The hectic start to the National Hockey League’s compressed offseason continued on Monday. The deadline to extend qualifying offers to restricted free agents ahead of Wednesday’s start of free agency came and went, and there were some surprises out of the Chicago Blackhawks’ camp. Additionally, a true warrior from the Stanley Cup era hung up his skates for good.
Nikita Zadorov Gets a Qualifying Offer, Pius Suter Doesn’t
The Blackhawks had seven total restricted free agents that needed to be qualified by 4 pm on Monday. They extended offers to defenseman Nikita Zadorov and forwards Brandon Hagel and Alex Nylander. Hagel is coming off a solid rookie season and is part of the team’s plans for the future. It’s no surprise Nylander will be brought back. Whatever his new deal looks like, it will be on the cheap, considering he’s coming off a knee injury with a lot to prove.
Zadorov getting a qualifying offer might be considered a surprise since he was left unprotected for last week’s Expansion Draft. General manager Stan Bowman has been trying to find a trading partner for the 26-year-old defenseman. While he hasn’t had any luck yet, there is a market for defensemen. The Washington Capitals were able to get two second-round picks from the Winnipeg Jets for Brendan Dillon. Based on that return, you’d have to think the Blackhawks could facilitate a deal. If not, look for him to head to arbitration as it appears that the two sides are far apart on a new salary.
Four players were not given qualifying offers; Josh Dickinson, Adam Gaudette, David Kampf, and Pius Suter. The biggest surprise of this lot was Suter, who scored 14 goals and 27 points during his rookie season. The versatile forward’s agent said via his Twitter account that the two sides could not find common ground.
The biggest reason the Blackhawks did not give Suter a qualifying offer is likely because they did not want to go to arbitration. They want him back, but at a reasonable price. They still have until Wednesday to strike a deal and, if not, he will get paid somewhere else. With Nylander returning and the additions of Henrik Borgstrom and Lukas Reichel, there are plenty of players to take his spot if he does not return.
Don’t rule out a return for Kampf either. He was a restricted free agent back in 2019 and re-signed after not being qualified. Scott Powers of The Athletic reported that talks are still going on, so we may see a repeat of that scenario.
Adam Gaudette Inks a New Deal
Just moments after we learned Gaudette did not receive a qualifying offer, we found out why. He had signed a one-year contract extension worth $997,500. The 24-year-old forward was not protected for the Expansion Draft, but he will return for the 2021-22 season.
The Vancouver Canucks drafted Gaudette in the fifth round (149th overall) of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He had a career season in 2019-20 with 12 goals and 33 points in 59 games. In total, with Vancouver, he had 21 goals and 52 points in 153 games. The Blackhawks acquired him on April 12 for Matthew Highmore. He had a goal and four points in seven games with the Blackhawks.
Gaudette will have a tough time making the team out of training camp with a gluttony of forwards on the rosters, especially at center. He was not happy with how his time with the Canucks ended, so he definitely will be looking to prove them wrong this season. A player with a chip on his shoulder can be a productive one.
Niklas Hjalmarsson Calls it a Career
Former Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson officially announced his retirement on Monday. The Swedish-born blueliner played in 821 NHL games, scoring 25 goals and 147 points while blocking 1,605 shots and finishing with a plus-106 rating.
The Blackhawks drafted Hjalmarsson in the fourth round (108th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He played in 623 regular-season games during his 10 seasons in Chicago. He was a stalwart on a Blackhawks’ blue line that won three Stanley Cups. He was an absolute warrior for those teams. While Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook drew much of the attention, Hjalmarsson did a lot of the dirty work on the second pairing.
Hjalmarsson’s time in Chicago came to an end on June 23, 2017, when he was traded to the Arizona Coyotes for Laurent Dauphin and Connor Murphy, which has worked out well for the Blackhawks. Don’t be surprised if you see him back in some capacity with the organization.
With free agency starting on Wednesday, this will be another busy week, and our Blackhawks writing crew will keep you up to date on all the happenings. Also, be sure to check out our latest episode of Blackhawks Banter, where we discussed all the big events from last week.
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.