthers in April 2021, and it’s certainly possible he finds a regular spot in Chicago’s top-four by the end of the year should he remain healthy, which could lead him to outperform his deal.
Because of the Blackhawks’ low expectations, as well as the fact that their few “stars,” if you will, are arguably well overpaid, it’s a little tough to assess Chicago’s payroll right now. Having said that, I’d expect them to get good value out of Raddysh, Lafferty, and Kurashev’s deals. Though these three players are all entering the first year of their new deals, they shouldn’t have much trouble living up to or perhaps outperforming their contracts barring injuries, and this would be a positive for the Blackhawks in what will be a down year. These are all still good bargain contracts for Chicago, which should help the team even with the salary cap not being a worry right now.
Connor Smith covers the Chicago Blackhawks for The Hockey Writers. He is from Naperville, Illinois, and recently graduated from Ball State University in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, earning summa cum laude honors. This fall, he plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism in Chicago to further his studies and earn his master’s. Along with The Hockey Writers, he’s written and edited for The Ball State Daily News, Ball State’s on-campus student newspaper, and has interned for Best Version Media (BVM) Sports and Jersey Column, a Georgia-based sports blog. You can find more info about Smith and his work through his online portfolio, connornsmith0719.wordpress.com.