Day one of NHL Free Agency was certainly as active league-wide as it was poised to be through its lead-up. Unsurprisingly, the Chicago Blackhawks were busy writing more of their own offseason headlines, given the plethora of lineup voids that needed filling. Yet, not every signing culminates in a clear-cut strategy at the moment.
This edition of Blackhawks News & Rumours will explore Chicago’s recent acquisitions, where they’re coming from, and the direction that all may be collectively headed as a result.
Max Domi Moves to Fifth NHL Team
Once one of the most anticipated prospects, thanks to his success in the juniors and international competition, Max Domi is already joining his fifth franchise after only seven seasons in the NHL. Not the type of career path that suggests successful navigation.
Chicago signing the former first-round draft pick to a one-year deal worth $3 million suggests he’ll be expected to step up for the club as their rebuild truly begins. Yet, it doesn’t necessarily foreshadow the winger’s future.
Domi, in signing a one-year deal, has not committed himself to being a key member of said rebuild — and there’s a good chance they flip him at next season’s Trade Deadline for even more draft picks — but should get a decent opportunity to eat up some ice time in 2022-23.
In his most productive campaign to date, Domi accumulated 72 points through 82 contests for the Montreal Canadiens in 2018-19. However, his career total of 314 points in 501 contests points to a less impactful type of presence than it initially seemed he’d offer in the pros.
That said, the Blackhawks had roster spots to fill and adding the potential excitement that a creative forward like Domi can bring should at least work to keep frustrated fans entertained.
Andreas Athanasiou Bolsters the Rebuild
Similar to Domi, Andreas Athanasiou joining the Blackhawks makes Chicago his fourth home since 2014-15. Initially less anticipated than his new teammate, though, Athanasiou is a former fourth-round selection who has found ways to infuse a welcomed level of energy into the rosters he’s been part of.
Another comparison between the two comes in the form of their deals, which are identical — $3 million for one year. Suggesting that Athanasiou is also there to play. In the meantime, anyway.
Despite signing Domi and Athanasiou to deals, both are not expected to be part of Chicago’s rebuild. It would not surprise anyone if they become available to teams at the trade deadline in 2023. Earlier in the week, the Blackhawks did not extend qualifying offers to Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik, which allowed them to become unrestricted free agents (UFA).
Despite a lacklustre 2021-22, given that he was only able to make it into 28 games, Athanasiou maintained the same type of production pace he’s set throughout his career thus far. With 105 goals and 91 assists through 378 contests, he should be able to replace at least some of the scoring that the Blackhawks have seen depart in recent weeks.
What happens following his term, though, is anyone’s guess at this point. If he finds a fit that positively influences their development, could the soon-to-be 28-year-old stick around beyond 2022-23?
Alex Stalock Rounds Out Goalie Spots
Chicago signing 10-year veteran Alex Stalock helps round out their goaltending position, as he’ll seemingly default into the backup role to newcomer Petr Mrázek. That the team now has both of their rostered netminders accounted for prompts a realization that doesn’t bode well for where Kevin Lankinen might end up next season.
Given that Stalock is in his mid-30s, 27-year-old Lankinen would have seemed like the more logical choice for this Blackhawks rebuild. Let alone the fact that Lankinen’s persistent efforts thus far should have been enough to earn him the opportunity to play through their development alongside the others working toward progress.
Regardless of how much more Lankinen’s talents would have cost the organization, over the $750,000 that Stalock will earn through 2022-23, Lankien should have been prioritized as the netminder of the future in Chicago.
That they’ve shifted their focus on a tandem of Mrázek and Stalock doesn’t suggest that management agrees.
Colin Blackwell Offers Added Depth
With a familiar trend having emerged throughout the day’s events, Blackwell is now joining his fifth franchise within a five-year span. Becoming quite the journeyman, the forward does an effective job of managing the assignments he’s given, regardless of the sweater he’s wearing.
A seventh-round pick by the San Jose Sharks in the 2011 NHL Draft, Blackwell has 25 goals and 27 assists in 138 career NHL games with the Nashville Predators, New York Rangers, Kraken and Leafs.
That said, having only accumulated 52 points to date, it’s safe to say that the Blackhawks aren’t expected the type of prowess out of Blackwell that some of his new offensive counterparts should be able to provide. But, that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of contributing.
What they can count on with more certainty, though, is that he’ll help fulfill the need for NHL-ready bodies within their lineup.
Averaging over 12:00 per night throughout his career, Blackwell should be able to do that and more on a Blackhawks team that will welcome all the help they can get, as they prepare to endure what their 2022-23 and 2023-24 schedules bring forth.
Blackhawks Will Make More Moves
If the organization’s pattern of activity leading up to and throughout the start of free agency is any indication of what’s to come for the Blackhawks, then fans should prepare to welcome even more new faces. All the while, they’ll have to learn to accept saying goodbye to those that were once far more familiar.
Whether onlookers agree with the transactions that Kyle Davidson has coordinated, or those that have yet to come, there is no argument that he’s holding firm on his current strategy. For a team to rebuild, it needs to be broken down.
Davidson is certainly doing an effective job of demolishing what once was.