Could the Free Agent Market Help the Blackhawks Make Trades?

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Could the Free Agent Market Help the Blackhawks Make Trades?

Chicago Blackhawks

Yes, we’re talking about the Blackhawks selling a lot right now. Because that appears to be the organizational direction for the next year (or two… or three) and, more importantly, because the Blackhawks have some players on their payroll who may help accelerate the rebuild process if the trades are done right/well.

Over the weekend, Frank Seravelli at The Daily Faceoff dropped his first list of his Top 50 Unrestricted Free Agents hitting the market this summer. Zero Blackhawks’ UFAs made Seravelli’s top 50 list.

Other outlets like The Fourth Period will also produce a top trade candidates/targets and top free agents lists, and these are good resources to keep an eye on not only in the summer, but also in-season.

However, of note from Seravelli’s write-up before the list, he points out the lack of defensemen.

“While there is no shortage of offensive talent available on the free agent market this summer, what seems to be missing is defensive prowess – particularly if Letang doesn’t make it to market.

Aside from John Klingberg (No. 4), if Letang is off the market, that leaves Colorado’s Josh Manson (No. 18), Florida’s Ben Chiarot (No. 27) and Edmonton’s Brett Kulak (No. 32) as the top blueliners available. Kulak was a strong deadline addition for the Oilers and is a candidate to re-sign there, though Manson and Chiarot have had their moments where they’ve struggled with their new teams.

In other words, if teams need to improve on the back end, the best course of action or acquisition might be on the trade front.”

That could be a win for a Blackhawks organization that has a crowded blue line with some veterans on modest deals who could help teams not looking to get into a bidding war of comparable defensemen.

Here’s a report card of Jake McCabe from last summer before he signed a four-year, $16 million deal with the Blackhawks (that does include a seven-team no-trade clause).

For the sake of comparison, here’s the same report card for Ben Chiarot from February of this season:

Chiarot, 31, is coming off a three-year deal that had a $3.5 million cap hit. Montreal traded him to Florida at the deadline this past season for forward Ty Smilanic, a fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and a first-round pick in the more valued 2023 NHL Draft.

McCabe, meanwhile, is two and a half years younger than Chiarot and signed for the next three seasons at a dollar amount that may well be comparable to what Chiarot gets on his next contract from the market this summer.

If you’re a general manager, would you prefer the younger player on the comparable AAV? As Will Ferrell used to say as Harry Caray, “I know I would.”

We should all be comfortable with the idea that Calvin de Haan and Erik Gustafsson won’t be back next year (Stan Bowman is gone so he can’t irrationally bring Gustafsson back again). I don’t imagine current general manager Kyle Davidson is interested in either coming back given his comments about preserving cap space. And, again, neither of them made Seravelli’s top 50 list.

But the Blackhawks do have a few players who could be intriguing for teams on the trade market considering the lack of an impact blue line group hitting the market.

Caleb Jones is a 25-year-old RFA coming off a deal with an $850,000 cap hit. And Wyatt Kalynuk is an RFA at 25 as well with some, albeit limited, NHL experience on his resume. A team with limited resources available may view one of them as an option in a trade with the ability to negotiate the next contract; their RFA rights are valuable, even if their cap hit for next season is still TBD.

On the NHL roster, Connor Murphy has four more years at a $4.4 million cap hit; this is the fist season of the extension he signed with Bowman last summer. He doesn’t turn 30 until March 26 of next year, so he’s in a similar age range to Chiarot and is about seven months younger than Klingberg. His contract has a ten-team no-trade clause attached to it because, you know, Bowman loved him some NTCs.

And Riley Stillman might actually be one of the more intriguing, least talked about trade pieces for the Blackhawks this summer. He’s only 24 and has two more years on his contract at just $1.35 million. He plays a physical game, so he could be a valuable player for Chicago over the next couple seasons. But that cap hit could be a viewed as more valuable to a team that needs an affordable player. Stillman had 12 points in 53 games for the Blackhawks this past season.

As we broke down when we looked at how the Blackhawks’ blue line stacks up for the future, Chicago has some young defensemen who may be ready for an increased role/opportunity. Ian Mitchell, Alec Regula and Alex Vlasic have all seen NHL action and should be in the mix for an NHL role next season.

Making room for them on the NHL roster is something Bowman didn’t do, but Davidson may be willing to do as the organization is more okay with being terrible; there will be a learning curve, but the Blackhawks gave Mitchell specifically time to develop as a top-pair defenseman in Rockford this past season.

If the trade market is hot for defensemen because the UFA market is so soft, and Davidson believes these young guys are indeed ready for an increased role in the NHL, moving one/both of McCabe and Murphy might be a good way to jump start the rebuild and make room for them in Chicago.

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