While Dougie Hamilton continues to be at the top of the list for most NHL teams this offseason, there’ll be plenty of free agents the Chicago Blackhawks can look to acquire. That’s not to say that Chicago shouldn’t be focused on getting in front of Hamilton with the best deal possible.
But in the (admittedly likely) event that they’re unable to land the highly sought-after defenseman, here are six other free agents that the Blackhawks could be targeting this offseason to address the many needs of the club (mainly their lack of size and lack of ability to effectively and consistently kill penalties).
A name that will be much more affordable to the Blackhawks than Hamilton and be able to address a need for the club is pending unrestricted free agent Joel Armia. Currently playing with the Montreal Canadiens, Armia has seven points in 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games, including three shorthanded points in the postseason.
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Two areas that Chicago needs to improve on are their ability to kill penalties and add to their size. I’ve mentioned this before in a Blackhawks Bullets post over the weekend, but Armia would factor into both areas that Chicago needs help with, adding size and penalty-killing skills to the lineup. At 28-years-old, Armia is coming off a two-year, $2.6M AAV deal with the Canadiens and has gained attention around the league this season and postseason. If the price is right, the Blackhawks should be looking at Armia as a versatile option that could play on both wings.
Also possibly adding to the size department for Chicago would be Dallas Stars defenseman Jaime Oleksiak. Measuring 6’7″ and north of 250-pounds, Oleksiak is coming off of his best offensive seasons in his career with 14 points in 56 games in 2021. Scoring at a 0.25 points per game pace, he matched his career-best output back from the 2017-18 season where he scored 17 points in 68 games with the Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins.
But his game is not focused on point-production, clearly. Oleksiak is a large, rangy defenseman who plays a physical-style on the blue-line, can eat significant minutes, and can play on the penalty-kill. He averaged 20:29 minutes per game this season, fourth amongst Dallas defensemen and nearly four and a half more minutes per game than the next defenseman in line. Oleksiak is coming off of a three-year, $2.1375M AAV deal signed with the Penguins back in July of 2018. If the Blackhawks do not re-sign Nikita Zadorov, and Oleksiak does indeed hit the open market, he could be a cheaper option to replace him in the lineup and be more effective at both ends of the ice.
If Danault hits the open market, you can bet that Stan Bowman will be looking to re-acquire the 28-year-old centerman. A former first-round pick with the Blackhawks in 2011, Danault has become one of the best defensive centers in the NHL in his time with the Montreal Canadiens. Behind Teuvo Teravainen, losing Danault in a trade that netted the Blackhawks ZERO productivity in return has been the harshest criticism of any of Stan Bowman’s deals over the years.
He wins faceoffs, kills penalties, and can be very effective as a play-making option down the middle. For a Blackhawks team that is lacking at the center position outside of Jonathan Toews, who may or may not play in 2021-22, and Kirby Dach, who may or may not be a full-time NHL center in his career, Danault would look absolutely fantastic back in a Blackhawks sweater. Coming off a three-year, $3.083M AAV deal with the Canadiens, Danault has averaged 0.56 points per game in five full seasons in Montreal and finished with five goals and 24 points in 53 regular season games this year.
Keep the former Blackhawks train moving, right? While it’s highly unlikely that the Blackhawks go after a goaltender in the free agent market this offseason, there could be use out of having a truly tested and proven veteran in the mix that could not only “mentor” the trio of Chicago current NHL goaltending group of Kevin Lankinen, Malcolm Subban, and Collin Delia, but also push all of them for the starter role.
Raanta is 32-years-old and coming off of a rather forgettable season with the Arizona Coyotes after getting a refresh in his career with them three years ago. In 2021, Raanta compiled a 5-5-2 record in 12 games played with a .906 save-percentage and a 3.36 GAA, a far cry from his .930 save-percentage and 2.24 GAA with the Coyotes back in 2017-18. Coming off of a three-year, $4.25M AAV deal with the Coyotes, Raanta would be a pricey addition to the Blackhawks at a position where they have three NHL-level players all making $1M or less for the 2021-22 season. Unless Chicago loses a goalie in the Seattle Expansion draft, I wouldn’t expect them to add anyone in net.
Want to look smart at a small price? Sign Mike Reilly this offseason. The Boston Bruins added Reilly to their defensive core from the Ottawa Senators at the NHL Trade Deadline this season and he was one of the more effective Boston blue-liners to end the regular season and into the postseason. Reilly is not a player that is going to light-up a scoresheet (NHL career-high in goals: 3), but he is coming off his best offensive season in his career with 27 points (all assists) in 55 games this season with Ottawa and Boston.
It appears that Reilly and the Bruins both want him to stay in Boston, but if he were to hit the free agent market, it’s possible that Chicago could make a move to add him without having to break the bank. Coming off a two-year, $1.5M AAV deal with the Canadiens back in July of 2019, Reilly could be a potential quiet, yet effective addition to a young, mostly struggling Blackhawks defensive core. It also doesn’t hurt that Reilly is from Chicago and Stan Bowman does love to bring in local players from time to time.
I spoke about Zach Hyman and the Blackhawks before when looking at the salary cap moves the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to have to make this offseason. If in fact Hyman is not re-signed by the Maple Leafs, he’s going to be a highly sought-after free agent in the open market, much like Dougie Hamilton. Just turning 29-years-old, Hyman will possibly be looking for his last contract of his career and will for sure be getting a well-earned raise from his last deal, a four-year $2.25M AAV contract with Toronto.
Hyman has tallied 15+ goals in each of the last four seasons, with a career-high 0.77 points per game this past season with 33 points in 43 games played. One the past four seasons, Hyman’s points per game pace has jumped up every year, as has his average ice-time per game. He has good size at 6’1″ and 210-pounds, plays in all situations on the powerplay and penalty-kill, and plays the kind of high-motor, physical-style that would make him an instant fan favorite in Chicago. Hyman has scored 70 points combined over the last two seasons, 58 have come at even-strength, an area that the Blackhawks need a lot of help with. He’s a versatile forward that can play wing and center in a pinch, and would figure into the top-six forward group for the Blackhawks if he were signed.