This is the fourth and final part of a look into the Chicago Blackhawks potential free agent targets, now looking at some of the potential RFA forwards the Blackhawks could sign this offseason. Previously, I’ve looked at UFA forward targets, UFA defensive targets, and RFA defensive targets.
Many see the Blackhawks main need on defense, as do I. But the Blackhawks have more needs than just defense, they could use a power-forward type winger as well as a third line center that can play on multiple lines in multiple situations. Honestly, they could use another goaltender as well.
The problem is, most of the forwards who will be RFA’s this offseason are just simply too valuable to their current teams. The Red Wings are not trading Dylan Larkin, one of the key pieces to their rebuild. It’s the same situation with William Nylander in Toronto, the list goes on and on.
That’s the case with almost every RFA forward on the market this summer. They’re either too young and too valuable to their current team’s future, or they would not be worth the pursuit.
So, who is a realistic target for the Blackhawks this summer as far as RFA forwards go?
Several ex-Blackhawks will be RFA’s this offseason. It’s well documented that the Blackhawks love bringing back ex-players, and the five that they could bring back would be Phillip Danault, Joakim Nordstrom, Ryan Hartman, Laurent Dauphin, and Marko Dano.
You can basically cross out any possible reunion between the Blackhawks and Hartman, Nordstrom, and Dano. Nashville gave up a lot for Hartman, it’s extremely unlikely that they would let him walk for nothing. Besides, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette has spoken highly of Hartman.
While Marko Dano was a key piece coming to Chicago in the trade that sent Brandon Saad to Columbus and Artem Anisimov to Chicago, Dano largely underperformed during his time with the Blackhawks. Dano has since been traded to the Jets, where he has split time between the NHL and AHL.
Lastly, Nordstrom was very effective during his time in Chicago, and he helped bring the Blackhawks to a championship. But, any possible return would feature him on the fourth line in more of shutdown role, and he doesn’t fit that need. If they were to bring in a veteran to provide a fourth line presence, it would likely be someone with more experience and skill.
Of the other two, there’s a slight chance that the Blackhawks could bring Dauphin back, and they would absolutely love to have Danault back.
The Blackhawks aren’t likely to sign Dauphin on July 1, it would be more likely the Blackhawks would re-acquire him as a part of a larger trade. This, of course, would only happen if the Blackhawks made a trade with Arizona (Marian Hossa?), and they wanted Dauphin back. He has been traded to Chicago from Arizona, and then from Chicago to Arizona, so who knows.
Danault is one of the players that got away from the Blackhawks, a player that the Blackhawks are deeply missing this season. He was traded to Montreal in what ended up being a horrible deal, he has even played top line center minutes for the Canadiens at times. Imagine if Danault and Teuvo Teravainen both hadn’t been traded and were playing for Blackhawks this year, wow.
It’s extremely unlikely that the Canadiens would let Danault go, he should be a building block for their future, a key piece to their rebuild. If the Blackhawks are able to pry Danault away, they would be brining in a cheap and familiar fix to their forward group. Danault would inevitably fill the hole the Blackhawks will have at the third-line center position.
There are four current Blackhawks who will be RFA’s this summer. There’s no doubt that two of them will be back, John Hayden and Vinnie Hinostroza.
Hayden was sent to Rockford earlier in the season in order to play more meaningful minutes in all types of situations. I’m sure the Blackhawks have visions of him being a wrecking-ball type on the second line for years to come, but he can be an impact player anywhere in the lineup.
Contrarily, Vinnie started the year in Rockford, but was called up midseason when it was clear to Blackhawks management that he didn’t belong in the AHL anymore. It came to the point where he was dangling through an entire team and scoring.
If the Blackhawks want to turn this thing around, both Hayden and Hinostroza need to be key players for many years to come. This may or may not be the case with Anthony Duclair, and it most definitely is not the case with Tomas Jurco.
Duclair has been just alright since he was acquired from the Coyotes, playing on all four lines at different times. He has killer speed, possibly even elite. The problem with Duclair is that that’s basically all he has, his hands and head haven’t caught up yet. That sounds eerily similar to the complaint that many had about Hinostroza last year.
Regardless, the trade was a win because it let the Blackhawks gain some cap relief in losing Richard Panik’s salary. Personally I feel that the Blackhawks should sign Duclair to a cheap “prove it” type one-year deal, unless they can package his rights in a trade. Maybe the Canadiens will be interested in Anisimov along with Duclair, who is from Montreal.
Tomas Jurco should not be a Blackhawk next year, there’s no way around it. He isn’t producing, and he is already 25 years old. Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman needs to admit he made a mistake in giving up a third round pick for Jurco and just move on. Allocating any cap space to Jurco at this point just seems pointless if the Blackhawks want to jump back into the playoff race next year.
Around the League
There are only a few players that the Blackhawks realistically have a shot at on the RFA forward market. As previously mentioned, most players with this contract status are too important to their teams to lose, or they are just irrelevant.
The Blackhawks could go after the likes of Jimmy Vesey, Andreas Athanasiou, or maybe even an Elias Lindholm type. But instead, they should invest all their allocated resources in one player if they do decide to go the RFA forward route this offseason. That player is Boone Jenner.
Boone Jenner would be a game changer for the Blackhawks. They could send Anisimov plus another piece or two over to the Blue Jackets for Jenner’s rights and immediately improve their team in doing so, both in the short-term and long-term.
The 24-year-old currently counts for $2.9 million against the salary cap, so he will be largely affordable and would theoretically be around for an extended period of time. This is his fifth season in the league, and his career face-off percentage is 52.6%. He was named an alternate captain of the Blue Jackets at the beginning of the 2015-16 season.
Jenner has experience, affordability, leadership, youth, and he is a strong face-off man. Call me crazy, but I dream of a Dylan Sikura – Boone Jenner – Alex DeBrincat third line. The Blackhawks third line when they last won the cup in 2015 was Patrick Sharp – Antoine Vermette – Teuvo Teravainen, for what it’s worth.
What made the Blackhawks so good during their cup-winning seasons was their depth, and acquiring a center like Jenner or even Danault would instantly make them much deeper.