The Chicago Blackhawks’ season ended on May 10 with an overtime loss to the Dallas Stars. As expected, the Chicago Blackhawks didn’t make the playoffs. Stan Bowman has Chicago in a rebuild with a focus on youth and building a team that can be competitive for years to come. Will the rebuild factor into whom the Blackhawks leave exposed to the Seattle Kraken in the NHL expansion draft?
Like every team in the league, Chicago must select one of two options to protect players:
Option 1 (most likely)- seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie
Option 2 (not likely)- combination of eight skaters, forwards and defensemen, and one goalie
The Blackhawks have a large number of players who are ineligible to be chosen due to Non-Move Clauses (NMC) and age/experience. However, they still have plenty of players to leave exposed so ensuring they have two forwards, one defenseman and one goalie who are on contract for the 2021 season and available will not be a problem.
So, who makes the cut?
The Chicago Blackhawks will choose seven forwards to protect. Stan Bowman does not need to concern himself with Kirby Dach, Pius Suter, Philip Kurashev, Mike Hardman or Mackenzie Entwhistle; none of them are eligible to be selected by the Kraken. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are protected as well due to their NMC. That leaves five important players for Chicago to protect. Alex Debrincat is a no-brainer. He is a rising star and Chicago’s most important piece for the future.
Brandon Hagel is the next piece that Chicago must protect. He is the kind of player who helps win championships. He is brutal in board battles, great with his stick and gaining a scorer’s touch. Surprisingly, Adam Gaudette is another youngster who should be protected. He is only 24 and since coming to Chicago has added four points in his first seven games. His presence has been felt in every game.
Vinnie Hinostroza should be protected. I struggled with this one a bit, but Vinnie provides much-needed grit and speed, while playing very well next to Hagel. Since returning to the Blackhawks, Vinnie has put up 12 points in 17 games. He has more than proven his worth. Finally, Dylan Strome should be the final player protected. Strome has certainly struggled at times and underperformed on the score sheet, but uncertainty at the center position will press Bowman to protect Strome.
Why? There is still a question mark with Captain Jonathan Toews. Andrew Shaw retired. David Kampf has outstayed his welcome in Chicago. He has not proven that he offers more than any of the youngsters who have little experience in the league. Kirby Dach should return and be fine. Pius Suter looks like he has earned a spot. From there, no other player has proven that he can take over a role in the center. Strome’s contract is not outrageous at $3,000,000, and he will provide stability up the middle that the Hawks desperately need.
That leaves Brett Connolly, Ryan Carpenter, David Kampf, Alex Nylander, John Quenneville, Brandon Pirri, and a few others exposed. Connolly has the biggest contract and only produced two points in ten games with Chicago. If he were selected, that would help with cap relief.
The Blackhawks must protect three players. Two of those spots have been taken by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. It is likely that Bowman will ask Seabrook to remove his NMC which would then allow the Blackhawks to protect two more players. Should that happen that leaves two spots.
Luckily for Chicago, Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell, Wyatt Kalynuk, and Nicolas Beaudin are all protected. It seems pretty obvious that Stan Bowman will leave Calvin DeHaan exposed. He has been injury-plagued and has a $4.5 million cap hit.
And, for an upstart team, he could provide stability on the back line. I doubt that Riley Stillman will be protected. The Blackhawks just signed him, but he is young and likely not to be chosen. The only reason Bowman would protect him would hopefully increase the likelihood that Seattle take either Connor Murphy or Nikita Zadorov if they were unprotected and Bowman wanted one of them gone.
Between Murphy and Zadorov, the likely choice is that Stan Bowman will protect Connor Murphy first. He is only two years older than Zadorov but is miles ahead in terms of skill and ability to play the game. With a crew of youngsters, the Blackhawks need Murphy alongside an aging Duncan Keith. Young defensemen take a while to become solid pros.
They will need help. The final spot will likely be Nikita Zadorov. Bowman really likes his size and he is able to be very physical. He is young at 26 and could still blossom into a solid pro. If he sees enough upside to overcome his gaffs this season, he will be protected with the final spot.
The Chicago Blackhawks are developing goalies right now. They don’t have a Corey Crawford to worry about protecting. Of the three who played this year, Kevin Lankinen is the player who must be protected. Lankinen is not ready to be a starting goalie on a Cup contending team, but he is young and has shown glimpses of greatness.
Collin Delia also shows signs of being really good, but he is even less experienced. It’s not likely that Seattle would select him. Malcolm Subban is a good backup. He has more experience than the other two and has yet to make his move to the starting spot. The salary cap is not an issue with these three; it’s simply about the upside. Right now, Lankinen offers the most upside.
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The thought of another team coming in to simply take a player of their choosing from your team is disconcerting. However, if one looks at this situation closely, the Chicago Blackhawks don’t have much to worry about in the Expansion Draft. Their stars will be protected. Their kids of the future are not eligible to be selected. If played correctly, the Blackhawks could pull some money off the books and not lose any real production. The trades that could occur before the draft could provide a lot more drama.