The Chicago Blackhawks’ 2017-18 season was a bit chaotic, to say the least. The team failed to make the playoffs and the season was filled with injuries and tons of frustration on all accounts. Many star players did not show up last season and failed to produce at their usual level. However, there are also some bright spots for the Blackhawks going forward, such as the development of young talent like Alex DeBrincat, who tallied 28G and 24A and also led the league in Hat Tricks (3 Goals in 1 game) with 3 total, and Connor Murphy, who showed everyone why he was a former 1st round pick by displaying some upside and promise at the Hawks’ problematic defenseman position.
General Manager, Stan Bowman, and Head Coach, Joel Quenneville, took it upon themselves to get to the root of these problems as it may be their last chance to fix them. They both went on to analyze the Blackhawks’ 2017-18 season and presented us with their 2018 offseason priorities:
“There’s no question that our top players, we need a rebound year from them.”
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) April 9, 2018
Next season, the NHL salary cap is expected to increase from $75 million to somewhere between $78-$82 million. Here, you can see the progression of the salary cap since 2013.
NHL Salary Caps since the last lockout:
2013-14 $64.3 M
2014-15 $69.0 M
2015-16 $71.4 M
2016-17 $73.0 M
2017-18 $75.0 M
2018-19 $78-82 M
— NHLNumbers (@NHLnumbers) March 21, 2018
This is great news for the Blackhawks. If the NHL salary cap increases to the minimum projected number of $78 million, there will be over $8 million in cap space for next season. If the salary cap increases to the maximum projected number of $82 million, there will be over $12 million in cap space. These projections leave them in much better shape to make moves, unlike in recent seasons.
The complicated Marian Hossa situation throws a wrench into the plans this summer. A progressive skin disorder formed as a result of an allergic reaction to wearing hockey equipment and he sat out the entire 2017-18 season, but he is still under contract and owed $5.275 million in 2018. Hossa was on the Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) last season which freed up his salary for the 2017-18 season.
Placing a player on the LTIR frees up their salary for the current season and allows you to either sign players or call players up from the American Hockey League (AHL) to fill the newly freed salary and the roster spot. This move will allow the Blackhawks to be more creative in their effort to find replacement players in 2018-19.
However, Hossa technically cannot go on the LTIR until the first day of the 2018-19 NHL regular season, so his $5.275 million salary will remain on the Blackhawks’ books throughout the summer during the NHL offseason. This would give them significantly less wiggle room during that time if they wanted to try and sign some much needed veteran defensive help this offseason on a short-term deal.
In addition, it is unclear as to whether or not he will play in this upcoming season, but it is looking more and more like Hossa will not return to the team with recent reports.
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) May 15, 2018
What Does the Future Hold?
Stan Bowman noted that some of the Blackhawks’ cap space will be dedicated to locking up young studs Alex DeBrincat, Nick Schmaltz, Vinnie Hinostroza, John Hayden, and Anthony Duclair on long-term deals, so they will have to use their cap space wisely this offseason in order to preserve money for each of these players’ future contract extensions.
On NBC Sports Chicago, Stan Bowman says “it’s possible” they get a top-4 D-man in the offseason. He said the salary cap & term could determine that. He said UFAs are getting 6-7 year deal & the Hawks’ priority is making sure they can afford DeBrincat & Schmaltz’s next deals.
— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) April 7, 2018
The defense was the team’s weakest position by far and there are a few ways to make quick improvements. They will be able to afford to sign a Top 4 defenseman (plays on top two lines of defense) this offseason, but if the Blackhawks’ first priority is to extend the contracts of DeBrincat, Schmaltz, Hinostroza, Hayden, and Duclair, then this may not best the best option.
They can also take the money-saving route of calling up some of the young defensive talent from the Rockford IceHogs like Adam Clendening, Gustav Forsling, and Viktor Svedberg who all have previous NHL experience. There’s also 2017 1st round pick, Henri Jokiharju, who is currently tearing it up in the Western Hockey League (WHL). The best part is that Jokiharju is only 18 years old right now.
Unrestricted Free Agents That Fit Blackhawks Agenda
Here are some names of players that I would love the Blackhawks to pursue if they decide to upgrade via free agency. First, I will start with defensemen. The first name on my list, John Carlson, would only make sense if he was signed to a long-term deal at a moderate price. These are some of the better defensemen that would be available to sign to an affordable short-term deal.
- John Carlson
- Andrej Sustr
- Ian Cole
- Michal Kempny
- Jan Rutta
- Mike Green
- Jack Johnson
- Alexei Emelin
- Calvin De Haan
- Thomas Hickey
- John Moore
Next, I will move on to forwards. These forwards are all relatively young and would be able to contribute right away.
For the first time in a long time, the Blackhawks are not as restricted by the salary cap as they have been the past few seasons, which allows them to be more flexible and gives them a ton of options. Also, keep in mind that the Hawks have both the 8th pick and 27th pick in the 1st round of the 2018 NHL Draft. Stay tuned Blackhawks fans, it will be an interesting offseason. The possibilities are essentially endless at this point.