The Chicago Blackhawks will have some interesting decisions to make over the offseason, including moves they’ll need to make to free up salary cap space and to move new players into the mix for roster spots.
While the decisions on trades and buyouts will likely come in the days and weeks to come, some of the team’s most important decisions will come from their own crop of free agents.
To help fans prepare for the offseason, here is a breakdown of the players that will be able to potentially hit the market when free agency begins at the end of the playoffs.
Unrestricted Free Agents:
The Blackhawks do technically have a few unrestricted free agents in their minor league system, but the only UFA from their current NHL roster is Crawford, who has been with the team throughout his entire NHL career.
Crawford’s six-year, $6 million per season contract is now set to expire, and he could potentially become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his NHL career. At 35 years old, Crawford probably won’t command a lucrative multi-year deal, but the Blackhawks could conceivably let him go and target someone younger on the trade market or in free agency.
Of course, the team could also decide to keep Crawford around, as they would have to potentially rely on a player like Collin Delia or Kevin Lankinen to be the starter if they were to let Crawford go during the offseason.
It’s a tough choice, and one that could reveal a lot about what the team believes its immediate future looks like after a first-round playoff exit.
Restricted Free Agents:
Caggiula has proven his worth to the Blackhawks as a player with physicality and offensive prowess, and now he could potentially be in line for a bit of a pay bump after a season that saw him score nine goals and dish out six assists in 40 games.
Caggiula’s cap hit was $1.5 million last season for the Blackhawks, but it’s hard to imagine it going up too much higher in the era of a flat salary cap and restrictions on team spending. The Blackhawks could try to get Caggiula to take a salary of around $2-2.5 million per season, but with other needs to meet and with other players to re-sign, he could potentially find himself as a trading chip if the price isn’t right for Chicago.
It wouldn’t seem overly likely for the Blackhawks to keep Fortin around for another year, but with eight goals and nine assists in 44 games for Rockford last season, one can never rule out the Blackhawks keeping the prospect forward on a cheaper deal.
Koekkoek made less than $1 million during the 2019-20 season, but even with his limited price tag, and even with the team potentially planning to buy out a player like Olli Maatta this offseason, Koekkoek’s time with the club might be up based simply on the number of defensive prospects the team has in its system.
Adam Boqvist is already at the NHL level, but the Blackhawks also have Nicolas Beaudin, Ian Mitchell, Lucas Carlsson and Alec Regula all in the mix, along with new signings like Wyatt Kalynuk.
With that many players potentially angling for spots on the team’s blue line next season, it would seem that Koekkoek is going to be pushed out of the mix, but stranger things have happened, so it’s impossible to rule a reunion out.
The Blackhawks have made it a habit to hit on players signed from Europe, and Kubalik is yet another exception, as the Calder Trophy finalist will be eligible for a new contract after playing out a 1-year, $925,000 pact with the Blackhawks last season.
The big question for Kubalik will be how much money the team will be willing, and able, to spend to keep him. One could imagine a bridge deal being worked out for the Blackhawks, with fewer years guaranteed to allow Kubalik to potentially hit unrestricted free agency sooner.
Add in the fact that the Blackhawks also have to make decisions in both goal and on the forward side of things, and you have a recipe for a potentially tightly-negotiated contract that would keep one of the team’s top scorers in Chicago for at least the near future.
After Alex DeBrincat scored a big-money contract extension before the 2019-20 season, Strome figured to be the next guy to cash in, but after struggling to find his form during the regular season and postseason, it’s unclear just how much Strome will be able to command on his next contract.
The forward made $863,333 last season, and although he will certainly get a raise, it is highly unlikely he’ll even sniff the $6.4 million average value that DeBrincat scored with his contract.
If the price tag gets too high, one could easily see the Blackhawks trying to deal his free agent rights to another club prior to the NHL Draft.
Much like Fortin, Subban would seem to be a player that the Blackhawks likely won’t want to keep around, unless the team is confident that either Lankinen or Delia can grab the reins as the starting goaltender.
After all, Subban played less than a minute of ice time with the Blackhawks after being acquired in the Robin Lehner trade earlier this year, and even when Corey Crawford was struggling during the postseason, Subban never even sniffed potentially getting into the lineup for Jeremy Colliton’s club.
Even still, his cheap salary could make him a decent candidate to be a low-cost veteran backup if the Blackhawks do decide to go in that direction.