The Chicago Blackhawks were in playoff contention for most of the regular season, but they ultimately fell short of the postseason for the third time in four years, and are now left with some big decisions as they evaluate the next steps in their rebuilding process.
The team seems content to allow head coach Jeremy Colliton to remain behind the bench and to allow President of Hockey Operations Stan Bowman to continue in his role, but questions about whether any other executives will be brought into the fold have yet to be answered.
Aside from those big picture concerns, what kind of roster construction questions can we expect the Blackhawks to tackle this offseason?
Will We Get an Update on Jonathan Toews?
Toews did not play during the 2021 regular season due to an undisclosed medical issue, and the team has been completely mum on whether to expect the captain back on the ice for the 2021-22 season.
Various reports have speculated various scenarios for Toews, who remains under contract for two more seasons, but until we hear word directly from the captain or from the team, the question over whether he will be back remains arguably the biggest one of the entire offseason.
Will the Blackhawks Keep Dylan Strome?
The Blackhawks have plenty of interesting decisions to make in restricted free agency, but those questions will likely have to take a temporary backseat until they make decisions on a few veteran players, including Strome.
Strome, who is under contract for $3 million next season, was a frequent healthy scratch for the Blackhawks down the stretch, ultimately appearing in 40 games this season. He said the scratches annoyed him, but says he still believes he can be a contributor to the team next season.
“I feel like I’ve proven that, and I know I can do that,” he said.
Will he be given the chance? With his cap hit and his inability to crack an injury-depleted lineup, it is certainly possible that he has donned a Blackhawks jersey for the final time, but only time will tell.
What About Nikita Zadorov?
After coming over from the Colorado Avalanche in a trade that sent Brandon Saad to the Rockies, Zadorov often proved to be a frustrating presence on the ice for the Blackhawks, with one goal, seven assists and a penchant for badly-timed penalties and defensive lapses during his first season with the club.
Bowman has said repeatedly that he likes the physicality that Zadorov brings to the mix, but the sheer number of defensemen the Blackhawks currently have under contract could pose an obstacle to keeping him with the team moving forward. In all, the Blackhawks have nine NHL defensemen under contract next season, including newly re-signed Riley Stillman and a host of youngsters, including Alec Regula, Wyatt Kalynuk, Ian Mitchell and Nicolas Beaudin.
The Blackhawks also have Jakub Galvas and Isaak Phillips in their system, and with the glut of young defensemen on the team, Zadorov could be pushed out of the mix, even if the team decides to move on from a veteran blue liner or two.
Speaking of which….
Could We See Any Cap-Space Saving Trades?
The Blackhawks have some salary cap space to play with next season, even if they still have Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw’s contracts on the books, thanks to long-term injured reserve, but the team might still try to clear some room, both for future free agent signings and for required contract extensions for players like Pius Suter, Brandon Hagel, Zadorov and Alex Nylander.
The Blackhawks will also be keeping a close eye on 2022, as that’s when they will have to potentially sign new contracts with Kirby Dach, Dominik Kubalik and Adam Boqvist.
If the Blackhawks do look to make a move to clear some cap room for those new deals, their options are fairly limited. The team could potentially move Strome, as was previously suggested, or they could seek to move either Calvin de Haan, under contract for one more season at a $4.55 million cap hit, or Connor Murphy, who has one year left on a deal with a $3.85 million cap hit.
The Blackhawks could also try to get a bit bolder than that, with a contract like Kubalik’s being potentially movable.
What Will the Team’s Goaltending Situation Look Like Next Season?
The Blackhawks have three goaltenders under contract for next season for a cumulative $2.6 million, as Kevin Lankinen, Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia all have one year left on their current deals.
The three goaltenders had a decent 2021 season for Chicago, but is decent good enough for a team with massive question marks on their blue line? If the Blackhawks decide that it isn’t, they have some good options on the free agent market that could be somewhat affordable.
Phillip Grubauer of the Colorado Avalanche is one name to keep an eye on, along with Arizona’s Antti Raanta, a former Chicago netminder. Petr Mrazek and James Reimer are also set to hit free agency, along with Devan Dubnyk, Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne, meaning that the ample supply of goaltending help, along with a flat salary cap, could help to push down prices on netminders a bit.