The trade deadline has passed, and for the most part, the Blackhawks did very well. General Manager Stan Bowman navigated the draft and put the team in a good place for next season. No one that left the team will be a significant loss, and the return(s) will likely improve Chicago’s position moving forward.
However, there is a large question that was not, and could not be answered at the deadline for the Chicago Blackhawks. Who will be the team’s number one defenseman? Simply put, no one in the organization projects to be that player. People might optimistically say Adam Boqvist, but it won’t be him. Boqvist can likely be a top-pairing defenseman, but not one that will anchor the backend.
What makes this issue more complicated is that there just isn’t an easy way to solve this problem. Chicago’s top forwards were all drafted, with Pius Suter and Dominik Kubalik being the exceptions. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach, and Dylan Strome all came through the draft. (Granted, Chicago didn’t draft Strome, but it’s the same difference, he was drafted.)
Chicago could luck out, and have a chance at drafting highly touted youngster, Owen Power, a player SportsNet thinks could be the first overall pick. That would require a lot of luck for the Blackhawks because Power will probably be off the board before Chicago has a chance.
So what could Bowman do to fix this problem? Realistically, it’s probably going to come down to a trade or a free-agency signing. Over the next few years, there will probably be a lot of great opportunities to bring in talented players because of the flat cap. Anyone looking for a big payday might be forced to look somewhere else for that raise, and Chicago might just be where the grass is greener for someone.
To provide an example, according to CapFriendly, the Carolina Hurricanes will need to discuss a new deal with Dougie Hamilton soon since his contract expires 2021-22. The team might not be able to afford him, and this where Chicago could swoop in and play let’s make a deal.
The same thing could be said for some like Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman, Seth Jones. He’ll be a UFA for 2022-23, will be 28, and probably due to receive a raise. Will Columbus want, or be able to pay him? I’m not saying these players will be targets for contract negotiations, but they’re the kind of veteran blue-liners who may force teams into making tough financial choices during the flat-cap era we’re in.
If Bowman were feeling like a gambler he might try and package Zadorov in with a first for the upcoming draft, but there’s still no guarantee that the Blackhawks would get the caliber of player they need for the blue line. Nor is it likely that kind of deal will move Chicago far enough up the board to pay off. A deal like that could happen though, and it may allow Chicago to get the kind of player they want through the draft.
If Chicago is truly going to be a competitor, then this is an issue that needs to be addressed. Chicago has all of the parts in place to be a more competitive team in a couple of years, except for a number one defenseman. The expansion draft will shake things up around the league, and maybe all that commotion will cause a star player to head to the Windy City.