In his end-of-year media availability, Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson was fairly direct with his thoughts on having cap flexibility this summer. He’ll have some wiggle room, but has a list of decisions to make on internal players.
Some of the players heading to free agency are obvious, others have more to consider when thinking about their potential role on next year’s Blackhawks (or IceHogs) team. Let’s look at the free agents Davidson will have to consider with his dollars.
(Note: we aren’t including Andrew Shaw’s expiring contract in this conversation for obvious reasons, but that’s $3.9 million off the books this summer.)
Unrestricted Free Agents
• Calvin de Haan
• Erik Gustafsson
• Kevin Lankinen
• Collin Delia*
• Kurtis Gabriel*
* – minor leaguers for most of 2021-22
Does Davidson bring any of these guys back? Maybe one of the goaltenders, but certainly not both. And, frankly, it wouldn’t be surprising if they let both of them walk. We discussed the goaltending situation previously; Davidson acknowledged he needs to add to the NHL roster and free agency/trade may be necessary to do that.
de Haan was discussed before last summer’s expansion draft and again throughout the season as a potential trade candidate. He was not moved, and now walks away as a free agent. Gustafsson used a roster spot that could have been given to a younger player all season, but Davidson’s comments about a more realistic development timeline now rationalize the overloaded NHL blue line more (though I would still submit Gustafsson was a wasted roster spot).
Bottom line: if all five of these guys is gone next year, don’t be shocked.
Restricted Free Agents
• Dylan Strome
• Dominik Kubalik
• Kirby Dach
• Philipp Kurashev
• Caleb Jones
• Andrei Altybarmakyan*
• Cameron Morrison*
• Wyatt Kalynuk*
• Cale Morris*
* – minor leaguers for most of 2021-22
There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s break it up into smaller pieces. We already discussed the potential futures for Strome and Kubalik. So we’ll start at the bottom of the list.
Morris is in the conversation to come back between the pipes. He was the Big Ten Player of the Year at Notre Dame and was solid for Rockford this year. The fact that he’s an RFA while Delia and Lankinen are UFA would tend to lead me to believe Morris could get a two-way deal.
From the Rockford roster, the name with the most intrigue is Kalynuk. He looked like a possible NHL player last year in limited action with the Blackhawks, but struggled at times to keep up with the injection of youth in Rockford this year. With the crowded blue line already with too many bodies for roster spots in both Chicago and Rockford, he might be an odd man out this summer. His rights may have some trade value to a team with limited cap space, however (cough, Vegas, cough).
Morrison hasn’t accrued enough professional time to receive an offer sheet but I’m not sure that was in the cards for him. And Altybarmakyan, whom the Hawks picked in the third round (No. 70 overall) in the 2017 draft, will be 24 next year with 43 points to show for 94 AHL games on his North American professional resume.
Now, about the guys on the NHL roster…
Philipp Kurashev: as a bottom-six forward, I’m at least intrigued. He’ll be 23 next season and has shown some offensive spark at times, but not nearly enough to be considered for a top-six role. He was originally a fourth-round pick in 2018 so the Hawks already getting 121 NHL games from him is a win; no other player from the fourth round in 2018 has played in more than 50 NHL games thus far. But if Davidson wants to cleanse the system of players associated with Bowman’s regime, Kurashev might not be back.
Kirby Dach: the Blackhawks have completely botched his development in almost every way imaginable and then made up a few more over the past three years and threw in a global pandemic. Is he a center? I’m not sure. Is there skill there to build on? I do believe the ceiling is still higher than his production would indicate, but the new organizational approach to development is going to need to really hurry up and work to release whatever there is in Dach to make him a star… or a bust. I think he gets a bridge deal to prove he can be an NHL player.
Caleb Jones: his brother is the biggest salary commitment on the roster in two years, so moving on from Caleb feels problematic. And there were times you saw that Caleb could be a solid contributor on the NHL team. But did we see that enough to warrant bringing him back when, again, there are too many players already signed on the blue line for the rosters in both Chicago and Rockford next year? Or does Davidson potentially flip him for additional draft assets/forward help?