Clearly, the Chicago Blackhawks have decided that they are no longer interested in the traditional rebuild they embarked upon less than a full calendar year ago. From proclaiming a plan that supported internal development, they have completely re-routed their efforts. Though, there are still some areas that require addressing if the Blackhawks expect to maintain their newfound momentum. Adding a veteran like Casey Cizikas could help them do just that.
Given the multitude of roster revisions Chicago has forced in recent months, relative to who they’ve added and those they let walk, it’s apparent that this team is expecting to contend much sooner than once suggested. Enhancing depth down the middle is a step in the right direction if they truly expect to rewrite their current storyline.
Paving a New Path
Following an early stretch of surprising success that saw the Blackhawks battle for a spot in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the reality of their build balanced out the remainder of their results. All the while, it was promising to see what this mainly inexperienced and youthful squad was capable of. Their efforts suggested they might be ahead of schedule.
Well, Stan Bowman obviously felt as though things weren’t moving along quickly enough. Chicago was one of the busiest organizations at the 2021 Trade Deadline and they’re maintaining that mandate through this offseason. Interestingly, though, the moves they’ve made aren’t necessarily conducive to helping progress from the ground up.
Rather, what they’ve done suggests they are beyond laying a new foundation and are already working on the finishing touches of what they hope is a lineup ready to compete. When you look at their recent transactions, there really isn’t a debate to be had on the matter.
- Adam Boqvist
- David Kämpf
- Duncan Keith
- Nikita Zadorov
- Pius Suter
Although not inclusive of every move they’ve made of late, it’s clear that one list is not like the other. Those that left create a mixed bag of unproven talent among a franchise great who’s heading towards retirement. Whereas every new Blackhawk seems to align with a more cohesive action plan.
Chicago certainly appears far more poised now than they did a mere few months ago. Where better to elevate those efforts than right down the middle?
Necessary Depth at Centre
A number of centremen were in and out of that role with the Blackhawks last season. Needless to say, there was a lack of consistency in who played where and it directly affected any semblance of sustainable success at the dot. So, it should come as no surprise that they only managed a collective faceoff win percentage (FO%) of 46.3 throughout the campaign. As a stark contrast, their last Stanley Cup-winning season saw them achieve a 52.0 FO%. Faceoffs matter.
Additionally, even if both Kirby Dach and Jonathan Toews are leading Chicago’s top two lines for opening night, having a secured sense of depth at that position has always proven to be advantageous. If the Blackhawks can head into 2021-22 with all four lines constructed in a way that promotes cohesion over confusion, that could expedite their gameplan.
It’s not that having the ability to move players throughout a lineup is a bad thing, as it means those involved are versatile and that comes with its own set of benefits. However, that type of plan should be utilized in a strategic manner, for in-game manipulation. It shouldn’t be the actual blueprint.
Dressing a set of stars who know their roles and are put in positions to perform at the highest degree possible, game in and game out, will always result in better outcomes than the alternative approach. If the Blackhawks can find a way to further solidify who centres each set of wingers, they’ll all be better for it.
Cizikas has 10 years of experience on his resume. Safe to say, he’s familiar with the task at hand.
The Free Agency Facade
With there continuing to be a lack of news on Cizikas signing elsewhere, the balance of leverage tilts further towards any franchise that may be interested. Simply stated, the most coveted free agents have already agreed to their new deals. Those that remain have to recognize what that means.
It’s not to say that a player like Cizikas isn’t a desirable addition. There could be a number of factors at play. Whether this year’s class of available athletes overshadowed the impact of bottom-six additions, a flat salary cap is forcing teams to spend more strategically, or a necessary ripple effect to permit such splurging hasn’t yet occurred where it needs to.
Even though the Blackhawks currently face a salary cap at its ceiling, maneuvering the financials to support this type of activity may not be that complicated.
Finding the Financials
First and foremost, it’s relevant to point out that the Blackhawks having 24 athletes on their active roster means they are currently one player above the permitted limit of 23. Movement, in some capacity, is inevitable. Chicago might as well work to gain, while they are forced to unload.
NHL teams are only allowed to dress a maximum of 20 players – 18 skaters and two goaltenders – for any given game, but those 20 must come from the 23-player active roster.
Simple math concludes that losing one player in advance of adding Cizikas won’t be enough. The franchise will be right back to where it started — with one too many. Bypassing this hurdle could actually mean they end up in a better position by the end of it.
Names that should be on the chopping block include Dylan Strome, Ryan Carpenter, and Calvin de Haan, who currently make $3 million, $1 million, and $4.55 million respectively. These two forwards and one defenseman, at varying stages of their careers, share an intertwined commonality. All are set to become free agents by the end of this upcoming campaign, while none should expect to be re-signed in Chicago.
Dominik Kubalik, Kirby Dach, Philipp Kurashev, Connor Murphy, and Kevin Lankinen are also up for renewal by season’s end and all fit within Chicago’s current strategy far more effectively. It’s easy to see why this group will attract more internal attention than Strome, Carpenter, and de Haan.
In short, if Bowman doesn’t extract value for those he has no intention of extending, that means they walk for nothing next offseason. Although these names may not be among the most important Blackhawks at the moment, that doesn’t mean they can’t be serviceable in another system.
Bowman would have to be realistic about a potential return for such players, especially if he wants to see their salaries depart alongside them. The ask needs to align accordingly, so it attracts the type of team willing to take that risk. Fortunately, simply acquiring draft picks in the process would mean the Blackhawks won any related deal.
While Chicago subtracting from their roster would then make room to add where applicable, it’s the millions in cap space they would inevitably clear that would provide them with the means to do so.
Cizikas Complements Chicago
Suggesting that a rebuilding squad add a 30-year-old free agent, who earned $3.35 million last year and is coming off one of his worst statistical seasons to date, wouldn’t typically make much sense. Good thing the Blackhawks have decided they are no longer navigating along that route.
While it’s true that Cizikas’ 14 points through 56 contests in 2020-21 calculate to one of the lowest per game paces of his career, the Blackhawks don’t need him to come in and light the lamp. They already have players in place to manage that responsibility. Any added offense he provides would be a bonus.
Meanwhile, a free agent’s down year can work to the organization’s advantage when it comes time to negotiate a new contract. It’s easy to justify a decrease in pay when production starts to plummet.
Yet, despite his lacklustre point totals last season, Cizikias’ FO% of 53.2 was actually among the best marks he’s ever achieved. Plus, he managed nearly two minutes of shorthanded time every game and landed a couple of hits per contest.
He’s certainly worth an appropriate spend. It’s simply that his attributes don’t traditionally cost as much as save-making or goal-scoring tend to. Chicago could easily afford a discounted Cizikas after completing the appropriate moves in advance of that discussion. They’d then be within their roster limit, with enhanced depth down the middle, and could even have some salary cap space to spare.
Instead of letting those already there develop alongside one another, Chicago has shifted their focus to finding specific players that address isolated needs. Their rebuild is no longer.
Cizikas provides a sturdiness at the foundation of a lineup that strengthens every aspect throughout it. He’s the type of underrated talent that consistently shows up, always puts in the work, and achieves results with what he does best. He’s also proven to be capable and confident when it matters most.
If the Blackhawks sought out and acquired Cizikas, it’s not far-fetched to suggest that he would turn out to be a missing piece that they never even realized they needed.
Freelance thinker, paying too much attention to digital aesthetic. Oxford comma enthusiast. Spider-Man supporter. Sports fan, with two favourite hockey teams. If the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs ever meet in the Stanley Cup Final, you can find me wherever they’re playing that night.