With the Stanley Cup Playoffs coming to a close, much of the NHL has turned its focus to the offseason, and the Chicago Blackhawks are no exception. While the team may still be a few weeks out from the draft and free agency, there has been plenty to discuss over the last few days. Here is the latest news and rumors surrounding the team.
Blackhawks Re-Sign Athanasiou
The Blackhawks are going to need to hit the NHL’s cap floor this offseason, and they got closer to doing just that on Wednesday (June 7). They reportedly re-signed forward Andreas Athanasiou to a two-year deal with an average annual value (AAV) of $4.25 million.
Athanasiou joined the Blackhawks last summer on a one-year contract, with some thinking he’d be moved at the deadline. That wasn’t the case, as the 28-year-old stayed with Chicago for all of 2022-23. He appeared in a team-high 81 games, recording 40 points (20 goals, 20 assists), including 12 points in his final eight games. Due to health issues during his Los Angeles Kings’ tenure from 2020-22, it marked just his second NHL season hitting the 40-point plateau and his first since 2018-19, when he recorded a career-high 54 points with the Detroit Red Wings.
Though $4.25 million may seem like a high AAV for a player of Athanasiou’s caliber, a solid but unspectacular top-nine forward, by no means is this move surprising. Not only does it help the Blackhawks get closer to the cap floor, but Athanasiou brings elite speed and fits the mold of what general manager (GM) Kyle Davidson is looking for during the rebuild. He also fills a need in the top-six and at 6-foot-2, he should give good protection to projected first overall pick Connor Bedard should he play with him.
Pang In, Cohen Out
The Blackhawks’ broadcast booth has seen a few shakeups over the last few years, and yet another one is coming. Jeff Agrest of the Chicago Sun-Times first tweeted on Wednesday that the team is hiring NHL broadcasting veteran Darren Pang as its TV analyst before the Blackhawks confirmed the news on Thursday. He’ll join play-by-play voice Chris Vosters, who is entering his second full season with the club.
Pang appeared in 81 combined games with the Blackhawks as a goaltender from 1984-89. He got into broadcasting shortly after retiring, most recently spending 14 seasons as the St. Louis Blues’ TV analyst while keeping a national profile with TNT. He also has experience working for ABC/ESPN, NBC, and TSN. As one of the league’s most prominent analysts, he will bring instant credibility to the booth.
According to The Athletic, Pang’s contract with Bally Sports Midwest, the Blues’ regional broadcast partner, expired this offseason. The 59-year-old received interest from both American and Canadian teams before reaching a deal with the Blackhawks, and he is expected to work a majority of their games, with radio analyst Troy Murray occasionally filling in (from “NHL broadcaster Darren Pang leaving Blues to join Blackhawks TV booth: Sources,” The Athletic, 06/07/23). It’s unclear how this affects Patrick Sharp, as he and Murray split the TV analyst role last season after fan favorite Eddie Olczyk abruptly left for the Seattle Kraken organization.
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Shortly after Agrest tweeted the news, Colby Cohen announced he’ll be leaving the organization to move closer to his family in Philadelphia. The 34-year-old had been a member of the Blackhawks’ broadcast team for the last two seasons, serving in a variety of roles including the studio, booth, and between the benches.
DeBrincat May Be on the Move
A certain former Blackhawk could be on the trade market this summer. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on Monday (June 5) that the Ottawa Senators are exploring options for trading Alex DeBrincat, as the 25-year-old forward is set to become a restricted free agent while requiring a $9 million qualifying offer. He’s also one season away from becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Amid a mixed reaction, DeBrincat headed to the Senators last July after five seasons as a Blackhawk, skating in 368 games while recording 307 points (160 goals, 147 assists) during his Chicago tenure. In exchange, they landed last year’s seventh (Kevin Korchinski) and 39th (Paul Ludwinski) overall picks, along with Ottawa’s 2024 third-round pick.
This doesn’t impact the Blackhawks per se, but it’s nonetheless an interesting development. Even with Bedard in the fold, the team is nowhere close to contention, so a reunion right now wouldn’t make sense. However, the possibility shouldn’t be ruled out if DeBrincat wanted to rejoin the organization once they’re more competitive, especially since he’s still in his mid-20s. It’s also worth mentioning with Korchinski’s recent ascension and the possibility he becomes Chicago’s future No. 1 defenseman, Davidson arguably looks better off with this trade now than he did 11 months ago.
Reichel Named to AHL Top Prospects Team
The American Hockey League (AHL) announced its inaugural Top Prospects Team on Wednesday, with forward Lukas Reichel making the six-player group. The 2020 17th overall pick spent the majority of the 2022-23 season with the Rockford IceHogs, tallying 51 points (20 goals, 31 assists) in 55 games while also appearing in 23 games at the NHL level.
Not including Bedard, who the Blackhawks will soon take first overall, Reichel is arguably the most well-rounded forward prospect in Chicago’s system and will almost certainly be with the NHL club full-time in 2023-24. His 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 23 games with the Blackhawks would’ve put him on pace for 54 points over a full 82-game slate. Whether or not he plays with Bedard remains to be seen, but his presence should give fans another reason to watch.
Wednesday’s news about Athanasiou re-signing and more changes in the broadcast booth mark just the beginning of what should be an interesting offseason for the Blackhawks. With Bedard soon to arrive, there’s more optimism around the team than there was this time last year, but Davidson still has important decisions to make such as drafting and signing players who fit the contender he’s working to build. The Blackhawks have the draft June 28-29 before free agency begins on July 1.