2018 Offseason Preview: Chicago Blackhawks

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Chicago Blackhawks and their outlook for the summer.

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It was their worst season since before the days of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. With a 33-39-10 record and 76 points on the season in 2017-18, the Chicago Blackhawks finished last in the Central Divison and missed the playoffs for the first time in Kane and Toews’s careers with the organization.

Unfortunately for the Blackhawks and their fans, things are only going to get worse or stay the same before they get better. There is no one offseason fix-all cure for Chicago given their salary cap structure and overall prospect development.

While Kane and Toews are on the books at $10.500 million each through the 2022-23 season, Brent Seabrook is actually on the books for a season longer– albeit at a $6.875 million cap hit instead of $21.000 million combined in Kane and Toews.

The only point to make here is there’s no need to overreact and dump Kane and/or Toews– yet– but rather, Seabrook is currently 33-years-old. Duncan Keith is 34-years-old. Both have no-movement clauses in their contracts in the midst of a redeveloping defense for the Blackhawks.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

The long days of the offseason were made even longer for Chicago fans used to their team going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final– a la 2010, 2013 and 2015 when the Blackhawks won three Cups in five years– after the team was eliminated from even participating in the postseason as the days of the 2017-18 season wound down.

With the 8th overall pick in the 2018 Draft, Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman should put his focus on drafting a defenseman.

Why? Because one of their top-2 defenders (Keith or Seabrook) will have to be moved to attain pieces for the future as part of this rebuild at some point in time and since Trevor van Riemsdyk left via the Vegas Golden Knights 2017 Expansion Draft, Chicago hasn’t had a legitimate defensive prospect.

Connor Murphy was brought in from the Arizona Coyotes as part of the Niklas Hjalmarsson trade and well… that’s about it for young defenders that make up the depth of Chicago’s blueline.

Someone like Evan Bouchard, Adam Boqvist, Ty Smith or Bode Wilde should be available at 8th overall and the Blackhawks should take a stab at one of them.

As for the 27th overall pick (from the Nashville Predators acquired in the Ryan Hartman trade)? Bowman can pursue what he sees fit for the organization’s prospect pool.

Pending free agents

There aren’t that many pending free agents on Chicago’s current NHL roster and with about $6.200 million to spend this offseason, that’s just all right.

Vinnie Hinostroza, Tomas Jurco and Anthony Duclair are the only pending free agent forwards from the end of the regular season roster. Both Hinostroza, 24, and Duclair, 22, should be re-signed with Duclair likely eyeing more dollar value or shorter term to cash in later as the two forwards are pending-restricted free agents.

Jurco was given a second chance at his NHL career in the Blackhawks’s acquisition of his skillset in the 2016-17 season from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a third round pick in the 2017 Draft (Keith Petruzzelli), but only played in 29 games in 2017-18, spending most of his time as a healthy scratch under Joel Quenneville‘s watchful eye.

The 25-year-old forward amassed 6-4–10 totals, yielding his best point-per-game production (.344 pts/game) since his rookie appearance with the Red Wings in 2013-14 (.394 pts/game, 8-7–15 totals in 36 games). In other words, he’s not good and should not be re-signed.

Chicago only has one pending free agent defenseman– 39-year-old, Michal Rozsival— and will walk away from him this offseason, undoubtedly.

Corey Crawford, 33, has two-years remaining on his contract with a $6.000 million cap hit. The starting goaltender isn’t getting any younger and is overcoming an injury plagued season that played a large part in the Blackhawks sudden demise.

Crawford likely won’t go anywhere any time soon, but the planning for the next number one in Chicago has to start sooner or later.

Meanwhile, backup Anton Forsberg has one-year left at $750,000 as a 25-year-old. He’ll be a pending-RFA in 2019 and likely won’t see a dramatic raise unless he usurps Crawford in the depth chart.

Overall, the Blackhawks cannot afford to go after any big names this summer, regardless of the Marian Hossa outcome. Hossa’s on the books through the 2020-21 season at $5.275 million AAV even though his playing days are over.

The winger isn’t going to retire before his contract expires so he can collect his salary– which is actually only $1.000 million for the next three years– and Chicago doesn’t have to trade him if they’re fine with placing him on the injured reserve from season-to-season as they did heading into 2017-18.

It’s not that the organization needs to reach the cap floor or that they really need to rid themselves of the dead cap space to attract any talent this summer, but Hossa’s contract will be on their radar as something to move by July 2019 once the Blackhawks set a course of action for what likely has become a rebuild.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Cody Franson (UFA), Christopher Didomenico (UFA), John Hayden (RFA), Adam Clendening (RFA), Jeff Glass (UFA), Viktor Svedberg (UFA), Jordin Tootoo (UFA), Lance Bouma (UFA)