Blackhawks Top 5 Free Agents to Focus On Re-Signing for 2022-23

The Chicago Blackhawks are set to embark on a brand new era. The legacy of three Stanley Cup wins in six years is long past, and the organization is finally truly embracing a rebuild. New management is at the helm, and they are committed to do what needs to be done. Painful as it may be, the Blackhawks might need to get worse before they can get better. The plan is to invest in picks and prospects, and develop the team from the ground up. 

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With that said, how do the Blackhawks go about handling their numerous free agents in the offseason? Well, the whole point is to re-sign young guys on the cheap that could potentially be part of the rebuilding plan. So, who are the top five Blackhawks’ free agents they should invest in for the future? Here are my picks.

Kirby Dach (Center)

(Previous cap hit: $925,000)

It’s common knowledge that Dach hasn’t yet lived up to the expectations that come from being the third overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Many are already calling him a bust. But let’s remember, Dach missed training camp in the 2019-20 season with a concussion, and then was thrust into the NHL shortly thereafter. Could he have benefitted from a year or two in the AHL? Probably.

Due to a fluky wrist injury at the World Championships, the Saskatchewan, Alberta native missed most of the 2020-21 season as well. He returned ahead of schedule in late March, but then missed the end of the season due to wrist soreness. Gee, ya think he returned too early? 

Kirby Dach Chicago Blackhawks
Kirby Dach of the Chicago Blackhawks. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Let’s face it, injuries haven’t helped, and the Blackhawks haven’t exactly managed Dach’s development very well. The new regime seems to be taking a different approach with their current prospects. Lukas Reichel spent most of the season with the Rockford IceHogs. After playing 39 games in the 2020-21 season, defensive prospect Ian Mitchell only suited up for eight contests with the big club this past season. 

The Blackhawks should be doing right by Dach by investing in him and furthering his development in the right way. The 21-year-old isn’t a bust just yet. Considering the above-mentioned setbacks, he should be given more time before receiving that classification.

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Also, some players take longer to progress than others. Dach’s slower trajectory can be used as an advantage for the Blackhawks. They could sign him to a shorter, cheaper bridge contract rather than a heavier long-term deal. This would be a prove-it situation for Dach to potentially earn the big bucks in his third NHL contract.

Philipp Kurashev (Center, Left Wing)

(Previous cap hit: $842,500)

This Swiss forward might not have as high of a ceiling as Dach, but he’s certainly someone who could develop into a valuable NHL regular. Kurashev showed some promise in his first NHL season, posting eight goals and 16 points (in 54 games) in the shortened 2020-21 campaign. He established himself as someone who could hold his own as a member of the top-six forwards, playing at both center and wing.

Philipp Kurashev, Chicago Blackhawks
Forward Philipp Kurashev just completed his second season with the Chicago Blackhawks. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But Kurashev wasn’t as fortunate this season, being deployed mostly on the third and fourth lines. He was thrown off the puck too easily and had trouble with his defensive play. Head coach Derek  King attempted to hone those skills by playing him in more of a grinding role. King also admitted at the end of the season that in a perfect world the 22-year-old should ideally play higher up in the lineup.

Kurashev didn’t look out of place at all when King relented and put him on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. He ended the campaign on a dynamic, more skill-based third line with Sam Lafferty and Taylor Raddysh (who are already both signed for the next two seasons, by the way). Kurashev’s final season stats of six goals and 21 points is nothing to scoff at considering how he was moved all around throughout the lineup.

I believe Kurashev would be a versatile contributor to the Blackhawks rebuild, and he could be signed to an inexpensive contract.  

Caleb Jones (Defenseman)

(Previous Cap Hit: $850,000)

Yes, Caleb Jones is Seth Jones’ younger brother. We all know Seth is signed with the Blackhawks through infinity and beyond. Seth will likely be a huge veteran presence and leader through the rebuild; perhaps even a future captain. Keeping his little brother in the fold would certainly keep him happy. But it would make sense in more than just this sentimental way.

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Caleb was given a shot to prove himself this season with a career-high 51 games played. His previous high was 43 games in the 2019-20 season. Not surprisingly, Caleb surpassed most of his previous stats, including notching the same amount of goals (5) as his older brother.

Sure, Caleb made his mistakes, and there’s a number of other defensive prospects with a higher ceiling than him. But he proved he could be a serviceable bottom-pairing defenseman that’s also not afraid to jump in offensively when the opportunity arises. It makes perfect sense to sign him on a bargain deal for another year of two until one of the other prospects is ready to step in.  

Kevin Lankinen (Goaltender)

(Previous Cap Hit: $800,000)

This is a tough one. We all know the Blackhawks are in the midst of a rebuild. So they shouldn’t be developing a young goaltender around a team that’s probably not going to be very good in front of him. It could thwart his development. But I also think Lankinen has shown enough talent for the Blackhawks to invest in him.

Like Dach, Lankinen is another example of someone who was probably thrust into the NHL too soon. In the 2020-21 season he played 37 games in the 56-game shortened campaign. He was likely overworked, as his stats petered out the end of the season. The irony is he probably didn’t get enough starts this past season behind Marc-Andre Fleury. He suited up for 32 games, half of which were after Fleury left at the trade deadline. With the season already lost, Lankinen never really found his groove.

Kevin Lankinen Chicago Blackhawks
It could be argued that Chicago Blackhawks’ netminder Kevin Lankinen was utilized too much in his first NHL campaign and not enough this past season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

I’d like to see the Blackhawks bring in a veteran goaltender on a cheap deal for the next one or two seasons. Let him be a mentor to Lankinen, just as Fleury was. But unlike with Fleury, make it more of a 50/50 tandem. Give Lankinen the favorable matchups to further develop his game and his confidence. Again, he can be signed for cheap, preferably on a one-year deal. Give him a chance to see if the Blackhawks should further invest in him in the future.

Dylan Strome (Center)

(Previous cap hit: $3 million; Qualifying offer due: $3.6 million)

This is my upset pick as a player the Blackhawks should re-sign. Unlike the four players listed above, the organization would have to invest more money in Strome. He has a $3.6 million qualifying offer, and obviously will be looking for even more than that. But with much of their roster being younger players on minimal contracts, the Blackhawks will have plenty of money to put towards a few larger contracts.

Dylan Strome Chicago Blackhawks
Should the Chicago Blackhawks invest in re-signing Dylan Strome? (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The team has been actively shopping Strome for quite some time now, and so far they haven’t had any takers. But that was before he was put on a line with Kane and Alex DeBrincat. This trio finished out the season on quite the tear, with all three of them racking up numerous goals and points. They could arguably be a dynamic top line for the upcoming 2022-23 season.

I get it that if the Blackhawks aren’t good next season they have a better chance at a higher draft pick. So the argument could be to trade Strome away now that his value has gone up. But Strome is only 25 years old. He could easily be a piece that’s still around when they’re ready to contend again. Heck, he could help them be ready to contend again sooner. Kane has made it clear he’d like to see Strome stick around. The below statement seems to indicate Kane isn’t planning on going anywhere either.

If Kane is committed to staying through the rebuild, give him Strome and DeBrincat to work with. You might think I’m being too soft and sentimental, but it also could be a really smart decision. The trio could continue to thrive and grow together, lead by example, and guide the team back to prominence again.

There’s no doubt the Blackhawks are a rebuilding team, and plenty of decisions need to be made in the offseason. Free agent signings will be a big part of that. Time will tell whether these five free-agents will suit up for the Blackhawks in 2022-23.