Where Could the Blackhawks Find Forward Value in Free Agency?

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Where Could the Blackhawks Find Forward Value in Free Agency?

Chicago Blackhawks

With the NHL’s salary cap going up just $1 million this season, the Blackhawks having roughly $20 million in total cap space. That may seem like a lot at first blush, but remember that’s before they add a single goaltender to the NHL roster or make decisions on contracts for players like Kirby Dach, Dylan Strome, Dominik Kubalik, and Caleb Jones (among others).

So let’s assume the Hawks add internal options like Arvid Söderblom ($883,750 cap hit), Ian Mitchell ($925,000), and Alec Regula ($866,667) from Rockford to CapFriendly’s Blackhawks roster (Note: CapFriendly already has Lukas Reichel on the NHL roster for next season.). That puts us at roughly $17 million in cap space without a bona fide No. 1 net-minder and those outstanding RFAs to consider.

Bottom line: there isn’t a lot of space, even though it feels like a lot for an organization that’s been up against the ceiling for the past 13 years. And more to the point, the Blackhawks have some glaring holes to fill and won’t have a first-round pick changing the dynamic of the NHL roster this season.

If we include one more year of Jujhar Khaira, who spent most of his first season on the Blackhawks payroll on LTIR, Chicago has 12 forwards on their NHL roster (including Reichel) for next season. We aren’t considering Brett Connolly as an NHL option, though he does have one more season on his contract.

General manager Kyle Davidson and his front office have all spoken about changing the culture of the organization. They want speed, they need offense, and they don’t want to spend to the ceiling. Davidson told NBC Sports Chicago recently that he wants to keep some cap space going into the coming season.

“Flexibility is a really important aspect of us moving forward,” GM Kyle Davidson told NBCSN. “I don’t want to go out and take on a quote-unquote ‘bad contract’ if it puts us in a tough spot just because we get an asset. I think we have to be very smart and understanding what that could do to us moving forward.

“We don’t want to be put in a corner, because cap space goes so quickly and it’s so hard to get that flexibility back. I don’t want to give that up if it’s not the right situation, and so we’ll be mindful of that and react accordingly based on the different situations that are presented to us. But from my perspective, I would like to have a little bit of flexibility.”

So who are some potentially lower-priced options on the UFA market this summer who might be a fit for the Blackhawks?

Mason Marchment

Marchment turns 27 on June 18 and feels like the kind of player that would make sense in Chicago. He’s coming off a contract that had a cap hit of only $800,000 with the Florida Panthers and was a pleasant surprise this season. He scored 18 goals with 29 assists in 54 games during the regular season and added one goal, 21 hits and nine shots on goal in his first four games of the playoffs before a lower-body injury limited his postseason.

Listed at 6-4 and 209 pounds, Marchment is a big body who is still young enough that a nice raise is still likely going to cost less than bringing back Kubalik. He played on the team that won the Presidents Trophy in Florida in a structure that would be familiar to two Blackhawks forwards who spent most of their careers playing for Joel Quenneville in Chicago.

Evan Rodrigues

Rodrigues will turn 29 on July 28 and is coming off a solid season in Pittsburgh. After spending parts of five seasons in Buffalo, he’s been with the Penguins for the past three seasons and just wrapped up a contract with a $1 million cap hit. The Penguins would probably love to bring him back; he scored 19 goals and added 24 assists in 82 games this past season.

If Pittsburgh lets him walk, Rodrigues would be a solid middle-six addition for the Blackhawks. Pittsburgh hasn’t missed the playoffs in more than a decade and he gave the team way more value than his salary warranted this past season.

Calle Järnkrok

If this name rings a bell, it’s because he always seemed to be involved in the Predators giving the Blackhawks fits during his time in Nashville. Järnkrok will turn 31 on Sept. 25 and bounced around this past season after Seattle selected him in the expansion draft and then traded him to Calgary. He’s scored double-digit goals in each of the past seven seasons.

Järnkrok’s last contract paid him $2 million and he’s on the wrong side of 30 now, but he’s a gritty player who can pitch in some offense. And the systems he played in with the Preds and Flames produced playoff teams; he’s appeared in the last eight postseasons.

Tyler Motte

Remember when the Blackhawks selected Motte in the fourth-round of the 2013 NHL Draft? He spent the following three seasons at the University of Michigan before turning pro and appeared in 33 games for the Blackhawks before Stan Bowman threw him into the infamous trade sending Artemi Panarin to Columbus.

While many of us aren’t in favor of Bowman-esque reunions, I would make an exception for Motte. He’s coming off a contract that had a modest $1.225 million cap hit and has been a really nice addition to the Rangers since the trade deadline. If you’re looking for a guy with a high motor who’s a pain in the ass to play against, Motte is exactly that guy. He’ll be 27 until after the trade deadline next season.

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Author: Tab Bamford

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab