The stage is almost set for the Stanley Cup Final. However, the Chicago Blackhawks are prepping for a short, but intense off-season. Change is needed, but does it need to be a complete re-build?
It would be naive to think that the Chicago Blackhawks were going to be able to roll out the same line-up and expect different results. A player like Alex DeBrincat will likely have a much different season for 2020-2021, whereas Duncan Keith probably won’t.
Chicago needs to make changes to its line-up to be able to compete for a spot in the postseason. Once there, all bets are off. Just look at the Dallas Stars.
Unfortunately, Chicago is finding itself in a difficult position with not much cap space, and several significant roster decisions to make. Who is going to be the goal? Will Kubalik be affordable? How about Strome? What is Bowman going to do to make sure the defense improves? No matter how you break it down, money, or the lack of it, is going to be a huge issue for addressing the team’s needs.
Buying out a contract, or two, seems like the easiest way forward, but even then the cap space provided wouldn’t alleviate Chicago’s problems. It’s going to take something a bit more audacious if the team is going to take any sort of appreciable step(s) forward, but what players could realistically be available that would potentially improve the team?
Let’s assume for a moment that Chicago does nothing at all. UFAs don’t re-sign, the Blackhawks let their RFAs walk, and injured players return to the line-up This won’t happen, but just to underscore the roster problems Chicago is facing, this is what the lineup could look like on the opening night based on who is under contract now:
Brandon Saad – Jonathan Toews – Patrick Kane
Alex DeBrincat – Kirby Dach – Andrew Shaw
Alex Nylander – David Kampf – Matthew Highmore
Zack Smith – Ryan Carpenter – Brandon Hagel
Calvin de Haan – Connor Murphy
Duncan Keith – Adam Boqvist
Olli Maatta – Brent Seabrook
Nick Seeler or Lucas Carlsson
Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen
This is what’s in the organization now and wouldn’t instill fear in last year’s historically bad Detroit Red Wings. An upside to a roster like this is that it leaves Chicago just over $5,000,000 in cap space, and accounts for all players, even the ones that have ugly contracts and injuries. At that point, if Bowman were able to move Olli Maatta, even to sell low in a trade, the team would have over $9,000,000 in cap space.
What could Chicago do with that money? Signing a goalie seems like the priority, and Corey Crawford would be the best option. If the reported $3,500,000 offer is true, and Crawford agrees, then Chicago might have one short-term need solved. This still leaves the team $5,500,000, and Chicago has barely done anything.
So, if the team could target just one player to make a splash, who would it be? The following is a loosely organized list of possibilities from most, to least likely to happen.