Blackhawks: Free Agency Won’t Improve The Team Next Season
When the Chicago Blackhawks lost to the Vegas Golden Knights, the offseason officially began. There are some things this team needs to fix.
Games are still being played, but for the Chicago Blackhawks, there’s no time to waste to start sorting out next season.
One route that they should stay away from is signing players via free agency. Excluding Corey Crawford, there aren’t any free agents that Chicago should be targeting.
There are a variety of lists from different sources offering insight who will be available as a UFA once the season is over.
If Chicago can re-sign Crawford, then the team has one glaring hole to fill that won’t be corrected by a flashy name in free agency.
More than anything else, Chicago needs a #1 defenseman.
None of the players on the roster are capable of filling that role, and worse, there isn’t anyone in the system that projects to be a clear #1.
Simply put, everyone in Chicago’s pool of prospects will likely pan out to be at most a compliment to a #1 defenseman or playing in a second or third pair.
The forward depth has already been addressed, and the draft will likely bolster that.
Crawford has explicitly stated that he wants to come back and keep playing in Chicago as their primary goalie. That’s very realistic, and since there isn’t anyone in the organization that looks ready to step up and take his spot, then it’s his to lose.
It’s the back-end that looks rough.
Keith isn’t going to get better as he ages. Seabrook just had multiple surgeries. Both Calvin de Haan and Connor Murphy looked good in the postseason, but neither looked like a clear #1 defenseman the team could consistently rely on. Koekoek and Maatta are the third pairing, and may not even be back next year.
Along with Zack Smith, Olli Maatta is consistently listed as a player that could be bought out.
Bringing anyone in to replace third-pairing defensemen such as Maatta feels like a bit of a waste. The team desperately needs their prospects to step up and fill those spots. It would cost Chicago less to have someone like Lucas Carlsson playing regular minutes, as opposed to Maatta.
Free agency signings wouldn’t change this at all and buying out Maatta to sign someone like Tyson Barrie or Travis Hamonic feels like it would be a bit of a wash. There just wouldn’t be enough gained to make spending that kind of money worthwhile, and Maatta is only 26.
This year, the real path forward will have to be via trade, draft, or promoting from within the organization.
Since Chicago isn’t picking until #17, that means a player that could project to be a #1 defenseman like Jamie Drysdale probably isn’t going to be available.
A trade isn’t likely because no one is just going to let go of a supremely talented player for anything less than the king’s ransom.
Promoting from within to see who can cut it at the NHL level appears to be all Chicago can do for now. There is no clear path forward for the team, but one thing is the team needs to avoid is throwing money at free agents.
Chicago won’t have the cap space, the players aren’t what the team needs, and more than anything, the Blackhawks need to give their prospects a real chance to compete for roster spots.