Blackhawks Day One Free Agent Frenzy, Is Chicago...Back? And Other Blackhawks Bullets

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Blackhawks Day One Free Agent Frenzy, Is Chicago…Back? And Other Blackhawks Bullets

Chicago Blackhawks

Yesterday was probably one of the more wild days in recent NHL offseason history, at least that I can remember. There’s a lot of time left this summer to have the Blackhawks make more moves to set their team up for success in the 2021-22 season, but the way I see it, they already made progress on that over the past week and yesterday especially.

•   To find all the major moves from yesterday, with Blackhawks players coming into the organization and some leaving, here’s a quick rundown:

1. Nikita Zadorov Traded to Calgary
2. Jake McCabe Signed to Four-Year Deal
3. Jujhar Khaira Signed to Two-Year Deal
4. David Kämpf Signed by Toronto
5. Pius Suter Signed by Detroit 
6. Blackhawks Make Seth Jones Extension Official

•   It was a VERY busy Day One of NHL Free Agency, a stark contrast from last year’s Day One of free agency.

•   So let’s jump into the moves the Blackhawks made yesterday, starting with the trade of Nikita Zadorov’s RFA rights to the Calgary Flames. Chicago sends the 26-year-old defenseman to the Flames in exchange for a future third-round draft pick. Subsequent moves during the day would make this trade make even more sense, but Zadorov was asking for too much money, for too little production and value to the Blackhawks.

•   Ultimately, the Blackhawks decided to not pursue Zadorov’s defensive contributions in favor of another shutdown-style defenseman in Jake McCabe. Signing the former Buffalo Sabres defenseman to a four-year deal, the Blackhawks are taking a gamble on McCabe’s health coming off a small sample size last season where he was playing at an elite level defensively.

•   McCabe had been rumored to be headed to Chicago late in the process, with his name being tied to the Blackhawks just a few days ago. For McCabe, who has lived in the city for years, it’s a sort of homecoming with the club.

•   And speaking of his injury, McCabe had knee surgery in February, but is confident that he will have no issues being more than ready for the start of training camp in Chicago.

•   Spending $4M per year on McCabe is a better move in my view than spending that much, or more, on Zadorov. They play similar styles with a defense-first mentality, but McCabe is less prone to take bad penalties and is less of a bulldozer than Zadorov. Since the 2015-16 season, when Zadorov and McCabe were both full-time NHLers, Zadorov ranks eighth among all defensemen in PIMs with 364 in 344 games, while McCabe ranks 66th with 188 in 344 games.

•   But, speaking of physical players, the Blackhawks did add a forward who does enjoy throwing around his weight. Chicago signed depth forward Jujhar Khaira to a two-year deal worth $975,000 AAV.

•   Khaira is not going to light-up a scoresheet, with 24 goals and 63 points in 258 NHL games, but he will kill penalties and lay hits. Khaira has thrown the 18th-most hits among forwards in the NHL over the past two seasons, and ranked eighth last season. He also the third player in NHL history from Punjabi descent after Robin Bawa and Manny Malhotra, becoming the first to play with the Blackhawks organization.

•   There are still some moves to make for the Blackhawks, like signing their renaming restricted free agents Brandon Hagel and Alexander Nylander, and finding out if Marc-Andre Fleury will actually play for the team. But with the roster currently constructed, this team could be pretty watchable next season…

•   I don’t want to get ahead of myself, there are still a ton of “IFs” on this team, but this lineup and roster could actually make some noise in the Central Division. Again, it comes down to those “IFs,” like Jonathan Toews, Marc-Andre Fleury, and the young players. Are we at the point where we can hoot and holler “DA HAWKS ARE BACK BAYYYBEEEEE”…no. But this looks like a team that is no longer going to be pushing a “rebuilding” narrative whatsoever.

•   Chicago obviously couldn’t and didn’t want to bring back all their players from last season. Starting with David Kämpf heading to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

•   It continued with Vinnie Hinostroza heading to the Buffalo Sabres

•   And the big one that was a puzzling move by the Blackhawks saw Pius Suter, last year’s breakout rookie, head to the rival Detroit Red Wings on a two-year, $3.25M AAV deal.

•   Losing Suter for that kind of price tag somewhat makes sense for the Blackhawks, but if you are asking me, I’d probably rather have Suter at $3.25M than Tyler Johnson at $5M or Dylan Strome at $3M. But that’s just me. Suter returns to the United Center on October 24th next season.

•   Other major moves yesterday included the big fish Dougie Hamilton heading to the New Jersey Devils on a seven-year, $9M AAV deal.

•   Hamilton had been a free agent darling this offseason, with the Blackhawks seemingly in the running to sign him up until the time that Seth Jones became the real target for Chicago this summer. Hamilton ends up signing for just about the same kind of deal that Jones got in his extension with the Blackhawks. Hamilton’s deal is also in line with the deal that the Avalanche gave to boy-wonder Cale Makar.

•   But, one of these things doesn’t feel like the other if you ask me.

•   A deal like Makar’s makes sense because he is worth every penny and the deal is for what he CAN do for the Avalanche, and not what he has done in his career, like many free agent deals are. Speaking of deals that reflect what you CAN do, the Lightning signed Brayden Point to a max-term deal worth $9.5M AAV.

•   Again, worth every penny for the Lightning.

•   After being bought-out by the Minnesota Wild, veteran defenseman Ryan Suter is staying in the Central Division, heading to the Dallas Stars.

•   And wrapping back around to the Avalanche, they also locked up their long-time Captain Gabriel Landeskog to a max-term deal, worth $7M AAV. Needless to say, Landeskog was excited to be back with Colorado…

•   A double Blackhawks birthday today, celebrating Dirk Graham and Ted Lindsay.

•   You’ll remember Graham as the former Blackhawks Captain from 1989-1995 and former head coach during the 1998-99 season. Both of those instances made Graham the first Black Captain and head coach in franchise history, and the first Black head coach ever in the NHL.

•   I bring this specific point up because today it was announced that LeBron James, Drake, and Maverick Carter are teaming up for a new documentary project called “Black Ice” profiling the experiences of Black hockey players over the years.

•   I can’t wait to see the work come together on this project and I would recommend it as must-see viewing once it is released.

•   That will do it for today. Enjoy your Thursday and enjoy the rest of the free agent summer, which should be rather quiet from the Blackhawks until we hear from Marc-Andre Fleury’s camp…

•   I need a margarita.



Author: Mario Tirabassi

Mario Tirabassi is a writer for Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Mario_Tirabassi.